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Susan Correa, the Founder CEO of Art & Eden, started as a bright young designer of womenswear in 1988. She climbed from step to step up the fashion ladder in India, and then moved to the US and Canada. Now, with her new brand Art & Eden moving into top gear, Correa is ready to bring a fresh new sustainable fashion dimension to childrenswear. Susan Correa once again shares the details of her incredible journey, 28 years later with Meher Castelino who had first interviewed her in 1989.
Please tell us about how it all started.
I grew up by default in the business of fashion and have since led multi-million dollar operations in the apparel industry across India, European countries, Canada and the United States. Having spent an equal amount of time both in the back and front ends of the apparel business, I had the unique disposition of having witnessed the industry from a 360-degree vantage point. I bore close witness to what emerges when the market's primary demand is to engage every player in the tyranny of the lowest price. It pressures all those involved to bring out the latest trends as fast and as cheap as possible to market.
The consequence of this solo focus is that the industry is making choices that damage the environment, short-changes people in the value chain and piles up landfills with disposable fast fashion. Meanwhile, we act as passive bystanders, unmoved with only a vague sense of apathy and indifference. I was part and party to the systemic industry malaise, and like everybody else, I turned a blind eye, thinking that not seeing the problem made it go away. I remember reading we choose a career, but a vocation chooses us by Robert Johnson.
Two years ago, after a pivotal experience, I began to dream of a better way forward, of a world with shared values. I wanted improved livelihoods for farmers, dyers and tailors. I wanted a world of collaboration and connection where beautiful people worked alongside each other to create a better world for all: a world where profit for some did not have to come at the cost of others. I dared to dream of a new future for business. I painted a masterpiece in the landscape of my imagination. Now, I had to bring it to life.
So Art & Eden was born from a mission to be the best 'in' the world by being the best 'for' the world. It is the intersection where profit and purpose coexist. It is, The Better Way: a children's business that cares for the planet by adopting sustainable practices, that considers all people in our value chain by treating them right, that rises up to meet the needs of under-resourced kids in our local and global communities. We have created a beautiful business that cares for our customers by empowering them with sustainable products that are thoughtfully made, and are affordable.
Who are the people behind this project, besides you?
After graduating with honours in psychology from Mithibai College, I pursued an education in fashion design & merchandising at the SNDT University. My best education came from working hands on 10-12 hours a day as an intern in the factory. I loved the rapid pace of education that came from being on the factory floor.
My internship from SNDT led me to a placement for six months at Creative Garments, Mumbai. The rest is just an amazing journey that unfolded. I have since been with the Creative Group for over two decades and built multi-million dollar businesses with the company, across India, Canada and the United States. Catalyst Management, the holding company of the Creative Group as well as Texport Garments India, back Art & Eden.
Catalyst comprises three incredible individuals: Vijay Agarwal, chairman of Creative Garments; Om Batheja, group director; and, Hrishi Modi, senior group VP. They are my mentors, my advisors, the wind beneath my wings, and founding partners and investors of Art & Eden.
Texport Garments comprises the Goenka family: Naren Goenka, managing director, Texport India Ltd; and, Neeraj Goenka, director, Texport Garments India, who came on board as founding investors. As soon as Naren Goenka reviewed the business deck and heard the vision for Art & Eden, he confirmed he would invest. At that point I did not even have the financials of the business ready, but he was sold on the vision and the team.
I was in India in June 2017, to raise my next round of funding and we are absolutely delighted that Birendra Agarwal of Creative Garments and 109 F has come on board both as an investor and the Art & Eden licensee for apparel in India. It is a deeply personal connection as my journey in fashion commenced as an intern student from SNDT with him at Creative Garments. We are also super-fired up to have on board two more incredibly noteworthy investors: Famy Energy Pvt Ltd and the Welspun Group, who will take on the global licensing rights to launch an Art & Eden home & towels. We are also working to close the on-boarding of two more incredibly noteworthy investors in India, and together with our star team Art & Eden will catapult to a new high.
What are the aims of the project?
Our dream is to build Art & Eden into a billion dollar business and simultaneously harness the infinite power of business for greater social good. Art & Eden was born to be the best we could be 'for' the world while we strived to be the best 'in' the world. We will stay true to our mission.
Where are the fabrics sourced from?
The fabric is sourced locally in countries where the product is manufactured.
Why is it limited to just childrenswear?
The global childrenswear market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 6 per cent by 2020. With laser focus on this segment, we want to be a trusted resource for parents to turn to, to find sustainable options for their children. Nature protects our kids with three layers to their skin. We get to put on the fourth layer. We built Art & Eden so that parents have a beautifully designed, deeply considered, well thought through, sustainable product that's responsibly made for their little ones. Childrenswear is one of the most lucrative segments in the global apparel industry. It is estimated to hit a value of $173.6 billion by end of 2017.
What kinds of fabrics do you use?
Choosing sustainable materials and processes over conventional ones means finding fabrics, dyes, and production methods that have a lower impact on the environment. The materials we have chosen are better for the planet, but we are the first to admit that no matter how hard we try, our choices in fashion will always have some impact on the planet. See below to learn more on the fabrics and what we love about them, and how they've got room for improvement.
Organic cotton: We use The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. GOTS has strict environmental criteria for the entire manufacturing process. It ensures that an organic certifier evaluates all phases of production, including farming, harvesting, production, processing, manufacturing, packaging, and branding. It also certifies that every garment is made with a minimum of 95 per cent organic material.
What we love: Organic cotton keeps chemicals away from farm to product, and our GOTS certification protects farm animals and human rights too. We also love that all of our dyes and printing are low impact dyes. Because farmers do not have to buy pesticides for organic cotton (which costs up to 60 per cent of their annual income), their wages almost double. They also can work in conditions free from toxic pesticides and chemicals.
What we don't love: Growing cotton does takes up a whole lot of water (400 gallons for one T-shirt-ouch). We are looking for ways to reduce the amount of water we use, much of which also comes from the laundering of clothes post-production. But that's something we 'can' change through cold washes and hang drying.
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