As his eponymous brand celebrates its 35th anniversary, and brings new attention to the European market, Drapers sat down with Kenneth Cole on his busy stand at Micam.
What brings you to Micam?
I started my business in Italy 35 years ago. I started making all my shoes in Italy and, for a long time, I had an office in Florence. I struggled making a serious commitment to doing business in Europe, though, because the notion of an American making European shoes and selling them to Europeans never felt right. But it is a different world today – everything exists everywhere and, if you’re viable anywhere, you’re viable everywhere.
Fashion is universal. That’s arguably the only real universal language [on] the internet.
I feel this is long overdue, and I’m excited for the opportunity to introduce and grow our brand in the European market. The brand has a very specific point of view. It’s modern workwear and contemporary, comfortable shoes. There’s technology in almost every product that facilitates ease of wearing.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you began in the business?
We’ve seen the disappearance of physical borders and boundaries. The virtual world has redefined that. There is a demand for fashion product everywhere, in real time, so how do you fulfil that? How do you create it and encourage it and, at the end of the day, fulfil it? That’s the challenge.
What are some of the proudest moments in your career?
My ability to infuse a social agenda into our fashion has been very rewarding. I helped to found [US-based charity] amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS research, 30 years ago, and was chairman for 14 years. The brand had a homelessness campaign in the US that ran for almost 20 years. We collected seven million pairs of shoes and found disenfranchised populations to distribute them into. We also turned that initiative into a Haiti campaign after the devastating earthquake there in 2010. We built a medical centre in Cité Soleil, just outside of Port Au Prince, which opened in 2012, which goes on today and every year we send them a new piece of equipment for the hospital.