Kara Sweeney, class of 2017, and Melissa Annecchini, class of 2018, are at the forefront of a fashion revolution. Both fashion merchandising majors, the two are among a generational movement to reverse the negative stigma surrounding the industry. A business notoriously dominated by stick-thin models and excessive competition, Kara and Melissa hope to transform the world of fashion that they fell in love with at Marist.
“My grandpa always used to say, ‘if you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day in your life,’” Kara reflected. Born and raised in the small town of Blauvelt, New York, just an hour outside of Poughkeepsie, Kara wasn’t exactly sure what it was she loved before college. In high school, she planned on majoring in Italian and working as a teacher. Although she always admired Stacey London, the co-host of the show “What Not To Wear,” she never thought of fashion as a career. But after discovering Marist, that perspective changed.
“I had never been away from home until the Marist pre-college program. I heard of the school, and my dad made me apply,” she said. “And when I sort of stumbled upon product development [at Marist], I thought: this is it.” Melissa’s story goes a bit differently. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, she spent much of her childhood state-hopping between Kansas, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri where she currently resides.
“I grew up in a place that was really diverse. I always had school, sports and the arts; I had access to everything,” she said. Though fashion was always an interest for her, she did not realize her true passion until she was 15 years old participating in a theatre production. “During the show, I saw this girl crying, but then by the end of the show, she was smiling and laughing. At that point I realized I just wanted to make people happy and entertain them.”
Despite their different backgrounds, Kara and Melissa’s shared interest led them both to Marist professor Melissa Halvorson’s class in the spring of 2016. The class worked to create the Marist Fashion Magazine, which was presented at the department’s Silver Needle fashion show in May of that same year. The magazine, an artistic masterpiece of images and sketches that illustrate the fashion industry both historically and cross culturally, currently resides in the fashion department in Donnelly. Portraits of 21st century models donning cutting-edge trends emerge from a 1920’s rustic setting in the pages of the magazine—screaming both transformation and emersion of trends then and now.
Melissa captures the essence of this transformation in her award-winning article, “Prime Amazon: The Race to Now.” The article details the Amazon empire in its takeover of a number of industries, including fashion. While Amazon has already succeeded in gaining a stronghold of the food and electronics industries, Melissa describes the fashion transition as more difficult, considering consumers are “fickle and difficult to pin down.” Nonetheless, Melissa’s analysis of Amazon’s marketing strategies as it closes in on clothing merchandise provides foresight into the technological dominance.
“There has always been tremendous rivalry among fashion brands to be the first and the fastest to capture and deliver current trends before they are out of style,” her article reads. “Amazon will be in direct competition with the same brands it carries. Its industry-shaking promise to those other brands is that they will have to start competing with ‘Now.’”
Melissa’s inspiration for her writing came from her dad, who gave her the topic for her piece.“My dad is so supportive and always sending me articles,” she said. “I like writing on technology and how it is changing the world, which is the basis for this work.” Melissa was among the very few of 6000 contestants considered for the Columbia Scholastic Press Association awards to be recognized for national excellence for her article. “Prime Amazon: The Race to Now” received second place for non-fiction articles.
Kara was also recognized for her contributions to the magazine. In charge of layout and design for the magazine, Kara also wrote and designed a collaborative page that featured a design created by Kristen Wong, class of 2017 and photographed by Isabelle Hank, class of 2018. The design, an intricate pattern of stitches, beads and fabric embroidered together to form series of flowers, was accompanied by Kara’s description of the piece.
“After Kristen embroidered the piece, retouched and photoshopped it, she said, ‘tell me about it,” Kara recalled. And that is just what she did. With numbers pointing out specific design and fabric methods, she personalized Kristen’s product by detailing the intricacies of the beading with corresponding footnotes.
“The hardest part of achieving the "fish scale" texture of the flowers is making sure everything looks randomly placed, when everything else is uniform and perfect. It goes against everything the beader is taught,” she wrote in one of the notes.The alternative story form was named “60 Hours: level II at ecole lesage, Paris.” Kara’s work earned her, Kristen and Isabelle a Certificate of Merit for Most Original Creative. In addition to the alternate story form, Kara also made the advertisements and helped format the final product. “The magazine was a really cool experience,” she said. “It was really rewarding for me to show my parents.”
Fortunately for Kara, she will have the opportunity to continue her work in product development for Macy’s after graduation. She plans to stay at Macy’s in New York City and continue to work her way up to a higher role. Melissa, who still has one more year of undergraduate study, is very active not only fashion, but in acting as well, as she holds a theatre minor. She intends on continuing to manage both passions, and hopes to explore trend-forecasting.
As both students venture through the industry and pursue their different directions, their commitment to the business’ transformation seems to be their driving force. “Fashion can make people confident,” Melissa said. “Even though it will always be competitive, it will be cool to see how our generation can transform it so that it doesn’t have to have that negative stigma.”