Fashion Brand ‘Kotn’ Continues Canadian Retail Expansion with 5th Store in Toronto’s Leslieville [Interview]


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Toronto-based brand Kotn, which sells high-quality everyday wear made from authentic Egyptian cotton, is continuing to expand its retail footprint in Canada with the recent opening of a new, and unique, location in Leslieville in Toronto.

It is the retailer’s fifth location in the country.

Mackenzie Yeates, one of the co-founders and Chief Brand Officer, said the new Kotn space includes the iconic Toronto/Egyptian restaurant Maha’s Brunch.

KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)
KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)

Kotn also is located in Toronto (Trinity-Bellwoods), Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver. 

It also has locations in the United States in Brooklyn in Cobble Hill and Highland Park in Los Angeles.

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.

Mackenzie Yeates

“We thought it would be a great destination to have a second Kotn location and also be able to promote some of our home goods as well as people are buying homes in this area (Leslieville) and starting up their families and settling down,” said Yeates.

“The most unique thing about this store is we have a cafe space in the back. This is our first store that has some sort of food and beverage concept within it. We’ve partnered with a restaurant called Maha’s. They’re based in the east end of Toronto as well. It’s a family operation. They’re Egyptian. So it’s Egyptian inspired food. We started all of our production in Egypt. Our CEO and my partner Rami (Helali) are Egyptian so it felt very on brand for us to work with them. We’ve always really loved their restaurant and it’s hugely popular in this area. There’s massive lineups every day of the week. Now you have the opportunity to come and get some of Maha’s product at Kotn.

“The concept is more of a cafe plus take away food. They don’t offer their full menu but we do have seating and some outdoor patio seating out in the back as well. That’s really unique.”

KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)
KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)

Yeates said the Leslieville store also has more of its home offering available than its other existing stores.

“We’re hoping to build that out further as well,” she said. “We have some of our artisanal product and our bedding available and then we have some exclusive photo prints from our team and things like that you can’t find in other Kotn stores.”

Yeates said the company plans to expand further.

“We’re really enjoying the process of opening stores. From a business perspective, it’s been really good because I think post-pandemic people are craving that in-person experience again and also as our brand developed it’s a great opportunity to be able to give people a taste of our full brand experience from the interior design and interaction with the store staff and being able to drop in and have a coffee and meet your friends,” she said.

“We’ve always really had the dream of building Kotn into a complete lifestyle brand and have interesting experiences and that type of thing and having physical locations allows us to do that. We are planning to open more stores. We have some thoughts in the works. Nothing fully nailed down yet for the rest of this year and going into next year but some things underway.”

KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)
KOTN Leslieville (Image: Kotn)

Yeates said the strategy for opening stores is to be in locations where Kotn’s customers live.

In a LinkedIn post, Helali, said: “My parents left Canada shortly after I moved back to Toronto to start Kotn. Starting a business without having them around was hard and other than missing them in general, I missed my mom’s cooking (she makes the best Molokheya in the world, this isn’t up for discussion ha). I would go to Maha’s often to scratch my itch for Egyptian food and over the last 7 years, the family behind Maha’s that has made it a successful Michelin rated restaurant, have become like extended family to me (Maha Mourad Barsoom, Monika, Mark and Hany.) We’ve been dreaming about bringing our two Canadian/Egyptian brands together in a beautiful space celebrating our shared heritage, and that day is finally here.”

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 Helali in a previous Retail Insider article.

“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 Leslieville (Image: 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).

“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.”

Mario Toneguzzi
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 News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.



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