“We all Walk in Different Shoes”
A few days ago, Kenneth Cole unveiled one of his new ads on a wall of Rockefeller Center in New York City. The model is, surprisingly, a sikh.
The campaign features Sandeep (aka: Sonny) Caberwal as a Sikh and in the below video he explains about being a Sikh and standing out.
Sandeep grew up in a small town in North Carolina. He’s a practicing Sikh and an entrepreneur.
Still in his 20s, Sonny is the joint owner of Tavalon Tea Bar in New York City – a lounge that sells gourmet loose-leaf tea and tea accessories.
He graduated Duke University in 2001 and went on to graduate from Georgetown University Law Center in 2004.
He currently resides in San Francisco.
New York fashion designer Kenneth Cole is going national with his new Spring 2008 ad campaign featuring Sandeep Singh Caberwal, who will also begin writing Monday on the company’s new blog.
“It is a good opportunity for the Sikh people,” Sandeep Singh said. “There is no positive portrayal of the Sikh identity in the media, not something younger children can relate to.”
When a floor-to-ceiling poster of Sandeep’s glamour shot, dressed in Kenneth Cole clothes and shades, appeared in the window of the Rockefeller Center store last month, it caught the eye of many New York Sikhs and created a buzz in the online community.
The company then launched a video ad and interviews on its Web site, and released an ad insert in the New York Times, all in the past week.
“There was an impressive reaction on the Sikhchic and Sikhnet blogs,” said Meredith Paley, a vice president of public affairs at Kenneth Cole.
“Amazing,” “cool,” “awesome,” and “proud” were among the overwhelmingly positive comments on the two blogs. A few squabbled about Sandeep using ‘Sonny’ as his first-name, his pronunciation of Sikh as ‘seek’ and the size of his fifty. But most were happy with the ad and commended Kenneth Cole for using a Sikh.
“I was grateful to have the opportunity,” Sandeep Singh said. And he was especially delighted that the company was looking for a sardar.
Last fall, a well-known casting agent, Jennifer Starr, contacted Amardeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition, looking for a Sikh man for Kenneth Cole’s spring ad campaign. Amardeep Singh made a request for candidates on the Coalition’s New York City listserv and the Coalition’s interns also sent out a request on Facebook.
“The funny thing was that Jennifer got so many e-mails in response from sardars attaching their pictures that her e-mail account got overloaded,” Amardeep said by email. “Her co-worker actually had to call me the next day to say, “Please tell people to stop e-mailing.”
“I find that so funny and indicative of the thirst out there for Sikhs to be portrayed positively in the mainstream media,” he added.
Sandeep described the experience as “amazing.” He spent two days in October doing photo shoots and recording videos. He interacted with some of the other people selected as models for the ad campaign and met about 20 people from Kenneth Cole.
“The company feels very strong about the campaign,” he said. They were very respectful, unassuming and sensitive. “They chose people who would challenge stereotypes.”
Kenneth Cole has been known to turn heads with his ads that focus on causes, such as AIDS, and talk about them when no one else would, Paley said. But this time he wanted to celebrate diversity by choosing “bold, unexpected people of substance” to mark the 25th anniversary of the multi-billion-dollar fashion company.
The video ad also includes a quadriplegic rugby player, a Paralympic athlete with prosthetic legs and a singer with body tattoos. The ad campaign has a total of 11 models.
“We came up with the types of people,” Paley said. “By being an aware person, he (Cole) is aware of the of the Sikh community and the controversies, especially after 9/11.”
Print media and billboards will also carry the new ad.
“It will be breaking in the next week or two in magazines like Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and In Style,” Paley said. Each magazine will have a different insert.
A 2004 graduate of Georgetown Law Center in Washington D.C., Sandeep Singh took a break from working at a Rockefeller Center law firm two years later to start a premium tea lounge in New York City. He married six months ago and moved to San Francisco, a city both he and his wife loved, and is working as a small business consultant.
When his brother-in-law forwarded him the Sikh Coalition email about Kenneth Cole looking for a Sikh to appear in its ad, the 28-year-old sent in his photograph. But he did not do it for vanity.
There are many challenges for Sikhs in America, especially children, for whom bullying can lead them to question their identity, Sandeep Singh said. But having a positive image like this show kids that good things can come from keeping your faith and identity.
“(The ad) is an example of what can happen,” he said. “There are opportunities across the board for people with their identity.”
Sandeep Singh said he has received a lot of feedback from children and college students thanking him for doing the ad, which has been very rewarding.
“It helps make life easier for them,” Sandeep Singh said. “It allows them to feel even more proud about themselves, that they can do that too.”
Sandeep talked to a lot of people from Kenneth Cole during his brief modeling stint. They don’t realize what a dramatic impact this ad is going to have for not only the Sikh community but also the entire South Asian community, he said.
“I’m not making claims of being a role model,” he added. “I am proud of Sikh traditions and Sikh history, and proud to carry them into the future.”