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Footnotes: What You Stand for Is More Important Than What You Stand inby Kenneth Cole
Intro: Open and Clothes
Kenneth Cole, the company, turned twenty years old in 2003.1 In that time I've watched as it transformed itself from a good idea to a big, publicly traded organization with a life of its own. It's a business that I've run for many years, and now I wonder if it's somehow running me. Together, the company and I have lived through one unconventional debut, two trials of the century, four headquarters relocations, four United States Presidents (two Bushes), one Subway Series, fifteen full solar eclipses, thirty ad campaigns, eighty-plus nationwide store locations, and more than 7,300 days in the fashion industry. (Not to mention the sixth coming of platform shoes.)
People tell me that reflecting is what one does on such occasions: the older you get, apparently the more you are supposed to do it. I figure this is a good opportunity to address questions that, if they are not being asked of me, they are being asked by me. Why did I do this? Why am I still doing this? What is this? And how much caffeine must it all entail?
In the following pages I recount my entrepreneurial beginnings and some of our company's many adventures. It includes the story of an unlikely marriage between social responsibility and the business of fashion; and how I discovered that the two are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are interdependent. Even today, I know that much of what sustains this company is our belief that we're doing a lot more than just selling shoes, footwear, clothing, and accessories.
This is a story that is still in progress. I always thought that if I were ever going to tell it, it would be at a time when I was older and wiser. I guess I was assuming a lot. First, that age would confer wisdom, and second, that the story had to be finished in order to be his story.2
When people realize how long I've been doing this they sometimes ask if I've grown up in the business. To which I will often reply, "No, but I intend to." Throughout my career I have refused to look back, believing that exercise to be distracting and indulgent. I have always known that I can't allow myself to revel in the past, and yet, both its successes and its defeats have taught me valuable lessons. The ability to go forward depends upon my capacity to remember these lessons and at the same time to stay focused on what lies ahead. That is why I have included some of them here, in the form of footnotes to the Footnotes.
I've made my living in the fashion world where what is relevant is constantly open to interpretation. Yet the very nature of fashion is change, and if there is one thing I've learned in this business, it's that anything can change, and everything eventually will. Tomorrow can change everything, never mind the next twenty years. So with the power vested in some chosen words and selected images, here it is from beginning to middle...
IT'S OUR AGE, NOT OUR SHOE SIZE
One could say that we were twenty last year (old enough to drive, but not to drink), because we incorporated in 1982. But since we didn't actually ship any shoes until the following spring, we decided to bend the truth and celebrate this milestone in 2003. Why not? Women have gotten away with lying about their age for years. Besides, in this business it's cooler to be younger anyway.
You will bear witness to many puns along the way, which I believe is the result of a preexisting condition. Although I have learned to temper it somewhat, I have come to accept it as an attempt by my brain to do with words what it also does with shapes and silhouettes.
Lesson: When in doubt, pun-t.
Copyright © 2003 by Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.
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