Almost any full retail or outlet shopper will recognize the name Kenneth Cole. Even more importantly, almost any shopper loves to score some items during a shopping trip that bear the Kenneth Cole designer brand name. Although this brand name has been around for quite some time and gained quite a brand-loyal following, not that many people are aware of the history behind the brand name.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1954, Kenneth Cole was the son of the owner of a shoe manufacturing company called El Greco. However, after graduating from Emory University through the Emory College of Arts and Sciences in 1976, the young designer began to want to branch out on his own.
The year was 1982, and young designer Kenneth Cole wanted to be able to showcase his line of footwear at Market Week at the New York Hilton. However, his funding was limited. Not only that, but the designer realized that the fight to get a spot was one that still landed competing designers in the same boat, sharing the spotlight with about 1,100 other shoe companies already selling their designs.
Kenneth Cole was sure his brand and designs could stand on their own, but he wasn’t sure this would really help set him apart from the other designers—at least not the way he wanted his brand to stand out. With a limited budget and a desire to think outside the box, Kenneth Cole tried another approach, one that required seeking a permit from the mayor of New York at the time, Mayor Ed Koch.
Borrowing a truck from a friend, Mr. Cole set about to get a permit to use the truck in Midtown Manhattan in order to showcase his designs. However, the red tape was going to be hard to get around because, at the time, one could only get a permit for a 40-foot trailer in Midtown Manhattan while shooting a full length motion picture production or for big name utility companies, like AT&T.
This, however, did not deter the designer. Instead, he set out the next day to change the stationery letterhead for the company from Kenneth Cole, Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. He also followed up by then applying for his permit to develop and shoot his feature film, The Birth of a Shoe Company. Following that, they painted the name Kenneth Cole Productions on the side of the truck, and they set up camp, or production, right across the street from that same New York Hilton—premiering the day of the shoe show.
The trailer opened for business, and the “filming” production began, even if the camera didn’t always have film in it. Within two and a half days the production company had sold through their inventory of 40 thousand pairs of shoes, and the shoe company was off to a more than promising start. In 1994 Kenneth Cole went public.
The early start to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. was proof of what determination, when paired with innovation, can accomplish; that and, of course, true talent for designing. Since then the company has done nothing but win awards and grow. In addition to men’s and women’s footwear, the Kenneth Cole merchandise also includes men’s and women’s clothing and apparel as well as accessories. Currently Kenneth Cole Productions sells products under the following lines with 90+ retail and outlet store locations across the globe, not to mention catalogs and websites:
- Kenneth Cole Reaction
- Kenneth Cole New York
Since 1987 Kenneth Cole has been married to Maria Cuomo, daughter of famous former New York Governor, Mario Cuomo. Yet his focus for support of progressive social causes first started in 1985. In 1985, just a few years after beginning to make quite a name for himself, the designer became a strong supporter of AIDS awareness and research. In fact, he is considered the first member of the fashion industry to get proactively involved with this cause.
Through the years, Kenneth Cole has helped with causes relating to AIDS, homelessness, and Rock the Vote, just to name a few. He also made the decision to do away with including fur in any designs back in 2006 for the 2007 line. The designer has always made a conscious effort to be involved in what he believes in and has used his brand name to help spread the word and raise money for charities and advocacy groups he supports.
It’s hard not to find some type of product now that doesn’t come in a product line from Kenneth Cole, including things like luggage, fragrances, and even items for the home. It should come as no surprise then that the list of top sellers from this brand is quite diverse. Here are a few examples:
- Kenneth Cole New York Hudson Men’s Chronograph Watch
- Kenneth Cole New York Chiffon Blouse
- Kenneth Cole New York Dark Indigo Bootcut Jeans
And that’s without even getting into the category the company was founded on—shoes.
Those brand-loyal Kenneth Cole shopping fanatics may also enjoy knowing there are plenty of places to get outlet bargains for the brand in addition to full retail. Some of the Tanger Outlet locations for this brand alone include:
- Atlantic City, New Jersey
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Foley, Alabama
- Hilton Head, South Carolina
- San Marcos, Texas
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
- And two locations in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, just to name a few
Since starting in the early ’80s, the Kenneth Cole brand has come to mean and represent a lot of different things in the world of fashion. However, this classic brand will always be in the forefront of what is modern and stylish for both men and women, whether it is shoes or the other areas of the industry the brand eventually branched out to include.