MPorium Is Not Your Average Fashion Boutique in Poughkeepsie

This student-run boutique offers a glimpse into real-world retail.

Did you know Marist College is ranked as one of the best fashion programs in the world? The Poughkeepsie university offers students just about everything, from study abroad or four-year fashion merchandising programs in Florence, Italy, to experiential learning opportunities to connections with top designers. There’s also a $100,000 fashion design scholarship established by Ralph Lauren last year that aims to help remove financial barriers to a fashion education.

And, when you walk into the Steel Plant building on campus, you might do a double take when you spot MPorium, a boutique run entirely by fashion merchandising undergrads. The airy space looks just like a well-stocked shop you might find on a Hudson Valley town’s main street—and that’s the whole point.

Staffed by the 30 students enrolled in Marist’s retail entrepreneurship course, these undergrads aren’t just tasked with selling college swag. Instead, the group plans, buys, and markets a rotating inventory—40 percent is either designed, developed, or purchased from Marist fashion students—featuring themed, curated collections in categories such as apparel, jewelry, gifts, stationery, home goods, and wellness products.

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The goal is to offer students as much real world experience as possible. And they get plenty: Each student is required to work two shifts a week in the store and help at events like the Silver Needle Runway (SNR), the college’s largest event production, featuring garments designed by fashion design students in a professional runway setting. This year’s 38th annual SNR is scheduled for May 3.

“One of the hallmarks of our programs is our experiential learning,” says Jennifer Finn, chair of the design and merchandising program, adding that the store is open every day and students also manage the store’s website. (Students at Marist Italy also run an online shop called MPorio). “Our students are learning all the nuances of maintaining a fashion enterprise. For example, if something isn’t selling, we work to understand why—and figure out what we need to do to better serve our customers,” says Finn.

The atmosphere that shoppers experience when they walk through the MPorium doors is an important priority for students, too. “Everyone is super friendly in the store, and they want to talk to you when you come in,” says Kiera Cameron, a senior, whose job as student director of ecommerce involves optimizing the online retail experience and collaborating with the marketing team. “We’re focused on creating a great atmosphere and selling cool things, too.”

Some of the biggest sellers now are student-designed “845” hoodies and a “From the 845 with Love” sweatsuit. Students are looking forward to the store’s spring theme, Free to Flourish, which is sure to appeal to the entire community, says Brooke Stickles, a senior, and student director of store operations. “We’re going to accessorize the store with whimsical five-foot flowers,” says Stickles. “The products will consist of different floral designs, vibrant colors, and on-trend items that will allow our customers to flourish in their own special way.”

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Inside MPorium. Photo by Kaitlyn Dugan

And, with all proceeds contributing to the funds needed for the next semester’s class and supporting fashion scholarships, the project is a win-win. “I love how we all learn from each other and we’re so passionate about what we’re learning on the job,” says Stickles. “This has been such a well-rounded experience.”

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