Mackenzie Yeates, Ben Sehl & Rami Helali quit their jobs in New York and founded Kotn as a means to revitalize the Egyptian Cotton industry and create a line of high end basics that you can afford to wear everyday. Kotn provides private subsidies to independent Egyptian Cotton farmers to help sustain this dying, ancient industry. Through Kotn they decided to also launch creative agency Ordinary Studios, to help other small businesses build their brands.
Tell us a bit about your background. What career/educational path led you to where you are now?
Mackenzie – My background is in the Fashion world. I studied Fashion Communication at Ryerson and I started my career working in Fashion Direction and Brand Strategy at Holt Renfrew and for the last two years, I was in New York working at Creative Agency, Watson & Company. I now handle all of the Fashion & Creative Direction at Kotn.
Ben – I studied communication and fine arts in University and then went to Humber for Graphic Design. I spent a few years at Bruce Mau Design, as digital design lead where I got the opportunity to work with amazing clients in the culture space like Sonos, Harvard & OCAD. I left BMD to focus on UX Design for digital products and have spent the last year and a half consulting for various tech startups in NYC and Toronto. I designed and built the Kotn site and am now working on a new and improved iteration of the site.
Rami – I have a business degree from The Ivey School of Business at Western. After graduation I landed a job at Reservoir Media, an investment company specializing in music publishing. In October 2014 I left my job at reservoir and spent 6 months in Egypt setting up our production and logistics which is my focus at Kotn.
What inspired you to build the Kotn brand and create the “perfect t-shirt”?
We saw that all of our friends and peers in New York were all wearing plain black and white t-shirts almost everyday. It seemed absurd that t-shirts, one of the most used items in our closets were the designer variety which were too expensive to have multiple of, or were badly cut and poor quality. We wanted to create a beautifully made t-shirt that had a price that reflected the quality and the way it was produced rather than the designer label.
What was your biggest challenge when you were starting your project?
Finding the right vendors was definitely a challenge. We wanted to build a production stack of people that were true partners in our business and ethos. Rami spent a lot of time building relationships with our farmers, mills and factories making sure that they fit within our belief system and ideals for the brand.
What is your favourite part of Kotn?
Creating product that our customers can use everyday and that makes them feel good, because it’s soft and well tailored, but also because it is produced ethically is the best part about Kotn to us.
What is one app you cannot live without?
Mackenzie – To stay productive, I love Evernote and Sunrise Calendar. I’m also an active Pinner – a great way to save my reference and link back to the original source.
Ben – Couldn’t live without Sonos for music, Slack for inter-office communications and the podcast app which I have recently become obsessed with.
Rami – Uber. It’s great to finally have a way to get around Toronto that’s cheaper/more convenient than a taxi.
Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs looking to make their mark?
Keep your chin up. There are hard times and failures but no start up is without that. Share experiences and connect with other entrepreneurs. Be decisive and stick with your gut.
Where do you see Kotn in 10 years?
We hope that in 10 years Kotn has a flourishing ecommerce business with a full collection of lifestyle products created for elevating everyday. We also hope that in ten years we will have made a direct impact on the Egyptian Cotton industry and the individual people that this industry employs.