By Mario Toneguzzi
Unique Toronto retailer, Kotn, which sells high-quality everyday wear made from authentic Egyptian cotton, has opened its third store with plans to continue growth into the United States and internationally.
With stores already in place in Toronto and New York City, the brand’s latest store is in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood and all sales from Black Friday and Cyber Monday will go towards building two new schools in Egypt where the company sources its material.
“We do Black Friday a little bit differently,” said Rami Helali, CEO and co-founder of Kotn. “We don’t go on sale. We don’t do anything like that. But 100 per cent of sales, every single dollar we get in, we use to build more schools in the region where our farmers and the cotton is grown.”
The Vancouver store is located on Water Street in about 1,200 square feet. The Toronto (Queen Street West) store opened in March 2017 and the New York (SoHo district) store opened in August of this year.
The brand partners with Egyptian cotton farmers in the Nile River Delta to keep costs low while helping to revive a struggling agriculture business.
“We work directly with the farmers. In this region they’re all small farms. Family-owned farms . . . We work directly with these farmers. We provide subsidies in the form of fertilizers and agricultural consultants every year and guaranteed pricing. Through our work with the farmers we realized that we want to have a long-term impact on this community that’s 20 to 30 million people in the region that can have a profound difference in how this region and how the country and to larger scale the entire region future looks like,” said Helali.
“We had lots of conversations with the farmers and we realized that access to education was a big, big problem for their kids and to ensure there was no child labour on the fields and at the same time creating a better tomorrow. We decided to start this initiative a year and a half ago. So we’ve already built two schools - one of which was from last year’s Black Friday. And this year from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, 100 per cent of sales will go toward building two new schools in the Nile Delta where the cotton is grown.”
Helali said the company is looking to expand to more stores in 2019 both in Canada and the United States.
“For us it’s really about having an ongoing conversation, an ongoing connection with our customers, both digitally and physically. We have lots of customers that shop both online and in stores and it enables us to get product feedback and kind of improve and hear what our customers are looking for and what is really working for them,” said Helali.
“At the same time, it provides a community hub for us to kind of bring in parallel brands or experiences or people to hold workshops or events in the space and help us get integrated and closer to the communities that we’re in. Both Canada and the U.S. are in the pipeline right now.”
Helali said he couldn’t provide an exact number of stores that will be included in the expansion but the company is looking to do a “handful” of more stores in 2019 in combination with pop-ups.
“We actually will be taking steps to do a Middle Eastern expansion. I don’t mean there’s going to be physical, permanent stores right away in the Middle East but we’re going to be taking steps towards that market and that community there,” he said.
“We’re telling an authentic story. It comes from a real passion of ours . . . We’re telling an authentic story. An authentic journey. I think people now want to make sure that what they’re consuming isn’t bad for the environment and the people that are making it. We’ve had the privilege of building this company from scratch.
“By working directly with all the partners in the supply chain, we’re able to offer a really high-quality product at a fraction of the price of our competitors. It’s kind of the combination of the ethics and the philosophy that goes in to the way everything is built.”
Kotn launched in Toronto in 2015 when founders Helali, Mackenzie Yeates and Benjamin Sehl noticed a gap in the marketplace - high-quality, well-fitting basics weren’t affordable for everyday wear.
Kotn 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.
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.