When comparing dance to sports, there’s often this misconception that the injuries acquired from dance are not as serious as sports injuries. Suzanne Matthews, CEO of Soutenu Dancewear, wants people to recognize the reality that dancers are at equal risk for injury and pain.
With 14 years of ballet dance experience under her belt, Matthews is living proof of what kind of damage dance can do to your body, as she is still enduring joint pains and she recently acquired a hamstring laceration. “Ballet is considered an art because it requires you to reach a certain, and usually extensive, level of aesthetics, and that can be demanding on your body.”
To help mitigate dancers’ risk of injury and joint pain, Matthews has innovatively designed dance tights that integrate a streamlined, brace-like fabric in the foot and ankle regions.
I was fortunate to have the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Suzanne Matthews to hear about her experience in arts entrepreneurship, her rising successes with Soutenu and the impact her company is making on the dancing community.
Matthews is an English graduate with a minor in arts entrepreneurship. She came to NC State in 2010 as a political science major in hopes of pursuing a degree in law. While she enjoyed political science, she quickly realized that it was something she could not picture herself doing for the rest of her life, so she transitioned into to the English department. “I decided that I wanted to wake up every morning doing something I love. I have a passion for creative writing and the arts.”
Matthews recalls enrolling in a class called EMA 370: Practical Arts Entrepreneurship her sophomore year in Spring 2012 — the same year NC State added arts entrepreneurship as a minor. The initiative was developed by Dr. Gary Beckman, Director of Entrepreneurial Studies in the Arts. Matthews’ decision to take his course has changed her life for the better.
“Dr. Beckman was fabulous about making sure that my needs were met inside and outside of the class. He made sure I had connections. He’s rare as a professor — he has a vision for not only his students but for NC State and the arts. I couldn’t have asked for someone better. I owe everything to this program and I just can’t praise him enough. He’s the reason why I started. It was his class.” To this day, Matthews still keeps in contact with Dr. Beckman.
She also made great use of the Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI) Garage, a business building and prototyping space for entrepreneur students hosted on Centennial Campus. “Over there, you get another entrepreneurship culture where if you have a question about how things work, there is always someone — university staff and faculty, even students — nearby who has the answer, to aid and assist you. There are 3D printers, laser cutters, and other power tools to utilize. The background is very diverse in terms of academic disciplines, and EI provides a great working and learning environment.”
Even with all of these available resources and dedicated professors behind her, she faced some challenges while starting her company. Being a college student with a lack of training and little finances was problematic. It was also tough being an English major going into the textiles, business and science worlds and learning a whole new vocabulary. There was even a time when she was told that she couldn’t do this because she is a woman. Nonetheless, she never lost sight of her dream.
“There has been some self-doubt. It’s interesting when you take a leap from graduation into the real world. NC State still supports me. I still have friends and peers who still stand behind me even after graduation. There is always this sense of intimacy and family within the department and practice. Entrepreneurship can be lonely if you’re misunderstood, and NC State is a great place where you can find someone who understands.”
Today, Matthews is focusing on pushing her company forward. She’s currently working with a CEO coach, building a C-level team, looking into investors, and even has two patents pending. “As of now, I have this long-term plan to do some further market testing.” Not wanting to reveal much, she mentioned current and future product development, and that she has new ideas for other products.
Suzanne Matthews has certainly demonstrated that resilience, a strong will, and having a passion are the ingredients to perseverance and success. “Make a map. Go on a journey. Get lost anyway. I’ve had to ask for help because we can’t always do it alone.”
She has taught me that nothing will ever go as planned. That you have to learn to be flexible — to have fun, but know when to be serious, too. She revealed that, even among all these successes and achievements, there are days when she wanted to quit. “Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed, but it pays off if you keep going. In the end, the highs will definitely outweigh the lows.”
Soutenu Dancewear is planning a full launch at the end of August and a full collection in the spring. For more information on Soutenu Dancewear, visit their Facebook page and check out their Twitter feed @SoutenuDance. Contact Soutenu Dancewear with questions and concerns via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).