Kenneth Cole: How A Shoe Man Became A Show Man



Kenneth Cole is greatly influenced by New York City—a diverse, multilayered hive of cultures, communities, and aesthetics. Every time you peel back a layer, there’s another revelation. Perhaps that’s why whenever there’s an obstacle blocking Kenneth Cole’s way to success, he was able to think of another brilliant idea to counter it. Recently, he shared his story on how he managed to be successful in a cut-throat industry and captivated the interests of New Yorkers and huge retail companies. Here’s his story:

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“Over 35 Years ago, I wanted to start a shoe company. Although I had limited money, I knew it was all or nothing. With the FFANY (Fashion Footwear Association of New York) shoe show less than a month away, I decided to move quickly. I went to Europe, got credit from factories there, designed a shoe collection and soon after returned to the states to sell them.

At the time, a shoe company had two very expensive options. You could get a room at the Hilton Hotel and become 1 of about 1100 shoe companies or you could rent a fancy showroom in Midtown Manhattan. Either choice was not appealing and certainly not the image I wanted to portray for my first presentation to shoe buyers. And of course, the room rental fees were beyond my bank account. I decided to turn this liability into good fortune.

I had an idea. I called a friend in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his trucks to park in Midtown Manhattan. He quickly assured me that I would never get permission to do so. I went to Mayor Ed Koch’s office and inquired about permission to park a 40-foot trailer truck in Midtown Manhattan. Mayor Koch immediately told me that the only people who can secure parking permits are production companies shooting full-length motion pictures or utility companies like Con Edison.

That day, I went to the nearest stationery store, changed our company letterhead from Kenneth Cole, Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. and bought a video camera. The next day I applied for, and was granted, a permit to shoot a full-length film entitled ‘The Birth of a Shoe Company.’

On the day of the FFANY shoe show, the Kenneth Cole Productions truck parked at 1370 6th Avenue, across from the New York Hilton. We opened for business with a fully-furnished 40-foot trailer, a director, models as actresses, and two of New York’s finest, compliments of Mayor Koch, as our doormen.

As if I was a veteran film director, I created an illusion that the truck was always busy and I only let in a few people at a time. Sometimes the camera was rolling, and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the camera had film, and sometimes it didn’t. What I did know, however, is that I created the perception that the demand was greater than the supply. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, and Dillard’s all stopped by the Kenneth Cole Productions truck. In three and a half days we sold over 40,000 pairs of shoes.

To this day, the company is still named Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. and serves as a constant reminder of the importance of resourcefulness, creativity, and innovative problem solving.”

– Kenneth Cole

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