Monica is the founder and designer behind Carte Blanche, the first womenswear brand to use crowd-sourcing to give users the power to decide what styles go into production.
Monica graduated from Parsons in '07 and spent years designing for brands like Ann Taylor and Kate Spade SATURDAY, dreaming of the day she'd launch her own collection. She founded Carte Blanche one year ago with 3 convictions in mind: less waste, better quality, and greater transparency. Monica has always loved designing chic yet super wearable dresses, so that's what Carte Blanche is starting with for launch.
On any given day at Carte Blanche HQ, Monica can be found poring over fabric swatches, posting behind-the-scenes photos, and dreaming up new ways to surprise and delight Carte Blanche fans.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, my parents were never too concerned about my grades or which college I was going to attend, but they always reinforced the idea of finding my passion and doing everything possible to make it happen. I learned the same lesson when I was at Parsons: that if I really wanted to explore an idea, a technique, or a project, it was up to me to trust my instincts and go all-in to make it work. I guess this loving sink-or-swim teaching style has taught me to be okay with carving my own path and building on what piques my curiosity.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Carte Blanche?
After I graduated, I spent a few years designing knitwear at a large fashion company and eventually got burnt out on the 15-hours days that were spent largely on Excel and e-mail and not very creative at all. I think every fashion designer goes through this reality check and either makes the choice to accept it, leave the industry, or strike out on their own.
With Carte Blanche, I really get to lay everything out and examine what works vs. what doesn't, and just get rid of systems that are inefficient or obsolete. I love having the freedom and agility of a small company to experiment and pivot when necessary.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Carte Blanche?
One of the highlights has been the people I've met along the way. It's amazing how much I've learned in the past year: simply by rubbing shoulders with others who are building on their own ideas or passions. So many have helped me with advice, a word of inspiration, or tools they love. Without those interactions, I would have built Carte Blanche in a bubble by myself.
Another highlight was my Kickstarter launch party. Celebrating the coming together of the video, the dresses, and the community that's supported Carte Blanche from the beginning was really humbling and surreal.
An inadvertent challenge has been the fact that while crowdsourcing is now several years old and beginning to become mainstream, in fashion it's a brand new concept. Trying to explain our business model in an easily understandable nutshell, and explain why it's better for everyone all around - the designer, the manufacturer, and the user - is a challenge, but I think that's where the fashion industry is headed so I'm optimistic.
How is Kickstarter transforming your business?
Kickstarter is a great launching pad for Carte Blanche because it's where I get to test-drive our brand and product before we move over onto our own e-commerce crowdfunding site. How to make these dresses as tangible as possible through video and images, seeing which dresses are most backed, and how to better serve our community has been so fascinating to watch thus far.
What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
Fortune favors the bold! Starting a business definitely means getting out of your comfort zone, networking, asking for help and advice, and going for things that you might think are above your qualifications.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work/life balance is nearly impossible so I make sure to schedule social activities that allow me to unwind and relax with friends throughout the week. Otherwise, I'm glued to my laptop all day and eventually become less productive, less inspired, and less energized.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I can't speak for all women, but at least for me, it was really difficult for me to stand up for myself, ask for a raise, or go for a position I thought was above my station. I didn't realize that starting my own company would mean I'd constantly be pitching, and constantly seeking help or advice! But I've been really surprised by the number of times I've asked for something expecting a no, but was met with a really warm yes, especially within in the tech community.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
With all of the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, I probably would've given up a long time ago! Building a strong relationship with great communication and trust with a mentor has been incredible, and because now my professional and personal life are so intertwined, having a safe place to go and release everything has been an essential part of the process.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many and so varied, from Sheryl Sandberg, to Jenna Lyons, to Lena Dunham, to Elizabeth Warren. I really love and admire women who are doing incredible things in their respective industries with authenticity, intelligence, and balance.
What do you want Carte Blanche to accomplish in the next year?
I'd love to deliver our first production run of dresses to our Kickstarter backers and take all the learning from this experience and apply it to our next iteration, which would be our own e-commerce crowdfunding site.