Bud Konheim, CEO of fashion company Nicole Miller, went on CNBC Wednesday to talk shop about the retail industry.
But he ended up grabbing headlines for a different reason — an impolitic comment about income inequality, canonizing himself among the recent string of one-percenters weighing in on how poor people truly have it these days.
“We’ve got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99% of the rest of the world,” Konheim said on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “So we’re talking about woe is me, woe is us, woe is this.” Those living on $US35,000 in America would do well in developing countries like India or China (comparatively speaking), Konheim explained.
However, Konheim is saying that his sound bite was misunderstood once social media’s wrath removed it from the interview’s full context.
“It was triggered by the young anchor using the word ‘luxury,'” Konheim told Business Insider. “And I started to get off on the imprecise language we use on the word luxury.”
But Konheim didn’t walk back is overall message.
Some people who earn $US35,000 a year may consider themselves poor, and Konheim says they really aren’t, relatively speaking. At $US35,000 you can have a “house, car, TV set, three meals a day, and go to a public school,” said Konheim.
“If you have those things and you’re in Rwanda, you’re a rich man.”
“We’re talking about the $US35,000 a year. You eat three meals a day. What do you want, four meals a day or a better meal? You want a better meal.”
“The terms that we use are imprecise,” says Konheim, who added that in his eyes, Nicole Miller isn’t a luxury brand when you compare its $US500 prices to Italian brands that retail similar items for $US5,000.
“Our idea of luxury is something that’s like needless expense.”
While it is true that $US35,000 would put someone firmly in the upper-middle class 60% range in China, as CNBC’s Robert Frank notes, Konheim’s comment ruffled feathers because people find in grating to hear what rich men wearing bowties have to say about how average Americans live.
“The situation is crowded by a lot of emotional talk,” he said.
And Konheim got to see that emotional talk first hand as Twitter replies began mounting in the wake of the controversial interview.
“Twitter is a vehicle for everyone to throw slander and insults over the wall,” he said. “There’s no way to have a meaningful conversation on Twitter.”
For Konheim, this conversation shouldn’t be about rich versus poor, but about the issue of income inequality. The two are separate issues, and he thinks raising the minimum wage would be a good start.
“It gives lift to people [with] lower income. Because they spend it,” he said. “I’m not big on government programs, but there’s a government program that’s good for one reason. It forces everyone to do it. It doesn’t get into the competition. It’s the law so you have to do it. So nobody has a big advantage. I think it’s great.”
“I’m for any idea that improves the social situation. I’m all for it.”