Saving the Earth One Bracelet at a Time
Marist Fashion's "The Brunch" celebrates sustainability in the future of fashion
Designer Melissa Joy Manning with Alyssa Nagel ‘19, Student Director of Marist Fashion Event Planning
December 7, 2018—Every year, Fashion Program students in the Event Planning Class organize “The Brunch for Future Fashion Leaders,” an event that gives students a chance to hear firsthand from trailblazers in the industry and to mingle with their peers. The event takes place at the Payne Mansion, the home of Marist’s Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development. The Payne Mansion is a beautiful Beaux Arts-style palazzo overlooking the Hudson River, and it provided both a historic and fashionable backdrop for The Brunch.
In the course, led by Professor Juan-Manuel Olivera-Silvera, students are split into four teams: hospitality, communications, logistics, and guest relations. Students in the class are also given the opportunity to plan their own smaller events throughout the semester.
While sipping coffee and eating French toast in a beautiful setting is a major perk of this event, the real benefit is getting to hear from a fashion industry professional. This year, the guest speaker was sustainable luxury jewelry designer Melissa Joy Manning.
Manning grew up in Berkeley, California, where her love for jewelry blossomed beginning in Montessori school, where she began to play with beads. She loved going to the Berkeley flea market to find new materials for jewelry. While her creative side flourished, other aspects of her life as a student did not make a clear path for a future career. Her parents—a lawyer and an athletics director—did not see a creative field as a career option for their daughter. They took Manning for many personality evaluations in which she was asked what she was good at. Her response? “I can make jewelry.” The rest is history.
Manning attended college in Mexico, where she learned to be a silversmith. She also saw firsthand how natural materials were used and everything was handcrafted. Through that experience, she started to see her future as a jewelry designer becoming more about sustainability, and she has now incorporated these natural techniques into her work.
“If you’re making jewelry for the right reasons, which some people are not, you should want to make it in a responsible way,” said Manning. Her jewelry is made of only recycled silver and gold from a refinery that places a great deal of emphasis on sustainability. All of her products are also made by hand, ensuring that the waste that could be created from mass-produced fashion does not affect her work. Her ethical practices go beyond just jewelry making: her physical stores are mostly made from recycled building materials, and her employees are encouraged to go green during their shifts with reusable straws and cups provided by Manning always on hand. Aside from her e-commerce store, Manning now has two brick-and-mortar stores in both Berkeley and Brooklyn. She also sells her jewelry to numerous department stores, including Paper Trail in the Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck.
‘Stay True to Your Values’
During her speech at The Brunch, Manning stressed four pillars: ethos, community, beliefs, and failure. “Finding your ethos is incredibly important in any career,” said Manning. “Stay true to your values.” In regards to community, she talked about how a strong support system can be a tremendous benefit. She noted how she would not have been able to move to New York if it were not for her group of fashion industry colleagues who have helped her along the way, especially Marist professor and fashion designer DooRi Chung, whom she met while in New York and has stayed in touch with for many years. Chung also helped Manning to become involved with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Today, she is an influential member of the group.
Manning also spoke about her beliefs. She believes in making her family her first priority in her life, having them travel with her, and always being there for them. During her speech, she said that “the greatest thing that I have ever created was my son.” She also talked about her hiring process and how she hopes her employees share the same beliefs and work ethic that she does.
Her fourth and final pillar, failure, is one that struck many students in the audience. She noted feeling as a child that “failure was failure. But as I got older, I realized failure could be seen as a huge opportunity.” She talked in her speech about how her father told her that “when you stop failing you stop learning.” She encouraged students to take risks in their creative and professional endeavors to be able to get the most out of their careers.
“What struck me the most in Melissa's speech was her raw honesty. She did not sugarcoat anything about her business or what it takes to start one,” said Alyssa Nagel ‘19, Student Director of Marist Fashion Event Planning. “I loved how open she was about her business's financial troubles in the past few years. It showed me that no matter where you are in life, you should never give up or get too comfortable.”
Enhancing Industry Knowledge
“In the Marist Fashion program, we have many opportunities to contribute to the sustainability movement, including the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a Sustainability in Fashion Course, and many different recycled clothing sales on campus,” said student attendee Vanessa Shepherd ‘21. “These resources help us to incorporate sustainable practices in our future careers in the industry as much as possible.” Shepherd also pointed out “events such as ‘The Brunch’ or the ‘Silver Needle Runway’ give Marist Fashion students an opportunity to enhance our resumes and our knowledge of the industry.”
“As a student, it was amazing to hear from Melissa, who is an inspiring female entrepreneur,” said Nagel. “She gave wonderful insight on how to start a business. Many students at Marist strive to own a business one day—or already have one—so her advice was invaluable.”