Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kenneth Cole stresses social responsibility in School of Public Health speech

Kenneth Cole, fashion icon and humanitarian, told a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday that tough times brought on by the current economic situation can fuel creative solutions.

Designer and humanitarian Kenneth Cole, right, meets with students during an appearance Wednesday at the School of Public Health. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

Cole is the founder of Kenneth Cole Productions and chairman of the board of the Foundation for AIDS Research. His company is known for its provocative ads, which raise social awareness and sell millions of dollars in shoes and other accessories every year.

He spoke at the School of Public Health about activism, employment, and thinking outside the box.

As a businessman, Cole said, he struggles with how to reinvent his product and brand to create a demand for goods that people don’t really need, he said.

“How do we create a scenario where demand exceeds supply?” he asked.

He encouraged students to think creatively in terms of employment, pointing out that the jobs of the future are in those sectors will save our planet, such as green energy and public health.

He said he believes most people are “inclined to want to make a difference,” but might not know how. So, figuring that out probably is easier for a young person who isn’t committed to a life or career path, he said.

He also told students it’s OK to be lucrative spiritually as well as financially, and that he believes corporate and social responsibility are interdependent.

Cole hosted a group of students before his talk and took one-on-one questions about health care, fashion, his business and other issues. His visit was sponsored by SPH and the U-M Tobacco Research Network.