With your book This Is Kenneth Cole Production and 30 great years to look back on, how would you describe your journey in the industry?
"I think the aspect of this journey that has been the most impactful is that it's a great only-in-America story of a business that starts in a trailer. Then, it goes on to doing business all over the world, and makes an impact on people's lives in interesting ways and not just what they stand in, but what they stand for; not just what they wear, but what they are aware of. That you can make what you do part of something bigger than it is, and everything is better for it. So, that is sort of a summary of the last 30 years summed up in three seconds."
If you weren't in fashion, what other industry could you see yourself in?
"I was going to be a lawyer at a certain point and, prior to that, I think I was going to be a baseball player, and then I found myself doing this. It's important that you don't allow yourself to be defined solely by what you do and that you can also connect with people in very different, meaningful ways. For instance, I also joined the board of amFAR 27 years ago, which has gone on to make an impact on millions of peoples lives."
Right! You've been such a huge part of the amFAR's history, where do you think the future is heading for the fund?
"A cure! amFAR is very focused on cure-based research at this point. There has been four people that have been cured of aids in the recent history and amFAR has had a role in each. And, four of the six drugs that are keeping millions of people alive today have some relationship to amFAR funding. So, the next step is to find a cure for the 34 million people that are still infected with the virus."
You have always dedicated your career to social awareness and putting that message out through your brand. Marketing-wise, do those messages help the brand?
"I don't know that it has always been so successful, and arguably it's distracting, and I get criticized over the years where people will come up and say 'Ken, I love your messages,' and I would say, 'But what do you think of my shoes?' So, very often you lose sight, you lose focus of what makes the business work — it's hard to do. During certain points in my career I've been more affective at it than others, but it's how you make them work in harmony that is the goal. A little bit of self-deprecating humor helps and to not take one self too seriously."
You said you spoke at a few schools. What was your message to the students and other young people who want to make their mark, as you have?
"I have a few messages, one of them is that what you do is not who you are. Another one is that today is very unique in the history of fashion, so most everybody today has created, curated, and articulated their own brand. My job is to try to get you to embrace consumers into your brand by presenting it through social platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Then, curate an audience and decide who you're going to welcome into your brand's world, who you're going to let see who you want to be, and what you want the brand to be someday. Then, everybody has a platform and everybody has an audience."
Are you a big Instagrammer?
"I'm an Instagrammer, but I am a bigger Twitter-er."
What do you like about using Twitter?
"I use it for social commentary and to get my news. And, often to get elements of light humor and to get interesting tidbits out of it that aren't so serious. Then, I like to use it to talk about things that inspire me. I learned the enormity of the platform. At first, I had no clue what the viral power of it was. In minutes I was connecting with millions of people because I misused a hashtag. Platforms are totally redefining media in every way — there's no filters, there's no understood acceptably, agreed upon guidelines... Whereas, in visual media you can't mention four-letter words and get away with it. But, in social media you can mention them, show it, and get away with it. It scares people because now everybody has access to everybody, everywhere, with those filters removed."
San Francisco has continued to be a target for bad style and critiques to follow, do you have any advice for our city and its street-style confidence?
"I think that people need to be encouraged to find themselves and express themselves. I've made a point in my career to talk about social issues and one of them being the need to address the fashionably impaired and the wardrobe-challenged amongst us. Basically, there are no rules — sometimes people try too hard. I think you've got to find something that makes you look good, and I think women make this mistake more than guys. Just because you went through a magazine and it looked good on someone doesn't mean you should wear it. You've got to figure out what enhances you, what empowers you, and that should be how you should use clothing and fashion."