Mentored Kenneth Cole?
and accessory designer Kenneth Cole founded his company,
Kenneth Cole Productions, in December 1982.
Kenneth Cole's controversial advertising campaign has
garnered worldwide attention for its humor and social
consciousness. In 1985, he was the first member of the
fashion community to take a public stand in the fight
My father, Charles Cole, would wake me up at 5:30 many
Saturday mornings, starting when I was ten. He would
invite me into his world, a world that he didn't share
with many people. At 5:30 we would have breakfast and
talk about what was happening in my world. Then we would
go to his shoe factory in lower Manhattan, and I would
sit with him in his office and watch him as he worked.
He was very much of the "do as I do" mentality,
not only to me, but to all of the people who worked
there. He inspired everyone around him, and took a personal
interest in the lives of all the people he worked with.
His passion for business was not that much different
than his approach to everything in his life.
In the early 1970s I went to Emory University in Atlanta
for my undergraduate degree with the intention of attending
law school. As I was about to embark on my legal education,
my father's right hand man left the factory to start
a competitive business.
To help my father, I put off law school to learn the
business as quickly as I could. I knew that in order
to succeed I would need the support and respect of everyone
in the company, including my father, but not having
enough experience and knowledge, I realized I couldn't
impress them with the quality of my work. So I set out
to show them what I could with the quantity of my work.
If the first worker arrived at 6:30 a.m., I would arrive
Over the next five years my father and I built a successful
business together. I then realized that I needed to
take on the ultimate challenge of starting my own business.
I did it confidently with his encouragement and never
looked back. I was lucky that so early in my career
I had a great role model who gave me the tools to be
successful, the practical experience on how to use them,
and the courage to trust my instincts.
I made great strides in a very competitive field, but
I reached a point when it all started to become a little
empty. I needed to find a way to make things more relevant.
I knew that if I were going to continue to give so much
of myself I would have to find a way to make it part
of something bigger. So early on in the company's development
I decided to make the awareness of meaningful social
issues an important part of the company's culture, so
that "what one stands for is more important that
what they stand in," and that "to be aware
is more important that what you wear." These principles
would eventually become part of the company's philosophy.
My father, my mentor, by his example, was a testament
to the value of hard work and the concern for one's
fellow human beings. He did everything with all of his
heart as well as his "sole."