Kenneth Cole took an L this morning and it happened just as New York Fashion Week gets underway. It all started with what seemed like some good intentions on behalf of the brand.
The company erected a billboard near Riverside Church in Harlem, to draw attention to the gun violence that plagues America.
“Over 40M Americans suffer from mental illness. Some can access care…All can access guns. –KennethCole #GunReform #AreYouPuttingUsOn” Unfortunately, the attempt backfired on the upscale apparel designer.
Many interpreted Kenneth Cole’s message as perpetuating the myth that mental illness is linked to violence. One of the people offended was Doris Schwartz, MA, LCSW-R, chief operating officer of the Mental Health Association of Westchester. Ms. Schwartz was driving down the Westside Highway last week when she saw the billboard.
It pissed her off to the point that she started a campaign to have the advertisement removed. Kenneth Cole was bombarded with emails,voicemails and tweets. The company finally caved in due to the negative attention the campaign was attracting.//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
“In hindsight, we were overly ambitious with our attempt to address two complex issues in a medium designed for brevity, and regret any confusion it has caused,” a rep for Kenneth Cole said. “The billboard on the West Side Highway will be replaced…”
A rep for Kenneth Cole said a new campaign will ditch any references to guns. Instead, the company will focus on diversity and inclusion with their “The Courageous Class” advertisements featuring Rhymefest, Andreja Pejic, Topaz Page-Green and others.
“They are calling these individuals ‘The Courageous Class,'” Schwartz said, “and I’m certain they are; but there is no one more courageous than those of us who openly disclose our struggles with a mental health condition and fight to overcome
the prejudice and discrimination that accompany a mental health diagnosis. I’d love
to see Kenneth Cole include one of us in his fall/winter 2015 campaign.”