"INSPIRING FOR A WHOLE GENERATION"
Since it was founded by Ralph Lauren in 2000, the Pink Pony Campaign—Ralph Lauren’s global philanthropic initiative dedicated to reducing disparities in cancer care—has been a leader in the fight to find a cure and helping to ensure that access to quality treatment is available to everyone at an earlier, more curable stage. More than 15 years after Ralph Lauren first dared to turn his iconic Polo pony pink, David Lauren talks about the campaign, its many successes, and why the work of Pink Pony is more important than ever.
How did Ralph Lauren first become involved in cancer research and care?
For more than 25 years, Ralph Lauren has been committed to the fight against cancer. Years ago, he had a friend who was an editor at The Washington Post named Nina Hyde, and he promised her that he would do everything he could in the fight against cancer to help save her life. When she passed, he founded a center in her name in Washington, DC, and then galvanized the fashion industry to create something called Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. The famous target that you see on shirts around the world was designed by Ralph Lauren, and it was the beginning of that effort.
He went on to found Pink Pony to help raise awareness and funds for the cause. But it started with Nina, and it’s certainly something that means a lot to him.
Several years ago, the renowned cancer specialist and patient advocate Dr. Harold P. Freeman—who was living in Harlem and has dedicated his life to serving the Harlem community and people in surrounding communities—approached Ralph, and he talked about the disparity of cancer rates in people who could not afford proper health care. My father decided this was the time to get involved and founded the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care up in Harlem with Dr. Freeman, who serves as president and chairman emeritus.
What do you think the Pink Pony initiative says about Ralph Lauren the man, as well as Ralph Lauren the brand?
To take the Polo logo—one of the most famous logos in the world—and turn it pink and put it on the runway and dedicate it to the fight against cancer is making a very bold statement. When he first did it, it was unheard of for a brand to dedicate their logo to such a cause, to any cause. Today, you see businesses that are dedicated to being socially conscious, but when Ralph Lauren did it, it was inspiring for a whole generation of businesses to give more.
What separates Pink Pony from other cancer initiatives?
There are many great cancer initiatives. Pink Pony was founded to galvanize the Ralph Lauren community, the fashion community, and the partners that we have all around the world. We’ve been very proud that it’s enabled us to help fund successful research centers and treatment centers such as the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care in Harlem and at The Royal Marsden in London, to name two that are quite significant.
Could you share a few personal recollections from your experiences with Pink Pony?
There’s nothing like standing with thousands of Ralph Lauren employees from all over the world and walking together in the annual Pink Pony Walk. And I’ve met a lot of the people who have suffered from cancer and have been saved by our efforts at the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care. I met a woman who came into the center with stage four cancer, only seeking care when her diagnosis was already advanced, because she was so fearful of the hospital system. And her doctors not only took her hand and treated her, but also took her through the entire process to help navigate the way. They helped her with all of the bills and made sure that her family understood what she was going through. And even at such a late date, we felt so lucky that we could save her life.
IT IS AMAZING TO SEE SOMEBODY’S EYES WHEN THEY ARE TOLD THAT THEY’RE OK, THEY’RE GOING TO MAKE IT.
She’s just one of so many stories—an immigrant who came to America, who really felt lost in the system, who really felt that she couldn’t afford proper health care, and who would’ve stayed away had she not heard about the Ralph Lauren Center from another patient who had been really well taken care of. It’s not just good doctors that people need. It’s guidance and support to navigate the system.
I visited the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care just last week, and that feeling you get when you’re leaving your day, and you show up at a cancer center—your whole day stops. Everything that had you so busy, that seemed so distracting and stressful—it just stops.
You realize when you look around and you see someone getting chemotherapy or somebody coming in for an appointment, you realize that they’re on a different timetable. And it slows you down. It makes you much more sensitive to the world, and it makes you realize that we can all be affected by this disease, so you have to do what you can to make the world better.
And there’s nothing like seeing a smile. Some of the great moments that I’ve had up at the cancer center are seeing someone at their last appointment and they’re cancer-free or the doctor has cleared them to live a life that they maybe thought they would never see again. And that is such a high. It’s a blessing, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. And I think that everybody at Ralph Lauren, they feel so proud that we’ve actually done that. I know it’s a cliché to say that “if you can save one life, it’s worth it.” But it is amazing to see somebody’s eyes when they are told that they’re OK, they’re going to make it. That feels like you’ve just saved the world.
Why do you think Pink Pony matters now more than ever?
The world has recognized that there may in fact be a cure out there, and in many ways people are interested more than ever because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we do it because we can’t always see those lights. People are still being affected by cancer. People are still suffering. And until people stop suffering, we’re going to continue the fight. It’s part of being a community leader.
Scenes from the 2016 Pink Pony Walk in NYC