Meet the 5 Real-Life Superheroes Behind Kenneth Cole's Fall 2015 Campaign

Meet the 5 Real-Life Superheroes Behind Kenneth Cole's Fall 2015 Campaign
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Kenneth Cole has a brand-new look, which includes a relaunched website, a digital-inspired store concept, and an inspiring campaign with a message that runs much deeper than retail sales. The man himself is quick to note, though, that the the brand's legacy remains intact, but this renewed point of view revolves around storytelling, specifically about "ordinary people making an extraordinary difference." 

"The goal was to celebrate individuals, which we achieved with our Courageous Class, five role models that our customers can connect to and aspire to," Cole tells InStyle. 

Each member of the Courageous Class boasts a unique story and incredible journey, and are united by their strength, philanthropic contributions, ties to New York City, and Kenneth Cole. "Fashion is the real universal language," Cole says. "These role models are empowering people in a different way and they have found ways to give back to their individual communities. And, they look good in the clothes." 

Read on to meet the Courageous Class of fall 2015

Andreja Pejić, transwoman and model (above)

1. How did you end up where you are now? 
"I've led an interesting life. I was born to a single mother in Bosnia. During the Bosnian War, my mom, brother, and grandmother fled to Serbia where we were refugees. We left for Australia when I was nine. I was discovered when I was 16 at McDonald's. I was modeling on the runways in Paris at 18." 

2. What was the biggest obstacle you've overcome?
"Coming from a low-income background and having to go through challenges that come with gender issues and transitioning—and having to do it myself. Modeling is a difficult industry—it's very competitive and it's dependent on people liking the way you look. It was definitely hard to be in the public eye, to have a visible career while going through internal struggles. It felt lonely. There were definitely times I was treated differently and perhaps not given the same opportunities, not because of my looks, but because of my history, or what I represented or couldn't represent." 

3. How can fashion make a difference in the world? 
"I think it's happening already, getting back to the roots of what fashion is about—pushing culture forward, and exploring things that may not be beautiful and making it beautiful. Fashion can definitely be a powerful cultural force when it wants to be."

4. What drew you to this campaign?
"For an iconic brand to put us on this platform and share our stories, including my own, is really great. When people are exposed to something enough, however taboo and odd it may be, it becomes normal. And I think that's the goal."

5. Who is your role model? 
"My mom. She was always the epitome of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The strength of a single mother, and what they have to go through, is very inspiring."

6. Who is your favorite superhero?
"Michelle Pfeiffer playing Catwoman." 

Jon Rose, pro surfer turned activist

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1. How did you end up where you are now? 
"I was a pro surfer for 13 years, and that’s all I ever did. When I was trying to figure out the next chapter in my life, I had the idea of starting an organization with the intent to help. I chose providing access to water. For my first trip, which was to Indonesia, I bought 10 water filters. But an earthquake hit—I was ok—but over 10,000 people died. It was a really heavy disaster, and I became the first responder completely by accident. That experience changed my life. Those 10 filters saved thousands of lives, and I barely tried. That was when I grasped the idea of how much one person can do. Everybody should have access to drinkable water. It's a fundamental human right. I started Waves for Water, now a global organization that has touched more than 7 million people, and haven't looked back since."

2. What was the biggest obstacle you've overcome?
"The biggest challenge is two-fold: 1) having the resources to be able to put action in motion, and 2) promoting awareness and educating people. Water is overlooked, because we have access to safe water. When you don’t have access, it's really tough—it's not just hydration, but also hygiene and infant care. Once you’re informed, you’re responsible. For me, I have the information, and it's like I'm on a mountain screaming loudly and maybe only a couple of people can hear me. It's about how to be heard."

3. How can fashion make a difference in the world?
"With awareness. There are so many people who look to fashion—it's a driving force in the world. How cool would it be to use that massive vehicle that touches so many people for good?"

4. What drew you to this campaign?
"With the help of the campaign, there are more people hearing my scream. When I was initially contacted, I was unsure about it. Is this real? Is this genuine and authentic? Through the course of working with them, they were serious about it."

5. Who is your role model?
"I definitely don’t have one. It’s hard not to say my dad, especially in the context of what I do. The work we do is problem-solving, and he’s the master solutionist. He works with me now, so he runs a lot of programs in Africa. English journalist Dan Eldon has been a huge inspiration for 20 years. He was involved in political causes and was stoned to death in a riot in Africa. He has a book: "The Journey Is the Destination." Even way before I was doing this work, he was very influential in my life." 

6. Who is your favorite superhero, and why?
"I think Batman because he’s not a superhero. He has technology that makes him supernatural. We have the power to be supernatural as humans, as opposed to being an outer space supernatural thing."

