Mom Muse | Susan Correa
We all know them – people who have overcome incredible odds to build a successful life for themselves. Founder and CEO of sustainable children’s clothing company art & eden, Susan Correa is the quintessential example of this and living out the American dream. From her humble roots in India to running multimillion-dollar companies for the Creative Group, including popular contemporary brand Cooper & Ella, we are so moved by her story and how she’s working to help others with her latest venture. She began by telling us… “Every great dream begins with a dreamer, someone who imagines things that never were and asks, why not? For as far back as I can remember, I have always been a dreamer.” Here’s to following your dream. This is Susan’s story in her own words, followed by our interview with this inspiring mom of two.
At the New York Stock Exchange — a long way from where she grew up!
“I grew up in Mumbai, India in a town called Santa Cruz. Our home was all of 250 square feet in a community-style residential building. Our rent was $10 (USD) a month. We were a family of five — my parents, my two brothers and myself — but for the most part, about seven people lived in our home (my grandmother, and a visiting maternal or paternal uncle). Our monthly family income amounted to roughly $200 (USD). The building housed 42 families just like ours. We had a common open corridor which served as every child’s study room. By American standards, our lives would be considered way below the poverty line, but the fact is, we had everything we needed, and we were very happy.
During my childhood, two sounds were a constant — the rumbling of the trains and the arrival and departures of flights; we lived in close proximity to the railway tracks as well as the airport. Growing up, the trains didn’t catch my interest, but the planes… boy, did they capture my imagination! As I watched the endless flights take off, I traveled with every plane I saw. This was a time when we still sent and received Christmas cards. Every time we saw cards with snow-clad houses, images of pine trees with icicles and red hummingbirds, we were told this was America — the land of opportunity where rags turned to riches and dreams become realities.
I used to dream of traveling to America and having my own business. All I knew about business was that business people were successful. I felt that having a business meant carving out my own destiny. I would also dream of traveling to Paris because I had heard it was the most beautiful city in the world. I had a vivid imagination and took many trips to both Paris and America without ever having boarded a flight.
We were a close-knit family. Dad worked hard; mum stayed home and worked harder as she had to look after us. A big part of our lives included serving in our local community. We mentored and taught children in the slums of Dharavi (now famous for the location of the award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire) and visited various senior citizen homes to comfort the elderly; we always found places to serve.
Life went by without much disruption. I ended up studying design by accident — as the middle child between my two brothers, a career in fashion couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was very athletic and grew up playing a ton of sports with the boys. Thinking that I was too much of a tomboy, my mother insisted I take cooking and sewing classes. I didn’t mind the cooking – I love food, so that was cool. But, I thought sewing would be dull as anything. I secretly planned to do a terrible job so that she would let me do something else. The joke was on me. As soon as I made my first garment, I was hooked. The feeling of fabric in my hands, being able to make something from scratch — I loved it! And, not only did I love it, I sold the first garment I made. When I realized I could build a business through fashion, I never looked back. I had found a path to pursue.
From my first days in the business of fashion, I worked with immense passion and really hard. I dared to dream big scary dreams. If my dream did not scare me, I knew I wasn’t dreaming big enough. At the age of 12, I read The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. The book deeply impacted me and formed my mindset. From then on, I approached my life with steadfast optimism. Nothing could stop my drive or determination. Time passed and one by one, I began to achieve my dreams. I went to America. I went to Paris. I built global businesses. Before I knew it, I had spent over two decades in the fashion industry. I thrived off the challenge of turning a profit. I was nimble footed, and with my blinders firmly in place, I galloped in pursuit of bringing the latest and the greatest trends to the market, faster and cheaper than anyone else.
Due to the dynamic nature of my work, I uniquely experienced the fashion business from 360 degrees. I spent equal amounts of time on the back end on the factory floor in production and product development, and on the front end, where I ramped up production to building and leading multimillion-dollar businesses across India, Europe, Canada and the United States. My journey was global and spanned the spectrum of the market, from high-end boutiques to discount retailers. It traversed from men’s, women’s and children’s apparel through to juniors, missy, plus size and contemporary. My life was action packed. It was exhilarating and I delighted in every moment of the business. And yet, despite the fulfilling years, I yearned to find a deeper meaning for my life and career. I wondered if I could find a place in business where profit and purpose could align.
In the summer of 2014, I received a hint of an answer. It came in the form of a blog post about the Hope Foundation School in India. Nestled in a densely-populated slum district in Bangalore, the school offered a free midday meal to its students. Kids from surrounding slums came to the school just for that meal, and in turn became excited by the possibility of education, and that basic education ended up changing some of their lives. I was fascinated at how something so small could influence the trajectory of a child’s life. I felt almost immediately called to take responsibility for those meals. I wanted our business to make the difference. This all started as an exploratory project, but it grew into a full force give-back program sponsored by our company. In two years, we funded 186,000 meals. On August 18, 2014, I visited the Hope Foundation School for the first time to launch the program. I entered the school that morning completely fired up to make a difference in the lives of these kids. I left the school totally transformed. The kids had changed my life.
