Marist’s Ethical Fashion Initiative Club, Changing the World One Garment at a Time.

As of 2017 The Business of Fashion has ranked Marist Fashion Program as 38th globally in their annual ranking of fashion schools, but how much are these students learning about the ethical aspect of fashion.  In 2016, alumni Rebekkah Coclasure started her senior year of college with one goal in mind, to startup the Ethical Fashion Initiative Club.  By the end of her senior year she had succeeded, but has anyone stopped to wonder where are they now?  With that stood other looming questions, what have they done for ethical fashion and where are they headed for the future?

Ethical Fashion is defined as follows, Ethical Fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”  There are designers that have taken strides to be more ethically conscious of their products, as well as designs showcased in fashion week that have been inspired by those who are taking the steps forward to better the earth.  Reading the stories that went along with the ethical issues that designers, as well as marketers, have faced through the industry were shocking and heartbreaking.  Majority of the issues are centered around the manufacturer aspect of the fashion world, and the club believes in moving towards a

A story from Foxtales that was released around the clubs debut featured a quote around the clubs debut, “Marist’s Ethical Fashion Initiative is a new club founded this year that sees fashion as a means for development and strives to provide support to local artisans and designers of the Hudson Valley area. The club recognizes the destructive aspects of the unsustainable fashion system, and how we all take part in the system whether it be through creation, production, communication, or consumption of fashion.The club focuses on one main goal: changing the way people view fashion and demonstrating how the apparel industry functions today.”

Melissa Halvorson, Sustainability professor at Marist College, enlightened me on her class and her position as faculty advisor of the club.  “The class and the club aren’t directed related, it’s a campus club open to all majors.  The point of the club is for it to be interdisciplinary so they undertake research, community projects, study groups, and things like that.”  

Where most students would be under the assumption that this club was rooted in fashion, it takes on the bigger picture with business, environmental science, even communication students, every major is invited to play their part in building this club.  The Fashion Handbook summarizes the Sustainability class as…

A survey of contemporary issues related to sustainability and the global fashion industry. Through readings, film and experiential activities, students explore the human, ecological and economic costs associated with the current system and generate solutions with both immediate and long-term applications.”  

The class has been running as an online course for seven years, and has started to be built into the fashion student curriculum.  For those fashion students that wanted to go abroad it appeared as though there wasn’t anything about sustainability offered, but it turns out that with the Paris division the class is renamed Product Development.  According to Halvorson the person that teaches Product Development for those Paris students is an advocate and activist for ethical fashion. “I’m an evangelist when it comes to sustainable fashion, I think it touches everyone, and I think it should be much more widespread than it is.”


(From Left to Right) President of Ethical Fashion Initiative Emily Gorini (Junior) and Vice President Samantha Jablonski (Senior)

President of the Ethical Fashion Initiative Club Emily Gorini, is a Junior at Marist College and a Fashion Merchandising Major.  During the recent Ethical Fashion Fair Gorini gave insights into the clubs recent activity as well as where they are going in the future.  During the activity fair this past year, EFI gained 150 new members, Gorini contributes the clubs growth to the awareness of the issue. “Ethical Fashion, to me means, being aware of where your clothes are made, and how they’re being made, not necessarily that you have to buy the most expensive sustainable clothing, but maybe just going to the thrift store more instead of Forever 21 or something like that. ” Gorini said, “Many people think they can not be sustainable because they can not afford expensive designers that have gone exclusively sustainable. This is not the case. Just repair a pair of jeans that have a tear in them or repurposing old clothing that you no longer wear can make a lasting impact. Even if you’re not handy with a needle and thread shopping at a local thrift store or consignment shop instead of fast fashion stores is helpful.”

Taking the club a step further we talked about the idea that Gorini has for the future, she talked about how in her fashion classes she’s learning more about sustainable fashion everyday.  Recently the club has started a project with the Marist Community Garden, they will have a box that will grow natural dyes to be used in the Fashion Department, as well as other events.

Back in the fall the club had also sponsored an Ethical Fashion Fair that featured 10 vendors from the Hudson Valley, considerably the clubs largest project to date, coming to sell their ethical and sustainable products.  With over 50 students making purchases, including faculty and students browsing.  This semesters fair included 11 vendors, one of which was Ginamarie Engels, a jewelry artist from Nyack New York.


Gianamarie Engels, Jewelry Artist

Her start is interesting, every 17 years cicadas come over Nyack, in 2013 they came in millions.  “I was walking down the street, I looked down on the ground and I saw two wings, they were from the cicada but I didn’t know then.  I saw these wings and they were just very beautiful and I was just like I need to make something for myself.” Little did she know the cicadas would be coming all through the spring, Engels preserved the wings into jewelry which inspired her to collect more and create different pieces from what she found.


Each piece had a story, somewhere it had been that she found in nature, “We don’t always get to see, we don’t always get to be outside as much these days, and get to really see nature.” Engels has been in the business for 4 and a half year, doing pieces that teach people even more about the nature around them everyday.  Engels gave a little advice for budding entrepreneur like herself, “just sticking with it, cause in the beginning of making my jewelry it was not coming out well at all, I didn’t know what I was doing, I just felt like I had to just continue, keep going, and just practicing and figuring it out.”

Ethical Fashion still poses as a large problem in today’s society, every ounce that we put in to educate ourselves as well as take steps towards a greener earth helps in the long run.  There is nothing better knowing that we have a club here on campus that is moving towards helping their industry as well as the environment.

For those interested in learning about Sustainability check out the class, and those interested in being part of the club can reach out to the EFI Board at  Those interested in buying or learning more about Engels and her business can check her out at as well as her Facebook and Instagram pages.


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