Susan Correa, founder and CEO of Art & Eden, has spent her entire career in the apparel industry. She knew first hand the result of low-price competitiveness and quick turn-around pressures in the fashion industry. At Art and Eden she is determined to pave a new path, one that is better for people and better for the planet. Susan is adamant about using sustainable materials, low impact dyes, low emission factories and recycled packaging. Fair practices, safe factories and artist support also feeds into this applaudable business model. I am so happy that she found the time to answer some of my questions. I am honoured to have her interview on my page. Please take a look … without a doubt it is very inspirational.
Tell me about your company, Art and Eden.
art & eden was born on Jan 25th 2017, from a mission to be the best in the world by being best for the world. It is an intersection where profit and purpose coexist. We attempted to reimagine a new way forward for the business of fashion, what we quite simply call – The Better Way: a children’s business that cares for the planet by adopting sustainable practices, that is focussed on building thoughtful and intentional processes to treat people in our value chain right, that cares about under-resourced kids in our local and global communities by meeting their needs. Our goal is to harness the incredible power of business and use it to be a force for good.
What led you to start the company?
It was August 18th, 2014, the day that everything changed for me and my life was forever transformed.Couple weeks prior, I had read a blog post about the Hope Foundation School in Bangalore, India. The school served a hot nutritious meal to the kids in the school. For most kids that was the only meal of the day. I immediately felt compelled to be the difference and provide for the meal and so I launched a program called Empower; for every garment sold, we provided a hot nutritious meal to a child in need. I entered the school that morning completely fired up to make a difference in the lives of these kids but I left the school that evening totally transformed; it was the kids who ended up changing my life.
I realized that I had searched my whole life for Somebody To Do Something about the great divides and unfair contrasts of the world. It just dawned on me, that I was the someone that I had searched for, and I was well able and perfectly capable of doing something that mattered. That realization marked the moment when everything changed and almost unknowingly, I planted the seeds of what was to become art & eden.
I found my Why and consequently, found The Better Way: the art & eden way.
What inspires you both personally and as a team?
When I was able to touch the lives of 400 children, through the Empower program, at the end of that day the dream was planted to scale impact to improve the lives of 4 million children.The fact that we now have the possibility of achieving this goal through art & eden while embracing choices that are sustainable, is what makes me jump out of bed each day and show up, grateful, fired up and all in.
The art & eden team, is an inspired group of change makers. We are very different from each other and yet totally unified in the vision we share for a better world for all. We are working on changing the industry from inside out. We recognize that our choices do matter and changing the world starts with changing ourselves. It is truly wonderful to see that what we do matters. Giving feels awesome.
How have you built relationships with your producers, designers and suppliers?
I grew up with a fascination for fashion and spent over two decades in the apparel industry, producing and shipping apparel for a vast number of American retailers. Prior to building art & eden I was running two businesses, one of which was a private label sourcing business. My journey was global and commenced in India and quickly accelerated to building and leading multi million dollar businesses across Europe, Canada & the United States. It spanned the entire spectrum of the market from top tier dept stores, down to the discount retailers, it traversed across mens, womens and childrens and it spanned over juniors, missy, plus & contemporary markets. Over my career I had developed many amazing connections, built awesome relationships, many of which now support art & edens journey today.
Why do you think the clothing industry is so crucial to the future wellbeing of our world?
The clothing industry is a 2.4 trillion dollar business. It impacts everybody’s life. It would be the world’s 7th largest economy if placed alongside individual countries.
While fashion immediately evokes images of beauty & perfection, the pretty little secret is that it is quite the dirty polluter that follows archaic rules that fails to honor human and ecological rights.Eileen Fisher has famously said,“The clothing industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry.”We, in the fashion business do have a great responsibility to make a difference to the well being of our planet.
What is the unseen impact of fashion today?
The unseen impact of fashion actually begins, because everyone is, “NOW SEEN ”. This psychological shift and the insta-popularity of social media platforms, where you have to be SEEN- in every micro trend that emerges and you just can’t photographed in the same outfit twice spins into an inclination to constantly buy more. To afford to buy more all of the time, it has to be cheap – and so the answer to this need was the emergence of fast fashion which has impacts on many different levels:-
Fast fashion is cheap and hence easily discarded. 4% of global landfills are being filled with clothing.
Every year 1.5 billion garments are produced by about 40 million people working in about a quarter million factories.The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed more than a thousand people, bought to the spotlight, that one of the costs, of cheap fashion, is unsafe and unfair manufacturing conditions, coupled with environmental costs .When all attention is solely focussed on bringing fashion, quickest and cheapest to market, the unseen price is, not at all cheap.
Cotton represents about half of the total fibre content used in making clothing today. More than 90% of that cotton is genetically modified. Cotton production occupies 3% of global farmland but is now responsible for usage of 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide. The heavy use of these chemicals most definitely has impacts both on human health and on the land.
The pursuit of fast fashion translates to wearing down the planet’s resources as we are consuming the finite resources at a pace that cannot be replenished. Everyone ends up getting exploited : the consumer, the planet’s resources and the people who produce them.
Do you think business practices and global supply chains have improved or worsened over the years?
For as long as the attention of the industry is fixed on speed to market and lowering price points, neither of which allow time for thoughtful and intentional processes, there will continue to be apathy and carelessness about the intensity of the impact of the fast fashion momentum on the planet.Our biggest problem, is for most part we all think that resolving the crisis of environmental damage and depletion is somebody else’s problem to solve.
The retail industry constantly demands the lowering of price points and there are bound to be injustices that emerge when the market is driven in a race to the bottom of the price pit.The consequence of this single axis, one dimensional focus results in choices that fundamentally damage the environment, many a time shortchange the value chain and inevitably piles up landfills with more disposable fast fashion.
Prior to building out art & eden, I was part of and party to this whole systemic industry malaise and also succumbed to the pressures.The speed at which I had to turn trends to tailored products and the price at which I had to do it at, afforded me no time to care about the true costs and like almost everybody else, I turned a blind eye, thinking that not seeing the problem made it go away.
If you could say one thing to consumers what would it be?
Your choice matters. Everything you do is a choice and whatever choice you make, makes you. Let’s all choose wisely.