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Che Smith, humanitarian hip-hop artist

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1. How did you end up where you are now? 
"Kenneth Cole first approached me when he saw a film In My Father's House, where I rescued the father I never knew from homelessness. When I found my father (his father abandoned Smith and his mother), he had been homeless for 30 years. I also mentor young people, and have my rap career. Kenneth said 'I'm going to take pictures of you and put you in a campaign.' My journey has been one of service, not about self-serving. I co-wrote Kanye West's Grammy Award-winning song 'Jesus Walks,' I co-wrote 'Glory' for Common and John Legend."

2. What was the biggest obstacle you've overcome?
"
Dealing with perceived failure. The depth of your struggle will determine the height of your success. I've dealt with having a record deal at a one point, losing it, not having a father, and not really knowing who I was. We don’t have one specific obstacle to overcome—life is a series of struggles that we have to embrace."

3. How can fashion make a difference in the world?
"When Kenneth Cole first dressed me and I looked in the mirror, I saw myself for the first time. Fashion makes a difference. Style makes you awesome. Your clothes are your superhero costume, and I think your costume has to be right for you to know you’re a hero. For the Courageous Class, Kenneth Cole gave us custom-made suits for the journeys we make."

4. What drew you to this campaign?
"It was about others, it was about courage, wearing clothes that show your courage. It's community driven, not about making profit. Kenneth Cole connects grassroots to mainstream sentiments, not just locally, but globally."

5. Who is your role model?
"Lately all the women in my community—my wife, my sister, my mother—those who corrected me and made me a better human being."

6. Who is your favorite superhero, and why?
"Between Batman and Superman, Batman is my favorite hero because he shows us that you don't have to have super X-ray vision or the ability to fly. We have the human potential to be amongst the gods."

Topaz Page-Green, model turned activist

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1. How did you end up where you are now? 
"I never set out to be a model. It something that happened and became a vehicle to support my existence, my ability to live in New York, which is a place I love so much. The Lunchbox Fund is something I’ve been doing for a really long time. My passion and my path has always been working for  these kids. They feel like family because they’re where I’m from—South Africa—and I have a strong connection to my country. This has connected me to my roots, being in a place I love, fighting for the people I love. That’s how I am here."

2. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome?
"No one encounters one obstacle. We overcome a billion every day. I think that’s the predominant philosophy in my life: To see things as an opportunity to know yourself better and to find a way through something. It becomes an exercise for growth, internally and externally."

3. How can fashion make a difference in the world?
"I think fashion, just like anything, can make a difference in the world, if applied correctly. Fashion can reach a wide range of people. If that can be used to purport messages for change, then it can be very powerful."

4. What drew you to this campaign?
"It's incredibly positive and exciting. The campaign is genuinely wonderful to be a part of because there's meaning behind it. Kenneth Cole is using its influence to do good. And it looks good, too."

5. Who is your role model?
"My standard answer is Nelson Mandela because he was a very wise man, had a very deep sense of humor, and he saw the best in everyone. And being on these sites, there are women who are in these totally desolate and very difficult to reach places—they work in situations that are unimaginably challenging. These are such profoundly resourceful women, who undertake abandoned and abused and orphaned children, and you’ll see these women take care 86 or more children without pay, without complaint. They do it because of love and passion. Those women are my role models—they set standards that are beyond ordinary comprehension."

6. Who is your favorite superhero, and why?
"I never watched superhero stuff. These women are the closest thing to superheroes that I can imagine."

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Jamie Clark, deaf pro soccer player

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1. How did you end up where you are now? 
"With modeling, I started from the bottom, working hard to get to where I am today. With soccer, I've been playing since I was 6! The England Deaf Football invited me for a trial when I was 18. I'm a key member of the squad—same with the Great Britain Deaf Football where I'm vice captain/captain. There is no better feeling than playing for your own country. Traveling around the world representing your own country in the major tournaments, such as World Cup, the Olympics, and European Championships, is something I will never forget."

2. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome?     
"The death of my grandad was so hard to get over. It took me a long time to get over it, but now I know he's up there watching me succeeding in life. This had made me stronger and be the person I am today."

3. How can fashion make a difference in the world? 
"It's a great way of showing what you love, it also brightens up the world."

4. What drew you to this campaign?
"When I found out that they wanted to include me in the Kenneth Cole Courageous Class, I couldn't believe it and couldn't wait to start! I was so happy to be part of it."

5. Who is your role model? 
"Only David Beckham—he is an amazing guy. He is a great family man, and he's a massive legend in the football world. I've always looked up to him, ever since I was a little kid."

6. Who is your favorite superhero, and why? 
"I don't have a favorite, but I do love the films of Batman, Spiderman and Superman. I love watching the great battles and their superpowers in action."

 
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