Kenneth Cole bears his 'sole'
Kenneth Cole is more than a fashion designer - he is an innovator and philanthropist devoted to helping the community that has supported his business for the past 20 years. Cole spent the day in D.C. Thursday, promoting his first book, "Footnotes," published by Simon & Schuster, which celebrates 20 years since the launch of Kenneth Cole Productions. Cole lectured at Georgetown and Howard universities, and held book signings at Borders on K Street and at his Georgetown store. The book logs childhood memories, struggles and triumphs in the fashion business, as well as overcoming tragedies.
During an interview, Kenneth Cole said that if he could capture the message of his book in one phrase, he would have to use the subtitle of "Footnotes": "What you stand for is more important than what you stand in." This appears to be the designer's motto, as Cole has shown immense interest in donating to charity, promoting safe sex and motivating people to be interested in politics. Due to his popular, classic and functional clothing lines and catchy, socially aware advertising campaigns, Cole has watched his small company's worth evolve from $60 million to $250 million during the late 1990s and then exceed $1 billion in 2001.
But Cole is not content on just cashing in; in fact when asked what he was most proud of looking back at 20 years of his business, the designer said, "Well first, that I'm still around. I'm proud of the community component of our brand."
His famous one-liner ads and charity-driven messages have allowed Cole to build a strong brand reputation. "Have a heart, give a sole," an ad from 1998, explained that customers would receive 20 percent off the cost of a new pair of shoes if they donated an old pair. This donation supported H.E.L.P., a provider of homes, jobs and services to the homeless. Over the course of his campaigns, Cole has focused on issues such as gun control, homelessness, AIDS awareness, seatbelt safety and crime prevention.
"Think Negative," and "Wear a rubber sole" were two of the numerous ads that hit national billboards and much of printed media, in an effort to promote safe sex and to create awareness for AIDS. Cole has donated profits to AmFAR, the American Foundation to AIDS Research, Mentoring USA, which offers a one-on-one mentorship program to young children in domestic violence shelters and Rock the Vote, an organization that empowers people to change the world by voting.
His ads' emotionally charged one-liners have become Cole's medium for advertising success. Aside from the social-awareness ads, the one-liners almost all have play-on words and puns attached to their inherent consumer push. The internet ad "Hit on us all night long. Kennethcole.com," and an image of a mannequinne's arms and legs in "We considered using models, but they ended up being an arm and a leg," prove that humor can go a long way in brand marketing.
Cole is still an integral part in the creative one-liner concepts and considers it the most effective method for his advertising, paralleling his brief use of text to the simplistic visual communication of the fashion industry.
"It's about saying as much as possible in just a few words," said Cole. "That's what fashion is"