Kenneth Cole: 2020 American Image Awards Person of the Year

This fall, Kenneth Cole will be awarded the 2020 American Image Awards Person of the Year honor. Since accepting this honor earlier this year, we continue to be blown away by his generosity and public health efforts. During this critical time, Kenneth Cole is making sure to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on March 18, Kenneth Cole began to donate a percentage of its net sales on to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of those severely affected by the coronavirus. The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund was launched by the World Health Organization and is being managed by the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. Donations will be used to: ensure that patients can access the care they need and that frontline workers can get supplies and information; support efforts in tracking and understanding the spread of COVID-19; and accelerate the development of vaccines, tests, and treatments.

A few words from Kenneth Cole:

These are unprecedented times. How did your organization respond to COVID-19?
We have worked hard to make sure that our storytelling is enhancing the path to purchase. On March 18, we launched an initiative to donate a percentage of net sales to the COVID-19 Solidarity Relief Fund, with the tagline “THE LAST THING ANY OF US NEED TODAY IS NEW SHOES.” 

I believe that capturing the consumer sentiment is about putting yourself in their proverbial shoes, if we want them to put themselves in ours. I also believe we are in the business of encouraging people to “do good,” believing that if they do, they are more inclined to “look good,” and in turn “feel good.” We also started an initiative that we refer to as The New Courageous Class, highlighting frontline workers and shining a light on all of the inspiring and courageous work that they are doing at this time.

How has Coronavirus impacted your business so far?
We have been lucky to see our e-commerce business doing well at this time. We are using this opportunity to engage with our customers on our site and on our social platforms regarding something beyond just what they think they need. This has put into even more perspective, something I have always believed, that fashion will always be here; it may not be the same for all of us but at the end of the day it has to reflect not just what’s on our body but what’s on our minds, and not just what we stand in but what we stand for. I have always wanted to connect with people on other levels as that is what makes us relevant and that is what has always made it meaningful for me.

You just recently launched the Mental Health Coalition (MHC). Tell us about that inspiring initiative.
MHC is the first collaborative effort of this scale and nature. It convenes and aligns the leading mental health service providers in this country along with creative and media platforms, passionate advocates, and celebrities working collectively to destigmatize mental health conditions and address the pervasive public health crisis. 

MHC is convening national leaders, organizations, and businesses at a high level and on a large scale around this issue. And by convening, we will now have an opportunity to steer resources in the right area and where the resources will work. It is critical, now more than ever, that we come together to promote acceptance, inspire hope, and destigmatize mental health conditions. We are aligned with the goal of ending the related devastating stigma. I believe that together we can end the stigma, but only together.

You use fashion as an outlet to fight for various causes, including aids and mental illness, with some of the most memorable marketing. Why should what we wear align with what we believe?
What’s on people’s bodies is often a reflection of what’s on their minds. And what they look like on the outside is often a reflection of who they are on the inside. 

That being said, I believe that most of the people we encounter in any given day don’t get to know much more about us than how we choose to present ourselves. Our wardrobe choices often introduce us and define us. 

Our goal is to be the global standard for New York style and social consciousness, as we continue on our path of making a positive impact not just on peoples’ wardrobes but also on their communities.

In partnership with CFDA, you designed a sneaker using recycled and overstock materials. Why is sustainability part of your business model?
For over 30 years I have expressed the brand’s objective to address not just what people stood IN, but also what they stand FOR. Today people have come to also recognize the significance of what we stand ON. 
Our stance on sustainability is simply: “do more, leave less.” We are determined to leave a smaller footprint on the road to a sustainable future. 
What feeling do you have when you see people on the street or a notable person wearing your name? 
When I see people interact with the product (positively or negatively) I intuitively process it and seek to learn what motivated the choice.     

Our goal is to understand today’s consumer and dress them in the urban uniform, which includes modern, timely, and functional clothes and accessories. When I see anyone wearing the brand, I know that we have done our job.
Odds are if we leave the house dressed down, we run into people we know.  What do you wear when you’re just running errands?
I have to admit, my wardrobe is pretty standard regardless of what I am doing. It’s what we call “The Urban Uniform;” modern classic clothes that are comfortable, effortless, that can be dressed up or down, and adapt to most climates. 

My usual outfit is jeans, a t-shirt, a blazer and/or another layering piece, and comfortable shoes/sneakers.

Where can your most dedicated fans best follow you to keep up on product launches and collaborations?

Social media – follow me on Instagram and Twitter @kennethcolereal and follow the brand on Instagram and Twitter at @kennethcole.

Also always check out for the most up to date products and happenings.

For more on AAFA’s efforts to unite the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit and learn about what our members are doing here. Follow along on Instagram and Twitter with #AmericanImageAwards #AAFAGivesBack #AAFAMembersAreResilient.