Kenneth Cole stomps out HIV and AIDS stigma with ‘sole’

Full Frame

Kenneth Cole

In his 2003 book, Footnotes: What You Stand for Is More Important Than What You Stand In, Kenneth Cole wrote, “It’s great to be known for your shoes, better to be known for your sole.” The socially-conscious designer is undoubtedly recognized for his simple yet stylish clothing line, but Cole has defined himself with far more than his brand.

Kenneth Cole stomps out AIDS stigma with sole

Kenneth Cole joins Full Frame’s Mike Walter in New York City to discuss his longstanding commitment to raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As the founder and chairman of the fashion house Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., Cole master-minded iconic media campaigns to promote HIV awareness and combat stigma in the 1980’s. For over 30 years, Kenneth Cole’s clever one-liners have raised eyebrows, and support, for a wide range of causes and have spread insightful messages far beyond the fashion world. In 1985, when the topic of HIV/AIDS was still taboo, he was the first in the fashion industry to promote AIDS awareness and research.

His breakthrough ad for amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research) coupled supermodels with an ethnically diverse group of children and read, “For the future of our children, support the American Foundation for AIDS Research. We do.” In 1987, a provocative Kenneth Cole newspaper ad read, “Our shoes aren’t the only thing we encourage you to wear,” and pictured the silhouette of a condom package — during an era when advertising condoms for any purpose was still against the law. Nonetheless, Cole decided to airbrush out the condom brand name and run the ad to urge men to use protection during sex.

Cole seems to be living one of his own ad tag lines: “You can change your outfit, or you can outfit change, or both.” He first joined amfAR’s Board of Trustees in 1987 and became chairman of its board on World AIDS Day in 2004. His creativity and charitable consciousness has not gone unnoticed as Cole has been the recipient of numerous awards for his philanthropic efforts. All the while, his fashion empire has continued to flourish with 80 stores and outlets across the United States, 4,500 shops carrying his line, a catalog, and an online boutique — a business that has topped $1.5 billion in revenue to date.