Recently SHEI sat down for a question and answer session with University of Michigan Alum, David Merritt, to discuss the grand opening of his cause-based clothing store, Merit, located on South University. Merit carries an array of customized Henley’s, vintage looking t-shirts, flat brimmed hats, beanies, hoodies, and more, yet 20% of revenue helps to fund scholarships for underserved youth in Detroit. A modern take on vintage, the store resembles shops one may see in Harlem or Brooklyn with semblances of reclaimed wood and classic pieces interspersed within a fresh as well as contemporary backdrop. Here is what David Merritt had to say:
SHEI: What is Merit and how did it come about?
Merit is a cause-based fashion brand that not only sells clothes, but at the same time promotes and brings awareness to youth and education. We are so excited that we get to do that through fashion where over 20% of every single purchase is donated to give college scholarships for underserved youth in the Detroit area. Not only do we raise money through our purchases, but also we developed a non-profit arm called Give Merit, which is facilitating FATE, a four year education program in the city to improve access to college and to give more students the opportunities and resources necessary to attend college and graduate on time. It is a two-pronged approach to strengthening youth and education, on the fashion side and the other with programming.
SHEI: Where did you draw the inspiration for the store?
We worked with a few graduating architecture students at U of M. Basically taking the aesthetic we have from our branding.
SHEI: What has been the most challenging part of the opening process?
The amount of things you have to think about. It was a lot. We think we did a really good job thinking about everything, from picking what your store windows look like to how you hang signs. How do you get more and more space for them in the store? This is our first retail storefront. I think a good portion of it was challenging to figure out the right way about it.
SHEI: As a cause-based clothing company, is there a reason why you decided to support students and those in the inner city specifically?
I am from Detroit and my dad has pastored a church for the last 35 years. Growing up in the city and being tremendously blessed and having parents and a family that taught me values and the importance of an education and doing things the right thing, but having peers and being in the city and around the city, seeing how much people go through whether it is broken households, struggling school systems, crime--I wanted to give back. It is awesome that we could do that through education. We are really trying to expand (the students') opportunities and expand their vision to show them the skills they have within themselves.
SHEI: What made you decide to open the store here?
We had a previous brand called IMU started in Ann Arbor and this has kind of been a rebranding process for us. We already had an established customer base here. Most of our notoriety is here. We felt South University was the perfect place to connect with our customer. To bridge our program, which is called FATE, we on a monthly basis bring students from Detroit to Ann Arbor and the U of M and we put on these workshops for our students. We are bringing students up and exposing them to a college campus. We thought, let’s start here where we can have success.
SHEI: As a U of M grad, what did you major in?
SHEI: What were you involved in on campus and how do you think your involvement helped facilitate the development of Merit?
I was on the Basketball team. I would say my experience playing basketball has a tremendous impact on what we are doing now. I was blessed to be a captain my last year and that experience taught me so much about leadership and the importance of kind of giving of yourself and sacrificing personal goals for team goals. Going after something on a daily basis to reach a goal for an organization or a team, but really giving of yourself. That is what we are really doing here.
FATE (the model for the student education program) has five stripes of citizenship, which are for them to become a leader, a student, a workman, a giver, and a teammate. Becoming a world class citizen not only succeeding yourself, but seeing yourself in the midst of a community and how your actions and what you do in the daily basis effects the community or the broader team. We have woven those principles … into our program.
SHEI: Where do you draw your fashion inspiration?
A lot of blogs, but mostly looking on Tumblr and online.
SHEI: Do you have a favorite blogger?
Marcus Troy. Street Etiquette.
SHEI: Do you create all of your own designs?
No, we have been working with a graphic artist out of California who has done our branding and most of our t-shirt designs. I usually come up with the concepts and work with people to create them. We are working with NBC's Fashion Star contestant Nzimiro Oputa who has created 10 custom designs.
SHEI: What do you see merit as a brand becoming or evolving into?
Our goal is to become the leader in cause related apparel. As you think of TOMS, they have cornered the market for shoes. For us, we want to be considered the go to fashion player. We want to bring great product in the industry. You can’t really think of a company that is dedicated to a cause that has great fashion. We want to design things that people want to wear. Even if there was not a cause associated with it, we want people to say I like that shirt, I want that shirt. The cause is like the cherry on top. (We want people to say) this is giving money for kids to go to college, of course I’ll support it. Hopefully, years down the road we can become that fashion player.
SHEI: What is your favorite item you carry in the store?
I love the Henley’s. They have a very soft collar and are simple, yet stylish.
SHEI: If you could describe Merit’s aesthetic in 3 words what would they be?
Can I do six? We call it incredible freshness, amazing comfort, and little effort.
SHEI: This semester’s issue of SHEI is centered on work; What is your definition of work?
I would say, putting your heart and all that you have into something that you’re passionate about.
Check out the grand opening of Merit this evening, November 20th at 6:30 to 10 pm. Merit is located on 1113 South University.