Kenneth Cole, the well-known high-fashion clothing manufacturer, who also produces beautiful watches, bags and shoes has taken a big step for LGBT equality. His father was a shoe manufacturer, so his career grew straight from his roots. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. is an American fashion house which he founded in 1982. In 1994, the company went public, and has been included on Forbes 200 Best Small Companies list, now four times over. His products are advertised and sold all over the world, predominantly the U.S. and Europe.
Throughout his career, Cole has been a huge supporter of AIDS awareness and research. He has spoken for animal rights and stopped using real fur in his designs. He has been a loyal supporter of gay marriage and the Human Rights Campaign.
He has done all of this, and no, he is not gay.
He is happily married to Maria Cuomo, daughter of Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York. Sister to Andrew Cuomo, current New York State Governor. Even with all of these politics in his life, he is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. His belief in equality has hit a new glorious high with the selection he has made to model his 2015 Collection, called “The Courageous Class.”
The campaign is in all black-and-white photos and is a celebration of pioneers and “individuals who stood out for showing courage in the face of adversity.” The other models in this campaign are Jamie Clarke, a deaf soccer player, as well as a previous model, but now activist, Topaz Page-Green, and Rhymefest, who has become a humanitarian and is a hip-hop artist.
His lead model is Andreja Pejic. You probably have seen her out there already, on the billboards and posters that decorate the train stations. She is the first transgender model to be featured earlier this year in Vogue. She made her first debut as a female during the London Fashion Week 2015.
Dial back to 2007, when Andreja Pejic was working at a McDonald’s. Since then, her grace and beauty and l-e-g-s were unavoidably noticed as she went on to walk the runway for top designers. One season, she even started on the runway in women’s couture, and ended it in a man’s suit. She is now no stranger to the covers of fashion magazines, and has opened the door for trans models. She may have set the bar, but she has also paved the way for the LGBT models to come.
Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. has on its own made the great leap in advertising. Cole has led the designers of the world, and closed the gaps of inequality, setting an example for all companies that use models to show their wares. Without being a torch bearer for any particular human rights organization, Kenneth Cole has given of himself and his business. He has stepped outside of the box, where few have had the where-with-all to even conceptualize his altruism. The manner in which he supports socially charged and controversial causes has made him a pioneer in fashion himself. His involvement with the LGBT community goes back many years, to when he was among the first proclaimed AIDS awareness campaigners and in 2005, for World AIDS Day he designed T-shirts that were also controversial as they read “We All Have AIDS” and “I Have AIDS.” His goal then was to shift consciousness and diminish stigma. It seems his advertising campaign of ‘The Courageous Class’ is simply his chosen message for a more contemporary social cause, one which can no longer be ignored.