Fashion designer Kenneth Cole announced a partnership with Compass Partners Inc. on Friday, stitching the two organizations together with a $500,000 pledge of financial support.
The deal was made public at the first annual gathering of the Compass Fellows, a group founded at Georgetown and now comprised of over 150 undergraduate students. The Fellows, who study at Georgetown, American University, The George Washington University, Indiana University and Tufts University, are aspiring entrepreneurs interested in business and social justice.
William Huster, brand manager of Compass Partners Inc., and Neil Shah (MSB ’10), co-founder of the fellowship, confirmed that Compass Partners will use Cole’s donation to extend its fellows program to between 12 and 15 schools next fall, including University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and Fordham University.
The organization will branch out to Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and allow students to regularly exchange ideas, meet and collaborate with other fellows.
Shah said that Compass’ first program, created at Georgetown in 2009, serves as a model for this growth.
“Our original 15 [Fellows] from Georgetown, we had such a close bond. We figured out entrepreneurship was more than just teaching someone about spreadsheets,” Shah said.
Cole said the new affiliation will allow Compass to expand and offer future business leaders more educational opportunities to interact with one another and assist the world around them.
“Together we will seek to identify, encourage and empower the next generation of change agents,” Cole said in a speech to the fellows at the Shift Series conference. “We hope to teach the skills necessary to navigate public, private, for profit [and] not-for-profit universes. The process will encourage the taking down of walls and the building of new state-of-the-art proverbial bridges.”
Huster said that Cole’s monetary contribution of $500,000 will be issued over a span of three years. He added that there is discussion about giving Cole a more active role in the project, possibly by offering him a spot on Compass’ board of directors.
Shah said that he and co-founder Arthur Woods (MSB ’10) first contacted Cole after hearing of his sponsorship of a similar civic engagement project at Columbia University.
When Cole expressed interest in the organization at a meeting in New York City, the two sides entered into six months of talks discussing how their partnership could further the message of social engagement.
Since launching Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. in 1982, the fashion mogul has successfully promoted a host of social issues. Internally, he founded the company’s community outreach initiative, encouraging employees to participate in service opportunities.
He also started the Kenneth Cole Foundation’s ‘Awearness’ program, in which consumers can contribute to causes such as AIDS awareness and tsunami relief efforts in Japan by purchasing items from a specialized line of products.
“Typically in the fashion business, we redefine ourselves every few weeks with new product offerings, but if the brand is more substantive it creates a strong, if not stronger, relationship with the customer,” he said in an interview with The Hoya.
“It makes the relationship itself bigger and more important. That’s something we’ve always sought to do.”
Angela Morabito (SFS ’12), a first-generation Compass Fellow who designed her own line of women’s accessories for her Fellows project, found Cole’s message inspiring and applicable.
“There are plenty of places where you can buy a piece of square fabric, like a scarf,” she said. “What a person wears should be an affirmation of meaning.”
Morabito’s company, Headlines: Smartwear for Smart Women, supports efforts to educate women by donating a portion of its profits to organizations that promote literacy worldwide.
Nick Maida (MSB ’13), one of these original participants, said that the organization’s connection with Cole will prove beneficial for social entrepreneurs on the Hilltop.
“If you look at where Compass was 18 months ago and then look at the growth and success it has enjoyed in such a short time, the sky is the limit. This partnership will assist in that continued expansion,” Maida said.
“As a fellow, this means better access to the resources and support group that makes the Compass fellowship such a success.”