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Toronto-Based Brand Kotn Launches Expansion with Several Stores Planned Including 1st Vancouver Location: Interview

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Toronto-based brand Kotn, which sells high-quality everyday wear made from authentic Egyptian cotton, is launching a new retail location in Vancouver on Main street.

The company opened its first bricks and mortar store on Queen St W, in Toronto, in 2017, in about 800 square feet.

“We’re an impact-driven lifestyle brand. We focus on apparel and home. We got started around a seemingly very naive mission to try to change how things are kind of created and consumed from the bottom up,” said Rami Helali, one of the company’s co-founders and CEO.

“What we mean by that is really, really looking at how products were made and fundamentally altering how they were. We felt like the way that supply chains were built, the way products were built, were creating a lot of negative impact on the people and the environments in which they’re made.

Kotn on Main St. in Vancouver (Image: Tina Kulic/Kotn)

“So for us, we work with all five tiers of our supply chain directly, we work with small holder farms in Egypt, since then we’ve expanded to other countries, but we got our start with Egyptian cotton and that’s where the vast majority of our product is made today. And we work directly with over 2,000 small holder farms, buy the cotton directly from them and work with every single part of our supply chain to make sure that people and the environments are treated with respect. We’re a majority digital online company but it’s been in our plans for a very long time to continue our retail expansion but we had to put it on pause for a couple of years as we were dealing with the thing everyone was dealing with (COVID).”

The company’s customer base is both in the US and Canada. The new space in Vancouver will serve as a hub for the retailer’s growing community in Vancouver, incorporating unique design elements inspired by its Egyptian origins. As a tribute to collaboration and community, it has also curated a small collection of consciously made goods from emerging brands and local Vancouver based creators, like Rachel Saunders Ceramics.

The retailer now has locations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver with plans to move into a number of US stores this year.

Kotn on Main St. in Vancouver (Image: Tina Kulic/Kotn)

“We’re going to be opening eight to ten stores in the next eighteen months,” said Helali. “We have a handful of US stores coming this year as well as a couple more Canadian ones.

“I think as a society we crave authenticity and I think it’s been a core and integral piece of our business. From the very beginning for us, truthfully, it’s been around the work that we do on the ground and the impact. To date, we’ve built 15 schools in rural Egypt. That’s a measurable impact that we’re going to have on generations to come and that’s really what makes us internally tick and I think what attracts our community for the work that we’re doing.

“For us, the product, although obviously integral and the thing that customers get to interact with, it starts with how we change what we want to see changed in the world and then everything else follows. And we do that through the supply chain, so through the product. We’ve been very fortunate to build a very strong community over the years and we do that by really focusing on how we can make sure the communities we operate in are better off in 50 years than they are when we get started.”

Kotn on Main St. in Vancouver (Image: Tina Kulic/Kotn)
Kotn on Main St. in Vancouver (Image: Kotn)

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.

The new Vancouver location spans 1450 square feet.

“For us, it’s always been around these community stores. That’s how we think about our retail strategies being on the high streets of all the right neighbourhoods that we know our customers are in and we want to become a part of the community and we do that through the programming that happens. We bring in those local, whether it’s vendors, activations, whatever it is, to be in and share our space with us,” said Helali.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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