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Local Prodigy Mixes Community Service Into New Fashion Line

West Bloomfield High School graduate and basketball star David Merritt launches online-only business; proceeds benefit scholarship fund for disadvantaged youth.

Of interest: United We Walk Offering 'Unity in the Community'

Most anyone would understand if David Merritt has grown tired of seeing his name on the marquee.

Merritt, whose parents Viveca and Andrew Merritt lead the mega-church Straight Gate Congregation Church of Detroit as Pastor and Bishop, respectively, is a West Bloomfield High School graduate who excelled in class (Class of 2004 graduate with honors) and on the basketball hardwood (named All-State in his senior season).

Merritt moved on to the University of Michigan, where he co-captained a successful hoops team in his senior season and graduated in 2009. This past Monday, (Cyber Monday) the 26-year-old entrepeneur kicked off his latest venture — Merit fashion brand — which is as personally-motivated as the name suggests.

Twenty percent of the sales revenue goes to benefit college scholarships for students at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a Detroit charter school founded by the fellow UM basketball star-turned philanthropist Rose. Using an online, "crowdfunding" platform at indiegogo.com which may remind users of Kickstarter Merit offers a a collection of menswear items including logo t-shirts, sweaters, pants, and outerwear designed by Detroiter Nzimiro Oputa. 

Merritt answered five questions with Patch on Friday:

How does an average kid from West Bloomfield end up where you're at?

It's my parents. I've been so blessed. It just instilled in me the values of helping others. Being born in Detroit and always feeling connected to the city, I grew up with a heart for young people. Now that I've gotten older, that desire to help has only gotten stronger.

For those familiar with your first business venture, (a fashion brand named I Miss You, Inc. (IMU) which launched two years ago) how does this new venture fit with your values in comparison?

They're both cause brands — dedicated to helping the community. With IMU, we rewarded customers for doing community service. I saw it as a test of the market for cause brands. Since we started it, I've dove into those insights to better-position this brand in to what that could create sustainable, long-term impact.

Is it as exciting to hang out with Jalen Rose as I think it is?

He's a Detroit native with a similar story to mine, a similar upbringing. The big program here is our collaboration with the Leadership Academy — 20 percent of our revenues will benefit a scholarship fund for disadvantaged youth at the school. We want to be thought of not only as a company that makes great fashion and becomes a fashion player, but one that helps send kids to college.

As part of the indiegogo.com software, you accept donations in exchange for "perks," essentially clothes. Why do it this way?

It's a great test for us. This gives us the opportunity to engage our community and either get them really excited for us, or help us understand why people aren't ready for it. We think we're going to do really well. 

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

We feel like we've designed products that resonate with young people and we'd like to see that. We'd like have enough capital to invest in manufacturing our line to production-quantity and in the next two years, we'd like to be a million-dollar company.

For more information, visit indiegogo.com/Merit.

Stephanie Gonzales December 06, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Awesome cause! Loved the video.

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