At Sunday’s IMU photoshoot, LSA sophomore Courtney Cox took a brief break from tweeting giveaways to describe her unique internship experience. Like many Michigan students, Cox had been hopelessly looking for internship opportunities in merchandising, until she came across the Facebook fan page for I Miss You, Inc. (IMU), a brand founded by David Merritt, former captain of the Michigan men’s basketball team.
“Have you ever had someone tell you that they miss you?” Merritt asked. “It makes you feel special. It makes you feel valued.”
David Merritt is not the typical self-absorbed all-star-athlete-turned-fashion-designer. If you’re looking for an entourage or the arrogant swagger that comes with leading a team to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years, you won’t find it here. Instead, Merritt is so admirably humble, it’s almost frustrating. He just keeps it real — and stylish. He has everything you’d hope to find in the president and CEO of one of Ann Arbor’s hottest up-and-coming fashion lines.
But how did the former hoops player combine his two seemingly disparate interests of basketball and fashion?
According to Merritt, he never had any intentions of getting involved in fashion. But his experiences playing basketball with selfless teammates like School of Public Policy graduate student and former captain C.J. Lee ultimately became his inspiration for IMU.
The IMU brand sells T-shirts which combine the urban style with joy and color. The shirt designs serve perfectly to illustrate the meeting point of style and service.
“As a captain, I learned the importance of selflessness and giving of yourself to reach team goals — goals that are bigger than you personally.” Merritt said. “Like watching C.J. Lee come in every day just to motivate people in order to make the team as good as it could be. These types of goals are what’s really behind IMU as a brand.”
And the IMU brand isn’t just a fashion line; it’s a mission statement. Merritt wants each customer to feel a sense of belonging, value and, most importantly, community.
“We want to make people happy, we want to make people feel special, but at the same time we want them to realize that they are unique as individuals due to their experiences and the community that surrounds them. So it’s important for them to give back and appreciate others,” he said.
The foundations of the IMU brand are really in its community service endeavors. Fashion is the perfect vehicle to spread this type of message, because fashion isn’t just about clothing — it’s about making statements. People convey their beliefs and values through their clothing. With his brand, Merritt hopes to convey the message of happiness and community service that he is so passionate about.
“Through our community service projects, we hope to provide a direct impact on memories that will not be forgotten, but missed,” Merritt said.
Merritt views the brand as a challenge: Every IMU employee is required to put in eight to ten hours of community service per month. But he extends the challenge to customers as well, with each t-shirt representing and encouraging an hour of community service from customers.
Customers who purchase an IMU T-shirt and then do an hour of community service, you receive 20 percent off their next purchase.
While his company is involved in many projects in the Detroit metropolitan area, Merritt is most passionate about the convergence of arts and academics in the educational system. Accordingly, IMU partnered with the educational organization Beyond Basics to host the Thirkell Elementary MLK Jr. Expressions Contest, in which both organizations helped young students write and illustrate stories.
“Thirkell students and teachers were very touched by the MLK Expressions experience. They loved having the oportunity to bond with a group as diverse as the IMU Inc. team. Everyone left our room with ear-to-ear smiles,” Beyond Basics Program Director Khadigah Alasry said.
Eighteen semi-finalists will receive awards for both writing and art. Prizes include private coaching sessions with a professional author or artist, as well as a compilation of a book including work from each semi-finalist. Finally, in honor of Black History Month, the IMU team will travel back to Thirkell Elementary to host various prominent figures who lived during the Civil Rights Movement to share their inspiring experiences with students. Through these efforts, IMU is devoted to keeping the arts alive in schools.
Cox, a Detroit native, finds the community service work to be especially meaningful, because IMU is ultimately working toward bettering the educational system that she went through.
“Fashion is often solely superficial, but the IMU brand is focused on bettering the surrounding community, especially in Detroit where you can really make a difference,” Cox said.
She also talked of the benefits of working under someone as modest and approachable as Merritt.
“(Merritt) is young and is always interested in getting our input. You really feel like you’re an integral part of the brand,” Cox said.
As long as the brand stays true to its altruistic, community service-oriented vision, Merritt hopes to expand the company.
He views Ann Arbor as the ideal location for the foundation of the IMU brand and is looking for University students like Cox who are interested in internship opportunities.
“We offer class credit for fashion students,” Merritt said. “From photography to economics to engineering, we want it all.”
As an intern, Cox works at IMU four hours a week, doing community service work, making fundraising schedules, writing blog posts and discussing ways to expand the brand.
This month, IMU is unveiling IMUGrind with the new line, “IMU is reclaiming plaid.”
“We are taking what was once worn primarily by blue collar workers, lumberjacks and farmers, and making it our own.” Merritt explained.
Whether you’re an artist, scholar, athlete or lumberjack, IMU supports your grind and invites you to pursue your passions in style.