Renowned fashion designer Kenneth Cole has called for better perception of AIDS by the public and said engagement with the community is a key part of the path to business success, digital network Fusion said.
Cole was one of the first influential figures in the fashion industry to publicly support and promote awareness of the disease in the mid-1980s.
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“Here we are 30 years after and stigma is probably responsible for more people dying of AIDS than the virus itself, ” he told Fusion in a recent interview in his New York City headquarters.
“I used to think that what you did was you worked hard, made a lot of money, and then you figured out how to give it back. But it’s just not that way today; today community engagement needs to be part of the journey, ” he said.
The New York-based Cole has become a household name by designing clothing, accessories and shoes, but his eponymous brand is associated as much with cause-related activism as it is with fashion.
For Cole, championing causes he is passionate about, such as homelessness and finding a cure for AIDS, has been the foundation of his 30-year fashion empire, the Huffington Post said. In 1985, Cole was the first designer to publicly support the fight against the deadly disease. An admirer once described him as “a mensch of the first order.”
Cole, 60, is known for his irreverent advertisements with a social message on issues like gun control and abortion, the New York Times said in a 2013 article.
He once ran a campaign featuring T-shirts emblazoned with “We All Have AIDS” or “I Have AIDS” in an effort to subvert the notion that the disease only affects those infected with the HIV virus.
“There is a legend of the Danish king, Christian X, who, during World War II, when Hitler insisted all Jews publicly wear a yellow Star of David, would wear the star himself, hence making it difficult to differentiate who was Jewish, ” Cole said in 2005. “This is kind of like that, hopefully.”
In an interview for the book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, Cole said he still struggles with his decision to allow his wife to raise their daughters Catholic. “It’s hard for me every day, ” he told the author.
The fashion designer visited Israel in August 2014 as part of a delegation led by his brother-in-law, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, to demonstrate solidarity with the country during Operation Protective Edge.