Last week I had the honor to visit the Art & Eden showroom in midtown and chat with its founder and CEO Susan Correa. Correa is the epitome of a girl boss. The fashion veteran's journey includes leading multi-million-dollar apparel operations around the world, co-founding contemporary brand Cooper + Ella and managing a global sourcing company for brands in Europe, the United States and Canada. Her new project, Art & Eden, is her latest cherished creation. The children's clothing brand exudes her passion for fashionably outfitting kids while feeding the less fortunate. When she speaks of helping children in need with her brand, Susan's eyes light up and become imbued with life. "Helping children is something I always wanted to do," she declares.
Two years ago, Susan's mentor asked her if there was anything in business that she'd like to do. She couldn't answer the question right away and told him she would get back to him. A few days later while commuting to work, she continued to see a leukemia advertisement on the side of a bus. It read "Someday Is Today." At that moment she knew she had an obligation to use her abundance to help children. Her first thought was to create a collection of clothing that would help feed a child in need in India. "I took the plunge. I launched not one, but two multi-million dollar businesses. Family and friends saw this as crazy, but I knew it to be necessary," Susan affirmed.
Her idea launched Art & Eden and the Empower program. For each Art & Eden piece sold, a child is fed. The program provided a warm, nutritional meal to children at the Hope Foundation School in Bangalore, India. Many of the poverty-strickened students came from families with an income of $50 a month. For some, the lunch served at the school was the only meal the child got for the entire day. The experience was life-altering for Correa.
"When I launched Empower I was transformed in my thinking about business and the possibility of harnessing its power to become an incredible force for good," she says. Since that first trip, she's traveled to El Salvador for the same purpose.
With time, Susan realized feeding children wasn't enough. She recalls being a teenager volunteering in the Juhu neighborhood of Mumbai. "I mentored children like the ones in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. They don't go to the doctors. Growing up we weren't rich, but my parents made sure we had doctor check-ups. I wanted these kids to have medical aid."
Along with Global Giveback and a team of 60 volunteer doctors, Susan traveled to El Salvador on November 4th. The launch of the first leg of the program, the team of 80 handed out vitamins, taught kids how to brush their teeth and wash their hands, distributed medicine to keep them parasite-free and gave medical evaluations. The experience left everyone feeling like they made a huge difference to the small community. In the future, the medical program will also visit Guatemala, Paraguay, and other countries in Central America. Susan Correa's global impact goal is to help 4 million lives. She's even making a local impact by providing a leadership program at the Camden Street School in Newark, New Jersey, where 95 percent of the students live below the poverty line and 40 percent of the students are special needs.
Through the years, consumers have made it a priority to shop with a conscience. They want to know that the products and brands they invest their money in are fair trade, use organic or sustainable materials, and treat workers with respect. Blending fashion with charity, Art & Eden uses low impact dyes and certified organic textiles.
Their line is made with organic cotton and all clothing is produced at factories that share Art & Eden's vision of a better world. Prices are affordable (starting at $20) and prints are exclusive, one-of-a-kind art by artists from like Stockholm, Brooklyn and Sweden. Susan went through over 400 portfolios to find artists who would add individuality to each piece.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
But of course : Google docs.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Yvon Chouinard– the reluctant businessman.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
With a 34 billion valuation, Snapchat for sure.
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
Always believe that something wonderful is just about to happen. It actually does.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Dates & nuts (the dried fruit kind).
8. Every entrepreneur must be able to see:
Opportunity in every adversity.
9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
Toledo in Central Spain.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
1. My husband who also happens to be my best friend.
2. Tons of books to gain wisdom.
3. A boat to finally get back to Art & Eden
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.