We recently attended the 2015 Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation's Rush HeARTS luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria and met two of our favorite fashion designers, Kenneth Cole and Cynthia Rowley.
What inspired you to begin in the fashion business?
Cynthia: I started sewing when I was very little. When I was 7, when I made my first outfit, I laid the fabric on the floor and I laid down on top of it and traced around myself like a crime scene and cut it out and sewed it up. And I just continued making clothes and didn't really realize it was a career until I was actually in college, and then I switched from fine arts to fashion, and I've been doing it ever since.
Kenneth: I was inspired by so many people I've met over the years. I don't know there is any one person. My father was in the shoe business, so he taught me the shoe business side. I was lucky, and then everything else I do just happened organically. And do I think I inspire people? I hope I do. Hopefully I helped show young people and not-so-young people a different way to realize their passions and at the same time make a difference in the community.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to start in the fashion business?
Cynthia: Just know that it's not easy, it's very hard work. I think you just have to go for it. It's a great time right now because you can make things, you could put it up online, it's not as complicated, I think, as it once was. You can do it in a smaller way and get started and just do it. It's really, really hard work. Don't take no for an answer, be thankful for everything. Be as original with your work as you can, and just do it.
Kenneth: My advice to people who want to go into fashion designing is to try to be very conscious of everything around them and then try to see not what's there, but what is not there, because that's what people are looking for. And you're often taught as children to draw within the lines. In fashion, you're encouraged to draw outside the lines and that there are no boundaries. And the more creative you could be outside the boundaries, outside those lines, that is where you'll be successful.
Where do you get the ideas for your designs?
Cynthia: That is a hard question because it's really like just real life and things I'm interested in, and it's never just one thing, it's many, many different things, and everything that is happening in our culture, in art, and sometimes I travel, and inspiration can come from anywhere.
How influential was your childhood and your upbringing in deciding to become a fashion designer?
Cynthia: I have to say I grew up in a very creative household where we were kind of encouraged to draw all the time and make things. I had a very humble upbringing, so I didn't have a lot of material things, so if I had an idea that I wanted something, I probably had to make it myself. It made me really appreciate the creative process as well. But I think it is important that you're encouraged at home as well as in school.
Kenneth: I did not have a plan to become a fashion designer. It just happened by accident. It happened along the way. I made a right turn one day when I was planning to go straight. But it's been a wonderful rewarding turn, and it's enabled me to do so many wonderful things that I love to do at the same time.
What difficulties have you faced on your path to becoming such a successful professional?
Cynthia: Every day, there's a million things. You've just got to forge ahead. There's so many. I think one thing is to always be optimistic about everything and always think positively and, if something happens, think of it as an opportunity to try something in a different way, and don't ever get discouraged. Just go a different path. Just do it.
At what moment did you decide on your career?
Kenneth: I still haven't decided. I'm working on it, but you know people ask that question: As a designer, how do you do it? The truth is, a designer is what I do; it's not necessarily who I am. And what I do, it enables me to do so many other things which I love. And I think there's that distinction: You have to decide what you want to be, and what you do is not necessarily who you are and what you are.
What plans do you have for the future of your career? Kenneth: My plans are to figure out how I can help more people make an impact in more places and affect how they look, so to look good, feel good and do good.