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Kenneth Cole Productions Inc.

line york business shoe

B. 1982

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Kenneth Cole was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he was exposed to shoemaking by his father whose El Greco ladies shoe manufacturing business produced Candies shoes. At twenty-two Cole realized he wanted to venture in the world of law rather than shoes and planned to attend New York University of Law but decided to delay his decision when an important employee of his father’s company left. The vacant position in his father’s business gave Cole the opportunity to sketch his own shoe collection, which he called Earthpadilles. Cole incorporated natural materials, such as colorful twine for the heel, into his shoe collection. His design philosophy was to mix nature with fashion to achieve refinement. He continued designing for his father’s company for the next six years, while learning every aspect of the shoe business.

In 1982, at the age of twenty-eight, Cole took his $200,000 savings and invested it in his own footwear line which he produced out of an upper-east side Manhattan apartment. His goal was to develop a collection for the New York market. Cole’s limited financial resources provided challenges in both manufacturing and introducing his new line. To save money on manufacturing, Cole traveled to Italy where he could produce his samples more economically than in New York. To introduce his line to buyers, Cole had planned to borrow a friend’s forty-foot trailer to park in midtown Manhattan; however, permits to park a trailer in Manhattan were given only to motion picture companies and utility services. This small obstacle did not stop Cole, who quickly changed his company’s name from Kenneth Cole, Inc., to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., to represent his business as a motion picture company. He also turned this potential problem into a creative marketing strategy and shot a film entitled The Birth of a Shoe Company , which helped him sell 40,000 pairs of shoes in two and a half days.

The first brand Cole introduced was Kenneth Cole, a line of women’s shoes and boots. The structural details comprised laces, pointy toes, and kicked-in heels, all made of stonewashed denim. After the success of his women’s line, Cole introduced his first men’s collection in 1983. In 1987 Cole launched another women’s label, Unlisted, which was created for a moderate customer looking for quality plus reasonable price. In addition to shoes, the Unlisted line included accessories such as purses and wallets.

The early 1990s were very exciting and successful for Cole. He launched a catalogue business, opened seventeen Kenneth Cole freestanding stores in the United States, opened fourteen concept shops in Federated department stores, and launched a bridal shoe collection and a new shoe line called Reaction. By 1997 Cole had expanded his business to the international market, opening two freestanding stores, one in Amsterdam and the other in Singapore, as well as signing an agreement with Dickenson Concepts, Ltd., of Hong Kong to wholesale and retail his products in Asia.

In 1996 Cole ventured into menswear through a licensing agreement with Hartmarx’s Intercontinental Branded Apparel Division. This agreement enabled Cole to produce two lines, one which was sold in better specialty stores and another which was sold primarily in department stores. The Hartmarx division produced and marketed contemporary tailored garments such as sports coats, top coats, suits, tailored shirts, and pants under the Kenneth Cole and Kenneth Cole New York labels. A men’s moderately priced sportswear line was also introduced under the Reaction label through a licensing agreement with Gruppo Covarra.

Currently, Cole is the president and chief executive officer of Kenneth Cole Productions. His business has diversified from his original women’s footwear line to include women’s and men’s footwear, women’s and men’s apparel, leather handbags, and accessories. In addition to Hartmarx and Gruppo, he holds licensing agreements with Cluett Designer Group (dress shirts), Bedford Sportswear (leather outerwear), Paul Davril, Inc. (fabric outerwear and sportswear), Host Apparel Group (underwear, loungewear, and robes), Brookville Corporation (neckwear), and Swank (men’s belts and jewelry).

Cole consistently designs and produces quality footwear and accessories which reflect and complement the latest trends in fashion. However, his success in the footwear industry can be attributed as much to his creative vision as a designer as to his creative strategies in marketing. Cole’s distinctive and often cynical ads, which he writes himself, reflect his philosophy toward fashion. According to Cole, “We may not change the world, but we hope to be an accessory (Block).”



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