Shani Senbetta/The Hoya Designer Kenneth Cole offers reflections on his career in Gaston Hall.

Kenneth Cole has “made a point to offend everybody” with his controversial ads and defiant business ethics, the designer and public activist told Georgetown students yesterday in Gaston Hall.

Cole’s company celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, making it old enough to drive, but not to drink, he said.

His ad campaigns focus on awareness, and instead of offering his own opinion, the ads give statistics such as one in 20 people executed are later found innocent, and let consumers make up their mind about what they believe.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Cole said he knew he would succeed. He described himself as a “right-left brain” person, able to be artistic and analytical at the same time.

Cole started his company by selling 40,000 shoes from a 40-foot trailer parked in New York City in just three and a half days, getting the permit by changing his company’s name to Kenneth Cole Production and pretending to be a movie set.

Now he has over 50 retail stores worldwide.

“You have to be able to identify voids in the market,” Cole said, sharing tips with the mostly MBA crowd. “Look at the competitive landscape and reassess what you are doing everyday.”

Cole described his products as functional and practical for everyday wear. He said he views fashion as a way for individuals to define and redefine themselves everyday. Though it is superficial, he said, he claimed that most people only recognize people by the way they present themselves and that looking one’s best is very important.

In his clothing line, he said he tries to examine consumer desire and add his own interpretation. He tends to shy away from frivolous designs, which he believes do not survive. Cole said he believes that the classics evolve because of their practicality.

While pointy toe boots are still fashionable for this season, round toe shoes still sell, showing consumer concern for comfort, Cole said. He is in the midst of designing a shoe with an exaggerated round toe, which he predicts will sell for that exact reason.

His quest, he added, is to make people feel better about buying that new pair of black shoes or extra red tie that they really do not need.

After working 60-hours a week and making many sacrifices, however, Cole realized that business should not be about the money. Using his ads to promote social justice, Cole is the vice chairman of the American Foundation for Aids research and a board member of the homeless organization, HELP USA. Realizing that not everyone is able to afford shoes, his stores offer a 20 percent discount if you donate a pair of shoes. So far he has collected one million shoes.

After the event, Cole signed copies of his new book, Footnotes.

Cole maintained that his message is not political, but social. He has no political aspirations, he said, adding that individuals can get much more done privately, showing he truly believes, “what you stand for is more important than what you stand in.”

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