From helping curb hunger to sending disadvantaged kids to college, these local brands are giving back in a big way.
BY LEENA RAO
When entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie launched his shoe company TOMS in 2006, the one-for-one business model (in which a single item — in this case, a pair of shoes — is given away for each item purchased) was all but unheard of in the fashion world.
TOMS has since shifted its model: It ended footwear donations and is now giving a third of profits to local, community-focused organizations and causes such as gun violence. Still, Mycoskie’s giving-back idea has gone mainstream, with retailers from eyewear giant Warby Parker to sock company Bombas jumping on the charitable bandwagon.
And Detroit-based companies are no exception: In the past few years the city has seen the debut of several clothing and retail companies that hold giving back central to their mission. Chris George, the founder of Certified, an apparel company that aims to end food insecurity, says Detroit simply breeds entrepreneurs who want to give back, thanks to its scrappiness. “Detroit is such a tough city and we’ve been through a lot and come back stronger,” he says. “People naturally want to give back to a community [like that]. It’s a blessing that we have founders who don’t just want to make money for themselves.”
Here, a few local companies that are giving back, and the causes they’re helping to support.
Chief cause: Hunger Relief
Chris George of Bloomfield Hills has founded seven different companies since he was 21 years old, but after the sale of his last company The Gentleman’s Box (a subscription service that delivered grooming products and fashion accessories to men) in 2020, the 37-year-old says he wanted to build a brand that would give back to the community.
In May, he debuted streetwear company Certified, which is on a mission to curb hunger: The Troy-based business has partnered with hunger-relief organization Feeding America to donate meals for every hoodie sold.
One hoodie, which costs $100, funds 100 meals, George says. “I look at all of the money we sometimes waste and to think that someone is hungry … I just can’t fathom it,” he says. “Once I saw statistics on how many people go without food, I wanted to try and do something about it.”
Certified’s sweatshirts and T-shirts are simple: They’re black and white and bear phrases like “Certified,” “Verified,” “Confirmed,” and “No Excuses” — which George, who creates the designs with his team, says is a throwback to authenticity. “There are two types of buyers: those that are socially conscious and those that want the high- end product,” he says. “I wanted to create a quality, high-end product that still gives back.”
Certified has donated more than 30,000 meals. Its goal: 100 million meals (which means sales of 1 million items). This fall, the company will roll out jogger and hoodies sets, plus new T-shirts and backpacks. “I’ve learned that building a brand is a long game,” George says. “But success for me is leaving a legacy behind. No one remembers you for what you have, they remember you for what you have given to the world.”
Company: Love Yourself
Chief cause: Mental health advocacy
Like countless college students, Maher Hachem found himself at a crossroads during his senior year at the University of Michigan in 2017. He wanted to pursue a career in music but as the pressure to get a “real job” mounted, “it took a toll on my mental health,” says the now-27-year-old, who lives in Detroit. Around that time, he looked in the mirror one day and wished he could see a positive message reflected back at him. That’s when he got the idea to make clothes that would do just that: give anyone the boost he or she needed when looking in a mirror.
He started making samples that year and in 2020 officially launched Love Yourself Clothing, which features T-shirts, sweat-shirts, sweatpants, and accessories with the phrase “Love yourself ” — written backwards so it will reflect correctly in a mirror. “It started selfishly as something I would want,” Hachem says. “We need a constant reminder of self-love and to appreciate who [we] are.”
Hachem donates a portion of his company’s profits to various mental health organizations, including the Trevor Project (a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth), To Write Love on Her Arms (dedicated to helping those struggling with depression, addiction, and self-harm) and the Wolverine Support Network, which promotes mental health on the University of Michigan’s campus.
Although his company is less than two years old, Hachem has already inked partnerships with the health-drink company Olipop and began a clothing collaboration with The Wolverine Support Network. “It’s really amazing seeing strangers message me about the impact of their Love Yourself apparel on their life and mental health,”says Hachem, who ended up pursuing a music career, after all — he records and performs under the name Munch and has opened for artists including Big Sean. “It makes me appreciate the impact you can have on people.”
Company: Dare to Be /Yer’self/
Chief cause: Giving back to the community, from local essential workers to at-risk LGBTQ+ youth
Tyrik Davis always dreamed of starting his own clothing line — so much so that after graduating from Spring Arbor University, he turned down a corporate job at an automotive company to work at Lululemon so that he could get retail experience. “Do what you love and the money will come,” says the Detroit resident, now 28.
In May 2019, while working at Lululemon, he was inspired to start Dare To Be /Yer’self/, a clothing company aimed at motivating others to have confidence in their own skin and beliefs. The message was born from his post-college search for his life’s path — and his passion. “I was trying to live up to expectations of family,” he says. “Dare to be yourself was inspired by my own struggle.”
Davis debuted his line of black-and-white T-shirts online and within a few months, he’d sold more than 1,000 shirts. “I realized that this was a brand,” he said of that milestone. “All the pieces of the puzzle began to come together.” Even retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have jumped onboard, selling the shirts in their pop-up stores.
Aside from sharing positive messages, giving back to the community and those in need is central to his company, Davis says. During the pandemic, he donated 1,000 “dare to be #onthefrontline” T-shirts for essential workers and partnered with Papa’s Pizza in Oak Park and Berkley to send meals to frontline workers.
Also in 2020, Dare To Be /Yer’self/ released a limited edition tie-dye T-shirt for Pride Month, with a portion of each sale donated to the Ruth Ellis Center, a Highland Park-based shelter for at-risk and homeless LGTBQIA+ young adults. The initiative raised more than $1,600.
Next up: Davis is planning to launch a podcast that will feature him talking to business owners and entrepreneurs about confidence and personal growth. “I feel like this brand isn’t just about me,” he says. “When I’m dead and gone, the company will still be running. It’ s such a rewarding feeling to know that we are helping people.”
Company: Merit Goodness
Chief cause: Sending kids to college
As a former University of Michigan basketball star and pastor at Detroit’s Straight Gate International Church, David Merritt has always had a desire to help level the playing field for at-risk youth. “I want to ensure that … as a kid, you have opportunities no matter what the color of your skin is or where you live,” Merritt says.
That mindset was the inspiration behind Merit Goodness, a brand that the Bloomfield Hills resident created in 2012 with the mission of helping kids get to college. It’s known for T-shirts and sweat-shirts bearing positive messages geared toward Detroit youth, like “Detroit Is Black” and “Because Detroit.” The apparel is sold on the company’s website and at two Meijer stores in Detroit, thanks to a recent partnership. Merritt says he spells the company’s name Merit in a nod to the word’s definition: “character or conduct deserving honor or esteem.”
Alongside the clothing line, Merritt, 35, also founded a nonprofit arm called FATE, a youth development and education organization to which Merit donates 20% of its profits. The initiative supports 50 students from Detroit’s Jalen Rose Leadership Academy annually and has given $8,000 in college scholarships to participants. Earlier this year, the nonprofit partnered with Foot Locker to create a commemorative line for Black History Month, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to FATE. “The young people we work with give us so much life and they are such a joy,” Merritt says. “I think about them and the impact they’ve made on us more than anything else.”
Building two organizations at once has been challenging, Merritt admits. He’s been forced to close stores (including one in Ann Arbor and pop-up shops at Twelve Oaks Mall and Great Lakes Crossing), but he says the opportunity to help kids keeps him going. “Fashion is the perfect medium for our messaging,” he says. “It connects you to a community of people who are interested in style and making a positive impact.”