Fibre fanatics: Canadian brand Kotn creates ethical men’s staples

Rami Helali, Mackenzie Yeates and Benjamin Sehl founded Kotn, a high quality basics label, in 2015
Fellow Canadians Rami Helali, Mackenzie Yeates and Benjamin Sehl founded Kotn, a high quality basics label, in 2015
(Image credit: Kotn)

It’s a curious paradox of fashion that one of the most basic pieces in a man’s wardrobe – the t-shirt – is also one of the most expensive. Certainly, there are cheaper options, but these are, more often than not, badly made. All the more reason to applaud the arrival of the Toronto-based label, Kotn.

‘We wanted to create high quality basics, at a price men could afford to wear every day,’ says Rami Helali, the company’s CEO. Together with fellow Canadians Mackenzie Yeates and Benjamin Sehl, Helali set up Kotn in 2015 with just a single item in the inventory: a cotton t-shirt in black or white, with either a V-, round or scoop neck.

What separates the Kotn t-shirt from most of the pack is that it’s made from genuine Egyptian cotton – a natural fibre much loved for its soft, fine, breathable texture – that’s grown in a clutch of around 20 independent farms clustered around the Nile Delta. The company provides subsidies by way of fertilizer, seeds and agricultural consultants. The entire process of farming to yarn mills to the manufacture of the t-shirts is based in Egypt within a 150km radius.

The entire process of farming to yarn mills to the manufacture of the t-shirts is based in Egypt within a 150km radius

(Image credit: Kotn)

Says Helali, ‘We wanted to create high quality basics, at a price men could afford to wear every day’

More importantly, Kotn controls the entire process, including distribution and sales, cutting out entirely middlemen mark-ups, while partnering with pro-literacy NGOs to work with the farmers’ children, and funding young locals to study agricultural engineering in Cairo. ‘Our goal is to start converting our cotton farmers to organic in the next 12 to 18 months,’ Helali says.

The company recently expanded its inventory beyond the t-shirt to include luxury men’s staples like shirts and pyjamas. Word-of-mouth enthusiasm has translated into brisk on-line sales. Cindy Crawford, music producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib and tennis turk Milos Raonic are fans.

This November and December, the company is launching a pop-up on Toronto’s Ossington Avenue, in a store designed by local furniture mavens Kroft. In the works for the coming year are more permanent bricks-and-mortar presences in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles.

‘Kotn was created to reimagine and elevate the most ordinary utilities,’ says Helali. Consider us elevated.

The cotton is grown in a clutch of around 20 independent farms clustered around the Nile Delta

The cotton is grown in a clutch of around 20 independent farms clustered around the Nile Delta

(Image credit: Kotn)

Kotn launched with just a single item in the inventory: a cotton t-shirt in black or white

Kotn launched with just a single item in the inventory: a cotton t-shirt in black or white

(Image credit: Kotn)

Kotn recently expanded its inventory to include luxury men’s staples like shirts and pyjamas

Kotn recently expanded its inventory to include luxury men’s staples like shirts and pyjamas

(Image credit: Kotn)

INFORMATION
For more information, visit the Kotn website (opens in new tab)

Daven Wu is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*. A former corporate lawyer, he has been covering Singapore and the neighbouring South-East Asian region since 1999, writing extensively about architecture, design, and travel for both the magazine and website. He is also the City Editor for the Phaidon Wallpaper* City Guide to Singapore.