NEW YORK — Since creating his brand nearly 40 years ago, Kenneth Cole has always used his platform to deliver messages that are larger than the footwear, apparel and accessories that sport his name.
The company’s longtime 1,100-square-foot retail space on Bond Street and the Bowery has been shuttered since March 2020. But even while it was closed it served as a billboard to support issues including Black Lives Matter and speaking out against the war in Ukraine.
Now, the store has reopened as a quarterly pop-up that is selling 13 fall menswear looks along with an assortment of Voicewear message T-shirts and accessories. A percentage of all sales will be donated to The Mental Health Coalition, a collection of some three dozen advocacy groups, celebrities and businesses Cole created during the pandemic that works to end the stigma surrounding mental health and help people access the services they need.
“Since March 2020, we have all been living with a sense of institutionalized uncertainty,” Cole said. “Change is the only constant and that is the concept behind Temporary. As the world continues to evolve, we’ve curated a living, breathing store concept that’s inspired by change. Starting with ‘mind, body and sole’ as the first focus, each collection has purpose, with a percentage of all sales being donated to The Mental Health Coalition.”
But the store is not the only news from the company, which is preparing to celebrate its fourth decade in business in 2023. Kenneth Cole Productions has also named Jed Berger president, a position that has been vacant since Paul Blum left the company in 2011. After that, there was a chief executive officer, Marc Schneider, who served in that role from February 2015 until February 2020. There is no CEO currently and Cole serves as chairman and chief creative officer.
Berger spent the last decade at Foot Locker Inc., in marketing and digital roles, and before that was with Modell’s Sporting Goods.
Berger said after more than 10 years in marketing, he was ready for his next challenge. “Personally and professionally, I wanted to grow,” he said. “My role was basically chief influencer, but I wanted to do more.”
He said he’d long admired Cole and the “purpose-infused” business he created and believes he can take his expertise at growing brands and apply it to the Kenneth Cole mission to help the company continue to grow. “I’m joining at a time when there are a lot of exciting things going on,” he said.
That includes the store, which will also offer complimentary juices from Pressed Juicery and has partnered with Uber to offer complimentary delivery of anything purchased in the store to locations in the five boroughs within 24 hours.
Throughout the store the 13 outfits are displayed alongside look-book-style images and a QR code that will help men put the looks together. Similar QR codes are featured around the store that lead customers to The Mental Health Coalition.
“We all need help with our wardrobes and our lives,” Cole said. “The world is changing and this store is a forum that encourages effective, meaningful storytelling. Change is the only constant and we have to continue to be relevant. We have a multitiered business that requires a lot of messaging and this gives us a focused platform to tell our stories.”
Berger said while messaging has become almost trendy with other companies today, at Kenneth Cole it has been part of the DNA since the beginning.
Going forward, the store will take on other issues depending upon what’s happening in the world. The next edition, Berger said, will highlight Cole’s 40 years in business and the topics he has tackled over that time frame, including AIDS.
But while messaging will remain a key part of the company’s future, Berger said his goal is to ensure the business remains agile, relevant and profitable. The brand, which now operates under a licensing model, has sales of around $1 billion globally.
At one time there were over 100 full-price and outlet stores, but they were closed after the company went private in 2012. The only remaining unit is the Bowery and Bond store that opened in 2015 and has been the sole retail location since 2017.
The Temporary store concept could “conceptually work in a lot of places,” Cole said, but there are no plans to open other units at this point. “The retail model is totally different today and we’ll learn from this store,” Berger added. “There are many chapters to this story and this is chapter one.”