Shoe Designers and Politicos Lend the City a Helping Foot

Diahann Billings-Burford, Kenneth Cole, Peter Vallone and John Liu (Getty Images)

Diahann Billings-Burford, Kenneth Cole, Peter Vallone and John Liu (Getty Images)

This morning on the cold, bright steps of City Hall, several photographers huddled, shivering, waiting for the Two Ten Footwear Foundation conference to begin. The charitable foundation of the U.S. footwear industry was gathered to kick off Two Ten’s Footwear Cares National Footwear Community Service Week (whoof, what a title) in New York, where 14 shoe companies would be dedicating their time and resources to packing meals for the New York Food NYC, God’s Love We Deliver, GrowNYC, and the Occupy Sandy Recovery group.

A smattering of unlikely bedfellows trickled in: Kenneth Cole, Katie Butler of Nine West, two mayoral candidates–Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu–former Council speaker Peter Vallone, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, along with several other representatitves from the fashionable footwear industry.


Before the press conference, The Observer had asked Mr. Cole what it was like coming together with some of his contemporaries like Steve Madden, who was also involved with the program but was unable to make Monday’s event. Were they friendly competitors, or was this a rivalry that only a good deeds photo opp could bridge.

“No, no,” Mr. Cole said, who kept his sunglasses on throughout our conversation. “Steve and I, we’re old friends.”

“I feel funny being singled out,” I slightly laconic Mr. Cole said after opening remarks by Two Ten president Neal Newman. “Because everyone here does a lot, and the industry does a lot.” Mr. Cole went on to say that the nonprofit was an organization to “be looked at with envy” because the footwear industry “takes care of its own.” It should be noted that for 75 years, Two Ten’s purpose has been to provide service to those in need…provided they have been employed by a shoe company for a certain amount of time.

Mr. de Blasio was full of accolades for the iniative, saying “This is arguably our most fabulous industry here in New York City. Fabulous not just for its creativity or for what it does for the economy, but for it’s heart.” To Mr. Cole, he had even higher praise, calling him a template for what entrepreneurs can do to raise awareness and help their community.

Mr. Liu had a slightly different take. While praising Two Ten’s and the organization’s Hurricane Sandy relief effort, which provided $290,000 to over 250 footwear families, he added that the people who were getting the assistance were “some of the hardest working and some of the lowest paid workers in this city and this country.”

Catching up with Mr. de Blasio after the conference, we asked who he was wearing on his feet that day. He took off his shoes, to study the label. “You know, I don’t know what they are,” he told The Observer, “But I know I got them at Eneslow on Park Avenue and 33rd.”

Councilwoman Brewer also didn’t know the name brand of her black flats with the flowers, but exclaimed: “I got them at Harry’s! Always Harry’s!”