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Kenneth Cole's 'Awearness' Book

After 25 years, Kenneth Cole's spelling may not have improved, but his writing has become more prolific and his call to social activism is as strong as ever.

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Kenneth Cole

Photo By John Aquino

After 25 years in business, Kenneth Cole’s spelling may not have improved, but his writing has become more prolific and his call to social activism beats as strong as ever.

As part of his brand’s silver anniversary, Cole is publishing “Awearness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference” (Melcher Media), with contributions from 86 celebrities, politicians and ordinary people.

“The underlying message here is no good deed goes unpublished,” said Cole, ever a pun practitioner. “The goal was to make this actionable, accessible, sustainable and transformational. At the end of each chapter is a ‘how to’ and a ‘where to.’ There’s an underlying call to action: How to make a difference.”

Lance Armstrong discusses mobilizing a movement, like he did with Livestrong, the yellow bracelets supporting cancer survivors. Jon Bon Jovi, who has partnered with Cole on products benefiting the homeless, talks about the problem of homelessness and poverty. Robert Redford discusses the need to preserve free speech, which he has heralded in his movies. Mayor Michael Bloomberg writes about public health policy initiatives, such as his antismoking ban in New York City (see book excerpts at right).

Eighty-two more individuals share their social issue passions — political activism, human rights, civil liberties, homelessness and poverty, well-being, HIV/AIDS, criminal justice, the environment, education and youth and volunteerism — in the book’s 256 pages. Each issue-dedicated chapter concludes with ways to support its cause, as well as groups and Web sites dedicated to that issue, in hopes of mobilizing readers.

When the 25,000 copies of the paperback (printed on recycled paper) go on sale next month for $25 each, 100 percent of the net proceeds will support the Awearness Fund, which Cole founded last year to support service, volunteerism and social change. It’s all part of a larger initiative called “Awearness-Kenneth Cole.”

Having a stake in social issues is not new to Cole, who is the chairman of amfAR, and a board member of HELP USA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Sundance Institute. His ads for his fashion brand have famously focused as much on social issues as on the product.

“Over the years, we’ve tried to address two very different yet common themes: a fashion voice and a social voice,” Cole said. “One of the reasons we started Awearness is that the social message has become even more defining than the fashion message, and it needed to be compartmentalized. Outside the retail environment, people know the social message more than the fashion message. We tried to find a separate place here for the social voice, where it can exist independently but in harmony with the fashion voice of the company.”

At the same time, the company is carving out areas within its stores dedicated to the Awearness initiative. The first 150-square-foot area will be installed front and center in the Grand Central Terminal store in New York the first week of November. The shop-in-shops will sell products that benefit the Awearness Fund, and will provide computer kiosks to sign onto the Web site to donate to the Network for Good or join the Awearness Alliance, which the firm defines as a community striving to make a difference through service.

The Web site, which already includes blogs about social issues, is playing a central role in the Awearness initiative. Originally launching as kennethcole.com/awearness on Nov. 5, the cause’s Web site is relaunching not only with a second domain name (awearness.com), but also with additional merchandise benefiting the Awearness Fund — beyond current limited offerings that include T-shirts with social messages, of which $10 benefits the Awearness Fund.

The site also will match Alliance members with volunteer opportunities through technology from Volunteer Match, and track how many hours the Alliance members, plus Kenneth Cole employees and sales associates, volunteer to measure the impact. Alliance members will also get advantages, such as use of the Kenneth Cole stores to host fund-raising and recruiting events.

Cole — who knows many of the contributors through amfAR, Sundance or through personal connections (several of his in-laws, the Cuomos, contribute to the book) — hopes the Web site will continue the dialogues started in the book.

“As this journey started, and I asked people to write a story about an issue they cared about, those less than a dozen stories became 86 stories, and they could have become 860 stories in more months,” Cole said. “The goal is to continue the discussion virtually.”

The company is feting the book with a party at the Kenneth Cole New York store in Grand Central Terminal on Nov. 12, with several of the book’s contributors. Cole hopes to host more of such events throughout the country, including in San Francisco on Nov. 17 with Mayor Gavin Newsom, who wrote an essay in the book, and in Boston on Nov. 19 with the founders of Service Nation.
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