TORONTO — When friends and Kotn cofounders Mackenzie Yeates, Rami Helali and Benjamin Sehl launched their ethically made lifestyle brand in 2015, their mission was clear: Give the 25- to 35-year-old consumer simple, affordable basics that fit well and feature great fabrics made with a conscience.
Based on that concept, Kotn’s story began with the online sale of just three tailored T-shirts made from Egyptian cotton sourced from the Nile Delta. That has since evolved into a range of men’s, women’s and homeware products; retail locations in Toronto and Montreal; a growing U.S. and international presence, and triple-digit growth over the last year.
Yet giving back and bettering the lives of the Egyptian farmers and communities linked to the B Corp brand has been no less a driving force in shaping Kotn’s long-term aspiration for its “farm-to-table” business model.
“Since we began we have raised over half-a-million [Canadian] dollars in five years and have helped to build 10 schools in Egypt, where 86 percent of the kids in these schools are girls,” said Kotn’s chief executive officer Helali, whose company was voted B Corp’s “Best for the World” in the Community category in 2021.
“Our goal is to build 53 schools by the year 2025,” he told WWD.
To that end, Kotn will use 2021’s Black Friday weekend to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its give-back program, The ABCs Project, but in a new way.
As in previous years, 100 percent of proceeds from sales throughout that weekend will be donated toward the company’s humanitarian goals.
According to Helali, Kotn’s goal this year is to build five new schools with the money raised in those five days from Black Friday, Nov. 26, to Giving Tuesday, Nov. 30.
For 2021, however, Kotn struck up its first collaboration with a group of select artists, each of whom were tasked with designing a limited-edition T-shirt or sweatshirt graphic inspired by the idea of what a lasting community means to them. That group and their respective works for this year’s charitable endeavor include Los Angeles-based artist Lilian Martinez (“Soft Blue Waves”); Cairo’s Ryan Vicente Lee Grees (“Have A Nice Day!”); Toronto talent Luis Mora (“Say It With Flowers”), and Montreal’s Julia GR (“Global Heartwarming”).
“Each artist had a very different vision for this project. And while this is the first time we have collaborated with others on this project, looking ahead collaborations will be big for us in 2022 — and in different forms. That is strategic for us,” said Yeates, Kotn’s chief brand officer.
“We, as a company, are at the forefront of culture and culture is important to our customer base, which values sustainability and community. But ultimately we are a lifestyle brand that creates timeless products that support the people who make them and where they are made,” said Yeates.
Since its 2015 founding Kotn has donated a portion of it proceeds throughout the year to fund its literacy project in Egypt done in partnership with local Egyptian NGO Misr El Kheir Foundation.