This Detroit Fashion Brand is Tackling the City's Dropout Problem

One in four Detroit students will not graduate high school


Published:

Merit's Storefront in Twelve Oaks Mall, Novi. Photograph Courtesy of Merit

Asign tracking the number of high school dropouts in America — one every 26 seconds — illuminates the windows of Merit’s Twelve Oaks Mall boutique. Inside, rows of curated clothing racks, tabletops, and vintage school desks display T-shirts, caps, sweatpants, and accessories with phrases such as “Design Your Fate,” “The Future is Bright,” and “The World is Ours.” Black-and-white portraits line the walls, each image capturing the smiling face of a different student in a floor-to-ceiling mural.

“That’s Cobi, Kennedy, Ashton,” says David Merritt, the founder of the Merit fashion brand, which is only coincidentally related to his last name. “These are the young people I’ve been working with for the last five years, and they just finished up their first year of college.”

Merit uses its stylish apparel and experiential retail space to build awareness of the country’s dropout rate, but the business also works directly with students most at risk. Around the same time Merritt launched the fashion brand in 2012, he and his business partner founded Fate — a four-year mentorship program that works one-on-one with students in Detroit on a weekly basis.

The former high schoolers Merritt mentions are just three of the 22 Jalen Rose Leadership Academy students that received a $5,000 scholarship in 2016 for completing Fate and being accepted to college.

Partially funded by merchandise sales from Merit’s Novi location, as well as its boutique in Great Lakes Crossing and a web store, Fate is now working with a new cohort of nearly 30 Detroit students. Many face hardships throughout high school that can affect their academic performance.

“A lot of statistics and a lot of biases will paint our students in a particular picture because of their race, how much money their family makes, the area in which they live, and a lot of it’s not so positive — those statistics,” Merritt says. “Our premise with our program is that is not their fate.”

The nonprofit organizes workshops that give students a chance to learn from local entrepreneurs, including businesses like Carhartt, Zingerman’s, Shinola, Plante Moran, and Merit itself. The after-school sessions focus on everything from the process behind creating a commercial to finding your strengths and financing college.

Along with offering these educational opportunities, Fate requires that students maintain standards in their GPA, conduct, community service, and attendance. However, Merritt says it’s the familial nature of the program that may have the most impact: Past students have shared how the sense of community in Fate has inspired them to stay in school. It’s also the reason why many of the program’s alumni keep in touch and still participate in group workshops today.

The company is leveraging this momentum as it looks toward new projects, like manufacturing backpacks in the city of Detroit, offering mentorship to even more students, and creating a training program to expose young people to sewing and design.

“We love fashion and we love style,” Merritt says. “If we can make things that are actually making a positive impact on other people, it’s a win-win.”


Find out more at meritgoodness.com.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Meet the Makers: The Empowerment Plan

How the non-profit’s coat, sleeping bag project continues to expand

For MLN8, the Magic Started With a Subscription Service

Meet the forthcoming conglomerate using unconventional ways to celebrate and support Detroit’s African-American community

What’s the Source of the Steam Pouring Out of Detroit’s Sidewalks?

Environmental groups want to clear the air about the fuel behind a little-known power system

The Way It Was

1975, The Brazeal Dennard Chorale

Netflix Set to Bring Local Author’s Horror Novel to Life

Sandra Bullock stars in the film adaptation of Ferndale author/musician Josh Malerman’s original thriller
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Fisher Building Is a One-Stop Shop for the Alternative Bride
    Plus, bridal looks with vintage flare
  2. 2018 Restaurant of the Year: Parc
    Excellent food, exceptional service, and a crisp and formal but distinctly unstuffy atmosphere...
  3. What’s the Source of the Steam Pouring Out of Detroit’s Sidewalks?
    Environmental groups want to clear the air about the fuel behind a little-known power system
  4. An Hour With ... Angela Aufdemberge
    President and CEO, Vista Maria
  5. Local Winter Activities Worth Bracing the Cold
    Metro Detroit’s parks are prime for winter adventures
  6. Love at First Sip
    Michiganders dish about their love affairs with local wine
  7. Cocktail Recipe: Man on the Moon
  8. Meet the Makers: The Empowerment Plan
    How the non-profit’s coat, sleeping bag project continues to expand
  9. Netflix Set to Bring Local Author’s Horror Novel to Life
    Sandra Bullock stars in the film adaptation of Ferndale author/musician Josh Malerman’s...
  10. Making the Case for a Less Sedentary Lifestyle
    Martial arts instructor trains people to defend themselves and take a stand against dangerous...