Fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s latest project isn’t a line of shoes or a fall collection: it’s a new site, “Where Do You Stand,” that aims to spark debate on social issues, from gun control to same-sex marriage.
Where Do You Stand marks a continuation of Cole’s socially conscious—and sometimes controversial—ad campaigns that have promoted not only bags, shoes and apparel, but also political issues. For example, a past ad featured an illustration of a condom with the caption, “Our shoes aren’t the only thing we encourage you to wear."
On the Where Do You Stand website, visitors are prompted to select one of two portals: "What You Stand For," where people can participate in varying degrees of debate on several topics, and "What You Stand In,” which is the more fashion-oriented portion of the site consisting of video style guides hosted by editors from GQ and Vogue. A link to Kenneth Cole's online store is featured throughout.
Cole, who regularly tweets from the official @KennethCole account, notes that social media has been a game changer when it comes to raising awareness for both brands and social issues. (He adds that his two favorite people to follow on Twitter are Barack Obama and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.)
"The world moves so quickly today, and social media is the best way to communicate the message," Cole said. "I feel very in the moment [when using Twitter], which makes me feel very empowered.”
While Cole and his company have embraced tools like Twitter and Facebook, their foray into social media hasn’t always been problem free. The designer committed a highly-publicized Twitter gaffe earlier this past spring when, during the protests in Egypt, Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.”
"I've struggled to find the right voice to reach people, and I paid for it when I tweeted about the Cairo uprising earlier this year," Cole said of the incident. "It's critical to our brand though…Nothing is black or white here. We are trying to figure it out, as is everyone else."
Even as he praises the positive influence social media has had on social awareness initiatives, Cole reminisces about the days when "social" had a very different meaning.
"Is social media antisocial? Yes,” he said. “How are we defining social these days? We had a dinner for the blogging community a year ago, and everyone at the dinner table took out their cell phones. Not that long ago, that would have been considered rude."
In spite of such nostalgia, Kenneth Cole is a gadget lover at heart. He owns an iPhone, a Blackberry, and an iPad, which have contributed to some information overload.
“I'm perpetually overwhelmed," Cole said. "I used to try and consolidate, and now I just can't do it anymore. I spend a lot of time with each of them."
At its launch, the Where Do You Stand platform, which was developed by Kenneth Cole’s internal marketing team and Intersect, a web production agency, features four main discussion topics--marriage equality, gun control, abortion, and “war”--that the site’s creators say will evolve over time.
“Already, we’ve started looking at more provocative debates. As the national dialogue changes, so will we,” Cole said. “It’s sensitive to what people are talking about at the moment.”