The Power of the Brand
Kenneth Cole has combined instinct with business savvy to understand the consumer’s wants and needs, by putting himself "in their shoes" for many years. He has built and sustained a unique level of brand integrity, by consistently speaking to a loyal customer about what they look like on the outside, as well as who they are on the inside.
In this speech, Mr. Cole gives advice on how executives might connect with their desired audience in a more meaningful and sustainable manner.
Mr Cole also speaks about how in a world where knowledge and information flows infinitely everywhere simultaneously, that the consumers look for individual editors to interpret, process and navigate it for them. These processors are usually the ones with a history and integrity for communicating a consistent message and/or point of view (lifestyle or otherwise) over a period of time. To the degree they are reliable, and only for as long as they are, Brands are those processors.
Interdependence of Business and Community Engagement
Kenneth Cole believes that business and community service are interdependent. He understands the need for businesses to make a difference, to use their business platforms to inspire positive social change and to contribute to the communities where they do business. As a renowned American designer and humanitarian, Kenneth Cole believes that “it is great to be known for your shoes. It is even better to be recognized for your soul.” Known for employing messages of social responsibility in the design and marketing of his products and for supporting organizations addressing social issues, he has long been committed to social activism and inspiring others to make a difference. Providing examples of ways his company has reached out over the years, including establishing the AWEARNESS Fund which supports service and volunteerism with a specific focus on AIDS and other public health issues, Mr. Cole discusses extraordinary opportunities for companies to differentiate themselves from their competition, strengthen their brand and make an impact that makes a difference. He encourages business leaders to make what they do relevant and meaningful, because at the end of the day, he believes that this is the most important issue on which they will be judged.
The Marriage of Business with Social Entrepreneurship
Long before the concept came into fashion, Kenneth Cole has been applying his business and entrepreneurial skills to create social change. He is often credited with being the original social entrepreneur. He believes that there is a growing revolution fundamentally changing the way society organizes itself and the way we approach social problems. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the “change agents” that inspire the necessary transformations and advance sustainable solutions that promote positive change for our communities. Mr. Cole explains how the needs of business and community are inter-dependent and inter-connected with each needing each other not just to thrive, but in fact to survive. He points out how companies can serve the mandates of their various stakeholders while at the same time “do well by doing good”.
There is certainly truth to the old cliché, “you can do well by doing good.” For Kenneth Cole “doing good” has meant being on the frontline of fashion trends and AIDS awareness. As a renowned American designer and humanitarian, Kenneth Cole believes that “it is great to be known for your shoes. It is even better to be recognized for your soul.”
A business that began over 30 years ago out of the back of a 40 foot trailer, Kenneth Cole Productions has risen to the top of American fashion at lightning speed and set the standards for others to meet. With nearly 100 Kenneth Cole domestic retail stores, and 100 internationally, Kenneth Cole has been able to unite his fashion instincts and business acumen with his philanthropic convictions. As Chairman to The Foundation for Aids Research (amfAR), and a founding board member to the homeless organization HELP USA, Kenneth Cole has made it his business to fuse fashion with social action. Kenneth is also a board member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and The Sundance Institute.
Kenneth Cole grew up in Long Island, New York where he spent his free time as a stock boy at the local shoe store or selling peanuts at Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden. A strong work-ethic and determination motivated Kenneth to eventually join his family’s shoe business in Brooklyn. In the early seventies they launched the world-renowned Candies shoes—a brand that became a household name during the disco era. In 1982, Kenneth left behind the world of wood-heeled stilettos and chunky platforms to start Kenneth Cole Productions.
Kenneth Cole Productions is one of the most widely revered and consistently focused fashion houses with retail sales in excess of one and a half billion dollars. The Company has four lifestyle brands: Kenneth Cole New York for the sophisticated, metropolitan man and woman; Kenneth Cole Collection, an elevated line that is the ultimate expression of our unique style; Kenneth Cole Reaction geared toward a creative, more casual customer; and Unlisted for the younger and trendier teen. Currently, there are 16 licensees that cover 61 dual gender and multi-brand product categories. With 26 product categories from swimwear to kidswear to fragrance, Kenneth Cole Productions is a full lifestyle, dual gender brand. Kenneth goes far beyond lending his name to a line of clothing and accessories. He is the ultimate driving force behind all the brands and the Company’s creative director in all areas from design to marketing.
Sometimes politically ironic and irreverent but always socially conscious and relevant– Kenneth Cole’s advertising has touched on everything from gun control and cloning to abortion and AIDS. He believes that, "To be aware is more important than what you wear." Many people recognize the famous, "Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet" while others celebrate the timely, "Not voting is so last season." Whatever the slogan and whatever the issue, Kenneth Cole continues to abide by two mantras: "What we stand for is more important that what we stand in" and "We may not heel the world, but we hope to be an accessory."
Kenneth resides in Westchester, New York with his wife Maria Cuomo Cole and their three daughters.