Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kenneth Cole

Wednesday night, Kenneth Cole came to FIT to talk and answer questions.  I had to be pretty persistent to get in because I wasn't in the School of Merchandising but I still managed to get a third row seat on the aisle, front and center!  I really like him, the way he runs his company and his story.  The official name of the company is Kenneth Cole Productions.  Here's the story from NY Magazine:

Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. was born in 1982, when Kenneth Cole went broke. The designer had spent all his money making shoes in Europe, but when he came back to his native New York, he had no place to sell them—and no money to open a store. Enlisting the help of a friend with a giant truck, Cole nabbed permission to park it in midtown and sell shoes by applying for a film permit (hence the "Productions"); the fictitious film had the audacious title “The Birth of a Shoe Company.” The stunt helped sell 40,000 shoes in two days, and created a company, a legend, and an empire. 

He elaborated about it and said he wanted to present his shoe collection in a 40-foot semi trailer in NYC during a prominent event, which he couldn't afford to buy space at.  So he calls the mayor and speaks to his secretary about how he can do this.  She kindly informs him he can't, and they only grant permission to utility and movie production companies.  Next day, he changes the name of his company from Kenneth Cole to Kenneth Cole Productions, applied for the permit, and three weeks later, it was granted.  I fuckin' LOVE the "don't-try-and-tell-me-no-for-an-answer" attitude.  He was 28 when he founded his company and I really respect that he earned every dime he has and didn't shoot to stardom just because of favoritism among fashion elite.

I took a bunch of notes, and here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom I got:
  • It's easier to get credit from a company/bank that NEEDS business than one that doesn't.
  • I don't get much sleep but when I'm home, I just take drugs (kidding... maybe hahaha)
  • The best solution is never the most expensive and almost always the most creative.
  • "Look-good" industries are not doing well right now but "feel-good" industries are.  They've recently created a new collection of shoes he's calling the most comfortable, stylish shoe ever. Guaranteed.  And they're selling out like crazy (though he's playing the scarcity game with making them available).
  • Always provide value.  People don't need more clothes, and it's an honor for them to select yours to include in their wardrobe.
  • In good times, no one wants to hear creative alternatives, they just want to recreate what's working.  The world has never been more receptive to new ideas than at this moment.
  • Sustainability and being concerned with the environment is good but don't hold your banner too high because it's a hard thing to do. Also, there are higher priority issues that effect us NOW.
  • There is a more profound opportunity for meaningful social and sustainable change now than there has been in his lifetime, and there's no reason it can't be lucrative.
For the Q&A afterwards, I asked "What are some of your biggest failures, successes and epiphanies related to menswear and how men shop and behave?"

He said that guys are different from women... as he was entering the business in the early 80s, men had the same types of outfits and differentiated themselves from one another by what they did and how much beer they could drink.  Casual Fridays made formal and casual wear both wrong in a lot of situations.  His company filled the niche of cool clothing that was still casual that was lacking at the time. Sometimes though, you can overestimate men's willingness to embrace individuality.

It was a true but still lukewarm answer and he didn't really address what I wanted him to so I talked to him afterwards and he still couldn't think of any big, specific failures related to my question.  I got the feeling that my communication skills were sub-par in what I was trying to get out of him or he was being tight lipped and didn't want to give too much away.  I don't know...  Right when he was finished speaking, it looked like the Jonas Brothers walked into a high school cafeteria or something because he got swarmed with young girls (FIT is like 80% female after all) and there were flashbulbs going off like crazy.  I ribbed him about it when I went to talk to him.  I waited to be last.  Either way, it was a great event that I really enjoyed and got a lot of value from.

1 comment:

  1. Dude, the white on black looks good, but it messes up my vision after reading. Awesome that you met him, I like your blog a lot.