September 9, 2014

Carte Blanche

“One day you’re in and the next day you’re out,” Heidi Klum once said.  Designer Monica Noh of Carte Blanche is pioneering the new fashion “In Crowd” through crowdsourcing.  Most fashion is mass produced.  These manufacturing techniques in turn produce tremendous amounts of waste.  Moreover, costs are marked up at outrageous prices at each stage ultimately wasting money throughout.  Monica Noh is trying to change the old fashion production model through crowdsourcing; aiming to eliminate waste and cut costs by more than half.  Her model is: design it, have consumers approve it, approvals go into production, the consumer gets what they want without excessive waste and cost.  Carte Blanche just wrapped up their first Kickstarter campaign which was very well-received and ultimately beating funding goals.  Businesses like Carte Blanche that make bold moves have the biggest impacts disrupting industries, often forthe better.  Monica gave us some wise advice about hiring friends and compartmentalizing the difference along with some other off the cuff advice that would help anyone starting their own business and establish their own brand.  We wanted to interview Monica Noh because her story is an inspiration for other emerging designers especially those that think outside of the box.

You mention in your bio that you’ve worked in the fashion industry for 5 plus years, what did you learn the most from these major companies and brands?

Gaining industry experience was really valuable for getting a holistic sense of how our clothing is made — from design, to product development, to production, to marketing and PR.

The Two-Way Zip Dress

Is there anything you wish you had known before entering the fashion world that maybe students and prospective designers do not know?

Lots of things!  But that’s true of any industry — going from college to the working world is a brutal wake-up call whether you’re an English major or a fashion designer.  I guess if I had to hone in on one, I’d say that even when I was in high school, many people tried to warn me about how tough this industry can be, but I was too passionate and driven – I wanted to try it for myself.

The biggest change that you are bringing to the table is crowdsourcing, how do you want this type of funding to change the fashion industry for the better?

Crowdsourcing is a very minimalist approach to producing clothing. Rather than designing and creating my collection in a silo, I really enjoy the idea of collaborating with consumers to hone in on the styles they really want to wear. This way, I can produce only the styles that hit their manufacturing minimums, eliminate mark-ups, and can pass those savings along to the customer.

The concept you’re doing is very innovative, what brought this idea on?

The idea of crowdsourcing my fashion line just made sense to me because starting one’s own fashion brand is so incredibly costly. For an emerging designer to take on all that financial risk without knowing if there’s a market for their clothing seemed really intimidating and for me, an impossible risk to take. I’m also interested in producing fewer, better quality products so crowdsourcing allows me to focus my resources on the styles people really love.

What was or is the most challenging part of starting and running Carte Blanche?

What I’ve realized is that starting a business means you have to confront all of your personal issues. There’s no such thing as work/life balance anymore, and it’s getting harder to compartmentalize colleagues versus friends. All of your behavioral patterns, the way you communicate, your fears, etc. all of that carries over into your work life – so not only do you have to learn how to build a business, you also have to be okay with unpacking a lot of personal issues.

Do you do all the sourcing yourself or do you have a team?

I do the sourcing myself, but I’ll be hiring a production manager to help with our production run for Kickstarter.

Is all your sourcing done only in New York or do you look to other countries and cities for certain findings?

For knits I’ve been sourcing in L.A., but for the most part I can find what I need in New York.

Through its FashionNYC 2020 initiative and others like it NYC Government is seeking to help designers get their start.  Have you utilized any of these programs and what do you think of such programs?  Do you think that more can be done to help designers get their start?

I haven’t personally taken part in these programs, but I think they’re great.  If you’re starting out and you want to learn very quickly, I’d say go for it! I think we can provide more opportunities for students to discover other aspects of the business, i.e. legal, finance, PR, marketing.  I don’t know how we can expect young fashion designers to build successful businesses if we’re not helping to round out their education.

Monica Noh, Designer of Carte Blanche

Monica Noh, Designer of Carte Blanche

What is the biggest piece of advice you can give anyone just getting started in fashion design?

Hone in on what you’re interested in designing, and know your customer.  You should know what shows she’s watching, what street she lives on, how she spends her weekends, etc.  If you want to make a living as a designer, you have to have the right product, at the right price, and for the right audience.  If you nail those three early on, you’re set.

Is there anything you would recommend for designers starting up to avoid?

Don’t get so caught up in designing that you lose sight of other areas of the business that need your attention!

You mention in your bio that you love snacks and doing impressions, what is your favorite snack and best impression?

I love Japanese rice crackers, but they’re kind of dangerous because I’ll finish the whole bag.  My best impression is of whoever I’m hanging out with at the moment, but I’m usually doing it to make them laugh. Carte Blanche is currently working on their second production run.  Thanks to their crowdsourcing model you can quite literally be a part of it, Follow the brand at Carte Blanche and watch how they attempt to disrupt the fashion industry.