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Legacy and mission bring Kenneth Cole and Kent State University together

By Jackie Mallon


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Kenneth Cole

Kent State University will host a fireside chat this Friday between visionary global fashion designer and activist, Kenneth Cole, and director and professor of Kent State’s School of Fashion, Louise Valentine. The topic of conversation will be “Building a Global Fashion Brand, On Purpose.” Cole has been named the Kent State University School of Fashion’s 2021 Hall of Fame Inductee, a ceremony now in its 32nd year, which honors an individual’s outstanding contribution to fashion. The accolade recognizes their unique qualities of leadership and the inspiration they offer the next generation of fashion graduates at Kent State. Previous inductees include Estée Lauder, Oscar de la Renta, Dana Buchman, and Leonardo Ferragamo. 

“It is a privilege to be in such esteemed company,” said Cole in a statement. “The future of our industry relies upon the educating and mentoring of talented and inspired students. I am grateful to Kent State’s School of Fashion for its commitment to nurturing so many ambitious and inspired design students while championing social consciousness as a cornerstone to all aspects of it.”

FashionUnited asked KSU’s Louise Valentine what questions she would pose the designer and industry trailblazer. She said she is keen to focus on his philanthropy, in particular, efforts to highlight HIV and AIDS awareness through the AMFAR Foundation and with the UN, and how this work in turn benefitted mental health awareness, a resonant topic during a global pandemic.

Kenneth Cole is KSU’s School of Fashion 2021 Hall of Fame inductee

On why Cole was chosen as this year’s inductee, says Valentine, “His approach to business is rare in fashion, as the profit and not-for-profit are symbiotic, rather than estranged. His trailblazing is the pursuit of an ongoing quest to consciously connect with humanity at large, to build meaningful relations with people every day so as to build a social relevancy that goes far beyond the initial perceptions of fashion.”

Cole has said in the past, ‘I’m a NY fashion designer. Designing is what I love do, but it’s not who I am,’ and this is also key to his selection for the school’s Hall of Fame. “KSU School of Fashion identifies with Kenneth Cole, through his legacy,” explains Valentine. “In 1983, KSU’s School of Fashion was founded by two NYC-based, American entrepreneurs and fashion business owners, Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman - two joyously interesting people! This was just one year after Kenneth Cole Productions was launched in 1982.”

Kent State University School of Fashion presents second virtual fashion show

The fireside chat will be directly followed by Kent State University’s annual fashion show, its second under pandemic conditions, and even within the show planning, the school prioritized social justice. “We knew we needed to be responsive and responsible, to lean into the insights gleaned so far from the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and our first virtual fashion show in 2020,” says Valentine. “We acutely recognized the changes brought about by COVID-19 require agility and persistence, and because of this, we built new skills development into the creative event management process.” 

But Valentine believes this is standard operating procedure for KSU whose purpose, she says, is “to teach the students to be change agents, opportunity anticipators leading the way as we responsibly move forward into this next chapter of fashion.”

The virtual fireside chat with Kenneth Cole moderated by Valentine will be live on Friday, April 30, at 6 p.m. EDT and is free and open to the public via required registration on the KSU Fashion School’s website. Viewers will then be treated to the premiere of the School of Fashion’s Annual Fashion Show at 7pm, with collections which, says Valentine, “encompass women’s, men’s, children, gender neutral, eveningwear, activewear, and lingerie, as well as delivering on issues such as size, inclusive design, universal design, sustainability. All of which are in the spirit of leading with inclusivity which is a pillar of our School’s mission, vision, and values.” Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry

Photo KSU

Graduate fashion
Kenneth Cole
Kent State University