In 2014, three young entrepreneurs in New York were trying to find a way to tackle two different problems simultaneously. After visiting his family in Egypt, Rami Helali noticed that the Egyptian cotton industry was practically going extinct. Although Egyptian cotton is really high-quality and many families make a living out of it, after the government subsidies, most of the foreign exporters went to look for a cheaper source. At the same time, Benjamin Sehl, another member of the trio, noticed an interesting gap in the clothing industry: when it came to basics, you had to choose between $10 mass-market T-shirts and $100 premium pieces with nothing in between them. And that’s how KOTN was born — along with their partner Mackenzie Yeates, Helali and Sehl started a brand of high-quality sustainable basics that will not break the bank and can be worn for years.
The story of every KOTN piece starts on the Nile River Delta in Egypt. As Helali explained in an interview for Vogue, the salt from the Mediterranean and the soil from the Nile create a really fertile area where the cotton plants grow. The unique properties of the soil make the fabric fibers longer, more breathable, and comfortable than regular cotton. Egyptian Giza cotton is KOTN’s secret ingredient, but the fabric’s properties aren’t the only aspect that led the company to the region. Since the Egyptian government stopped supporting the local cotton farmers, the farmers couldn’t offer their exporters a competitive price and as a result, lost around 90% of their usual customers.
When KOTN’s founders traveled to Egypt to see how the industry works first-hand, they realized that even before the farmers lost their clients, they weren’t treated fairly and couldn’t afford to take care of their families. So they decided to try something else: instead of working with a middleman, they bought the materials straight from the farmers, which made it possible to closely monitor the production processes and provide a better price to the farmers. Now, KOTN has several facilities in Egypt for different steps of the production cycle, with every one of them ensuring safe working conditions and competitive wages for the workers.
A certified B-corporation, KOTN takes pride in its producers and partners, so unlike the vast majority of clothing companies, it doesn’t hide the information about how and where the clothes are made. And it hopes to attract people who care about their clothes’ origins and impact as well, so you can trace the entire journey of your KOTN piece from the cotton field to your closet on the company’s website.
Most of the cotton farms in Egypt are family-owned, so many generations were brought up in poverty with no access to education. Besides, the schools in the area couldn’t accommodate all the children. As a result, many Egyptian kids help their parents at work to make ends meet, and teenage girls get married off. Since KOTN’s goal is improving the lives of both their customers and workers, they couldn’t stay away from such a huge problem. The company has already funded 7 schools in the Nile Delta area and according to its founders, plans to open 50 more in the future.
In the very beginning, KOTN decided to focus on menswear. They started out by creating nine designs for men with the idea that men are more likely to be satisfied by fewer high-quality basic pieces. Besides, as Yeates, the company’s creative director suggests, men are more likely to stay loyal to a brand and buy multiple pieces once they find something they really like. The strategy worked — in fact, it worked so well that women also started to show interest in the men’s styles, which led to some unisex designs along with the usual men’s ones.
As time went by and the company grew more confident in both its production methods and its customers’ loyalty, KOTN took a step into the world of women’s fashion as well. But the main idea of long-lasting quality basics stayed the same, of course. Cost per wear is one of the principles that KOTN hopes its customers across all genders will take into consideration: although the pieces themselves are slightly more expensive, they will serve you much longer than cheap mass-market clothes. This way, your investment will be compensated by the number of times you wear the item, bringing the cost per wear to a minimum.
Right now, KOTN offers several basic designs to both men and women in many different colors. KOTN founders started with T-shirts, and their T-shirt game is still going strong — the company’s basic pieces are what KOTN is known and loved for. Now, the company also sells a selection of loungewear, sweatshirts, and hoodies, as well as some dress shirts and jackets for men.
To try out the brand’s clothing, I decided to order two of their bestsellers — a white Essential Crew T-shirt and a black Fitted Turtleneck. I must say, they do live up to the hype around them. It can be pretty hard to come by a 100% cotton T-shirt that looks and feels as good as the KOTN one. They do shrink a bit after a few washes, so if you prefer a looser fit, go for a bigger size. The T-shirts come at $26 per piece, which is a really good deal for something you can wear hundreds of times. The turtleneck is a great staple for a capsule wardrobe and a fall must-have. It’s really soft and cozy, but stretchy at the same time, so it will look great on every body type.
All in all, KOTN is a perfect option for people who want to build a timeless high-quality wardrobe without compromising on the environment or spending too much money on luxury brands. But as the company’s founders say themselves, they don’t expect and don’t want you to buy something new from them every week. Even though KOTN uses eco-friendly production methods, as a plant, cotton still requires a lot of water and resources, so shop mindfully and think carefully before dragging yet another item into your virtual shopping bag.