By Mario Toneguzzi
Unique Toronto retailer, Kotn, which sells high-quality everyday wear made from authentic Egyptian cotton, is looking at potential expansion across the country and into the United States as its concept gains popularity.
Rami Helali, one of the company’s co-founders, told Retail Insider “we’re currently looking in multiple other Canadian cities for more retail locations.”
The company opened its first bricks and mortar store at 754 Queen St W, Toronto in March 2017. The store is about 800 square feet.
“We are an online first business and since then what we’ve learned with that interaction with the customers and learning what the needs are and having that conversation and building that community is invaluable,” says Helali. “I think the future is in this omni-channel, multi-touch point kind of blurring the lines between analog and digital and that is kind of the direction we’re heading in.”
He says more than half of the company’s online sales are in the United States so that too is a market for potential future growth in bricks and mortar locations.
Kotn set out to solve this problem, starting first with their Egyptian cotton T-shirt, which has the quality and cut of its designer counterpoints yet is affordable enough for consumers to pick up in multiples.
The brand partners directly with Egyptian cotton farmers in the Nile River Delta to keep costs low while helping to revive a struggling agriculture business.
“We run social audits on all of our manufacturing partners. We make sure everyone’s getting paid fair wages,” says Helali.
“For us, for the industry to really rebound in a sustainable way and to really have the impact we want on the ground which is long-term poverty alleviation and long-term education, we want to start with education. It’s an area with really high illiteracy rates especially within women and we believe the way forward for that region and the industry is to start there.”
Kotn is building schools in the region of Egypt where their cotton is grown to stop the illiteracy epidemic there. They opened their first school in 2017, providing education for 40 students. They have mandated that more than 50 per cent of the students are girls as the illiteracy rates are especially high for women in the region. Kotn funds the building of a school and its teachers.
For Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Kotn set a goal to completely fund their second school with sales - as a result they raised $56,330.52, enabling them to build their second school in the Nile Delta in 2018. Every single dollar will be invested into things like the school infrastructure, roads, instructor training, uniforms, books and supplies.
Kotn’s co-founders were named to Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2018 in the retail and commerce category. The letters in the company name don’t stand for anything specifically but it’s the phonetic spelling of the Arabic word for cotton.
“We are an essentials company made out of authentic Egyptian cotton that is ethically sourced. For us, there was a gap or a need for well-made basics that didn’t cost an insane amount that were made well and when we say made well that means the quality is there and that the people along the way are treated well,” says Helali.
“We started literally with the white T and for the first year and a half we just had good T-shirts in three colours - black, white and grey. And we started online and that went well. We added some of these staples done well in multiple layers.”
The retailer says the authentic cotton, grown in the Nile Delta, is Egypt’s “white gold” - finer, softer, and more breathable than any other cotton.
“By working directly with cotton farming families in Egypt, we want to rebuild the industry from the inside. We make our own fabrics from raw cotton bought direct from farmers at guaranteed prices. Our model is like farm-to-table, but for your clothes,” says the company.
“Our cotton is then sent to our cut-and-sew factory outside Alexandria. The responsibly-run operation employs locals, securing their craft and their livelihood. By scrapping the middleman, we’ve ensured a fair wage for them, and an honest price for you.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.