Meet the Woman Disrupting the Kids' Clothing Industry
Art and Eden is sustainable, charitable, and really cute.
As with all the most successful entrepreneurs, there's something about talking to Susan Correa that makes you simultaneously inspired, energized — and a little lazy. Correa has cofounded several fashion companies and run multi-million-dollar businesses around the globe, but one moment a few years back made her question what those accomplishments were really worth.
At the time, she was working on the successful women's fashion line she co-founded, Cooper and Ella. "In 2014, in an effort to make the business better, I introduced a program called 'Empower,'" she says. Empower enabled part of the proceeds from each Cooper and Ella garment sold to provide hot meals for children in Bangalore, India, and that August Correa traveled to see the program in action. "I went there to make a difference in the lives of these kids and ended up being completely transformed myself," she remembers. "I came back to New York trying to visualize a business that could start out doing good for the world, but had the intention to be the best in the world."
Correa researched and reviewed and read and asked questions and visited factories to learn their processes before she finally took the plunge and decided to launch her own company: Art and Eden. On sale January 25, 2017, Art and Eden is a children's clothing line made of organic cottons, low-toxicity dyes, and original designs, created sustainably and packaged in recycled materials. Oh, and — of course — the business model fundamentally hinges on giving back to children.
Why kids' clothing, not something like the adult lines she'd worked on in the past? Correa was partly inspired by shopping for her own kids. "I was looking at what the children's market was all about, and I saw everyone was engaged in the tyranny of the lowest price. You could not tell one brand from the other," she says. "Nobody was breaking the mold in the children's market." She also noticed that no companies were even attempting to make sustainable and non-toxic kids' clothes, despite all the focus parents put on their children's diets and other health needs.
While she'd worked on some elements of sustainable practice, she had learned that it doesn't matter how purely the product is made if it's ugly or too expensive. "I had experience with vegetable dyes and it didn't work, because for a truly sustainable product, I could only use four colors! Green and brown and white and black, " she says. "People do have to buy it at the end of the day." So she worked with mills and fabric experts to figure out a technique that would work with the least impactful chemicals on earth.
But as noted, the clothes need to look good. "I thought, what would a mother like to buy at the market? I envisioned a line that was colorful, joyful, that showed the individuality of the kid," Correa says. "I really wanted it to be something incredibly beautiful." The designs are created by graphic artists in New York City and feature sweet little animals, paint splatters, nature scenes, and vividly interesting little details (like neon zippers). While super cute and well-made, pieces generally range around $25 each.
A portion of that asking price goes straight to kids in need through the same organization that Correa previously partnered with in India. Hope Worldwide is an international charity with over 25 years of experience aiding communities in the developing world; in any given year, they provide food, shelter, and medical care to 1.5 million people around the globe.
"I reached out to Hope Worldwide telling them that I would love to rely on the strength of the doctors and clinics they have in countries with children who have special needs," Correa says. "Hope Worldwide told me they were actually going to stop the medication program they were running in El Salvador because they did not have the funding in place to be able to dispense the medications. It was just an incredible answer to prayers — I was an answer to their prayers, they were an answer to my prayers." Art and Eden is now funding biannual trips to dispense medication and provide care for families in El Salvador that might otherwise not have access to a doctor for years.
Correa and two of her employees traveled to El Salvador with Hope Worldwide this past November to get a sense of the impact their work will have. "I don't think I can ever put into words the impact the trip had on me and my team. To think we have the power within each of us to make a change of that magnitude..." she says. "My team is on fire! They were already excellent, but they stepped up their game 100-fold because they know that everything they do is making a difference."
The other fruits of their labor — the clothes themselves — go on sale at the end of the month in over 100 boutiques across the country and on ArtandEden.com. There are pieces for girls and boys as well as infants.
Launching the line is just the first step down the path of Art and Eden for Correa. Her ultimate aim for the line is even loftier: "When I launched Empower, it was for 400 kids. On that trip to India, when I thought about the possible scale of business, I ended with the number four million," she says. "I don't know how that number landed on my mind, but that's the dream that gets me going: the goal of impacting four million kids."
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