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

One in four Detroit students will not graduate high school


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

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

The Way It Was

1956, Hudson's Northland in Southfield

An Hour with ... Ricki Friedman

Founder, Break the Weight

Camelle Watson: Nurse by Day, Influencer by Night

The owner of W. Vintage Vibe shares how her love of fashion, family, and social media launched her online retail business

Meet the Makers: Tait Design Co.

How an after-work hobby ascended to a booming business

Get Glam

Whether you’re prepping for a family gathering, the annual office bash, or a glitzy gala, these local beauty resources level up your beauty game
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Makings of the Shinola Hotel
    When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers...
  2. My Two Christmases
    An Armenian-Iranian, Detroit-based writer reflects on transposing the holiday across continents
  3. An Hour with ... Carmen Harlan
    Broadcast journalist and founder of the Carmen Harlan Collection
  4. New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style
    Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor
  5. Hour Detroit and Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour 2018
    Hour Detroit and Detroit Home’s third annual Downtown Living Tour took place September 7th-9th....
  6. God-Given Talent
    A local choir sings its way to live television
  7. Cocktail Recipe: Toddy Incarnata
  8. Main Review: SheWolf
    Born in Detroit but inspired by Rome, SheWolf takes diners on a culinary journey
  9. Comeback Catering
    Dish, in Detroit, pushes through hard times with consistently delicious food
  10. The Art of Gifting
    Metro Detroit tastemakers from all walks of life offer a glimpse of what’s on their holiday...