Monique Autumn Carter launched her very own clothing brand when she was only a high schooler.
Since she was 16, Monique knew she wanted to grow a brand with a message close to her heart. That is what she’s done with Canji, which first launched in April of 2020.
Canji is a clothing brand that sells comfortable streetwear, including t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, hats, and bags.
The word “canji” means “change,” in the Hausa language of West Africa. When deciding what to name her brand, this word resonated with Monique the most, as she is passionate about making a change in the world around her.
Through her brand, Monique has also been working on a program called Project Dream, an afterschool program centered on helping a margin within marginalized schools.
There is a population of students labeled as the “bad, “troubled” kids or “the kids who get kicked out of class.” These students are usually dealing with personal and family problems, financial stressors, learning disabilities, among other things.
Monique explains that in many marginalized communities, there is a school to prison pipeline. In under-resourced schools, there tends to be a reliance on police and discipline rather than teachers and mental health professionals to help these students who are struggling. This causes a disproportionate number of students of color to drop out of school and enter the criminal justice system.
Monique’s program is working to stop this pipeline and help students in a unique way — by utilizing their creativity.
“If students are given more attention in ways that appeal to them, like creativity, photography, fashion, dance, it can help shift their perspective on school and careers, shift their behaviors, and turn them into students who love school,” she says.
“If you don’t like school but then school is continuously pushed on to you, how can we better serve you?”
For updates on this project, you can follow the Canji Community Instagram page.
She is involved in restorative justice work in New York City public high schools, helping to train teachers in equity for their students.
“Every school, every system, every child is different, and we use the tools we have to, instead of giving everybody the same resources, customize it to every school and every child. How can we help you in a way that actually helps you?” Monique says.
“It’s something that I really align with as a person, being able to bring equity to marginalized communities and high schools.”
On top of running Canji and working for the NYC Department of Education, Monique is a busy college student at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). She has her associate’s degree in advertising and marketing communications, and she is now pursuing a bachelor of science degree in direct and interactive marketing.
Monique is also the president of her school’s radio broadcasting station, WFIT. Outside of class, you can find her DJing at special events in and outside of the school, something she started doing just six months ago.
“I’m able to just play music that I think people would enjoy. It allows me to connect with them without even needing to speak. The head nods and the dancing are all the affirmations that I need.”
Staying hopeful and motivated is often a struggle for entrepreneurs, especially those who are in school like Monique.
An obstacle for Monique was wanting to leave school to focus only on her business, but she continues to persevere and has hopes to apply her degree in all of her endeavors.
“I’m going to keep doing all of these things until one of them pushes me to wherever I’m trying to go, versus picking one and dropping all of the others,” she says.
Monique is proud of continuously pushing herself and not giving up when life gets hard.She always tries to remember this advice — “You’re not just doing it for you. There are other people looking up to you that are inspired by you.”
“I’ve always wanted to do so many different things at one time. My parents always joke about when I was younger, how I wanted to be on Jeopardy, I wanted to be a firefighter, a DJ. I had interests in everything,” she says.
“‘She can be both’ reminds me exactly of me. I can be a designer, a student, an employee, and a youth leader all at the same time — I don’t have to pick one. I can do it all.”