On that same trip to India, I packed two books for the flight: Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Jim Collins’ From Good to Great. Everything began to connect. Collins’ ideas on “how to be best in the world” clicked with Godin’s ideas on “how to be best for the world.” Through the need I witnessed at the Hope Foundation School, I saw the opportunity for business to rise up and meet that need. The authors’ powerful messages, the inspiring children, the whisper of possibility, the potential for radical reform — it was the perfect recipe for rapid and profound transformation. Caring felt awesome. My mind raced. My whole being felt like exploding and, unknown to me, I had already planted the seeds of what was to become art & eden.”
Her son Enrique at Alice Tully Hall in New York for his recital.
Susan’s 18-year-old daughter Krista.
In addition to all of her business success, Susan is also a devoted mother to two talented children. Her daughter Krista is 18 years old and getting ready to embark on her college journey to pursue an education in management for sustainability and clean energy. She studied piano and voice at the Manhattan School of Music and is a talented musician. Her 16-year-old son Enrique is a gifted violinist doing his pre-college studies at the Juilliard School of Music. He has performed internationally, plus at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in the U.S. The family’s home is always filled with the sound of music.
MSL: Describe your style in five words or less.
Minimal, neutral, modern, structured, practical.
MSL: What inspired you to start art & eden?
I do believe art & eden chose me to lead it! I was running two multimillion-dollar businesses and was not at all looking to start another business, but I was indeed searching for a deeper meaning to the work I do. After years of driving global businesses with profit as my sole purpose, I craved to leave a legacy, that I came and did something that really mattered. art & eden was born from the paradigm shift, when I changed gears from thinking about, “What can I get?” to “What can I give?” Business became more about the journey to find more meaning and less about making more merchandise. art & eden was born from the yearning of building something that could be best for the world.
or the boys’ line.
Whimsical prints and vibrant colors are central to the art & eden collection.
MSL: Do you design the collections yourself?
I have two very talented designers: Katherine Lee heads up our girls’ design team and Joey Benshitritt leads our boys’ design team. Both are from the Fashion Institute of Technology and very passionate about our brand’s purpose and direction. Our team as a whole are a group of heart-led changemakers and it’s because of the awesome team that the art & eden dream works.
MSL: Tell us more about your long-term goals for art & eden.
art & eden was born from a desire to harness the infinite power of business as an immeasurable force for good. It was born from a dream to improve the lives of 4 million children. In the first year of our business, we have launched our Clothes for Cure program in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Tijuana. My dream is to bring medication, multivitamins and mentorship to children in need. It is truly the highlight of our month when we mentor the kids at the Camden St. school in Newark, New Jersey. We want to continue to care for kids in need in our local communities. We have registered art & eden as a public benefit corporation, committing to triple-bottom-line accountability. My dream for art & eden is to consistently grow it into a model that embraces a circular approach to production. I want for us to be a trusted go-to resource that parents turn to when they need sustainable products for their children. We will continue to build our code of ethics and human rights policies, plus I am working on mapping, certifying and auditing our supply chain to validate choices that will always promote sustainability as our core D.N.A.
Susan launching Clothes for Cure in El Salvador.
Susan and the kids in art & eden’s Local Mentorship Program at MOMA.
The kids from Camden St. school in New Jersey receive laptops from art & eden.
MSL: Your top three favorite art & eden pieces right now?
You can’t ask a mom who is her favorite child. I love what we do and if it gets on the production line it’s because we have all loved it equally as a team.
Supermodel and mom Coco Rocha is a fan of art & eden.
MSL: What is the best part about being a mom? Biggest challenge?
The ability to love so completely and so unconditionally is for sure the most priceless gift of motherhood. To invest so completely into my children’s lives, and then watch them embrace values and live their own lives on principles that shape their character is truly validating. The biggest challenge for me was navigating the course between the rapid shifts through their stages of dependence, independence and interdependence. I had to quickly adapt, pivot and learn new and improved ways of dealing with their maturity. While it was a challenge, it was an amazing opportunity to grow and learn together.
Family time with Enrique and Krista.
MSL: Any tips you can share for achieving good work-life balance?
I believe that in order for us to be fully satisfied by the work we do, we must be fully satisfied by the life we live. As I see it, our lives have five main components – family, friends, health, work & our own personal spirit. All are important, and we have to juggle them all to keep the balance and the flow. If we drop the ball on work, we can bounce right back, pivot and make changes.
If we drop the ball on any of the other four components, there will be irrevocable scars and much impact. Also, as women we need to be particularly mindful of our physical and mental health and we must not confuse having a career with having a life. For me personally, I realized that the busyness of heading up a business never allowed me to find the time. I had to make the choice to commit to making the time to nurture myself so I could ensure I nurtured my other priorities. At work, I set daily manageable goals and work to be effective with my time. I communicate and delegate efficiently. At home, I get support, stay active, invest in personal time, exercise, meditate, dance and ensure I get adequate rest, daily. I do not let the pressures of building a company ever get in the way of my health and my joy.
Bringing Clothes for Cure to Tijuana, Mexico.
MSL: What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?
My vintage jeans – for their versatility to dress up or down.
MSL: What’s your best style advice for other moms out there?
Fashion is important and, like everything else, it is worth doing well. Your personal style is not about what you wear, it is about how you wear it. It’s about bringing out your creative expression, exuding your inner confidence, sporting a megawatt smile and radiating your inner beauty. There is nobody else as beautifully unique as you. Shine on!