Kotn was founded from the ground up — quite literally — working directly with farmers in the Nile Delta to grow the cotton for our collections. Co-founder Rami, is Egyptian and has familial connections to one of the farming communities, which is what first drew the founders there.
Since inception, Kotn maintained extremely close ties to the communities they work with in Egypt, and of all the asks by the farming communities, including accessible and quality education for their children was most important. Kotn found that due to the lack of safe schools in these rural areas, many children ended up at the farms, working long days alongside their parents. So since day one, the organization collected 1% from every sale, plus additional revenue from special projects like Black Friday, to reinvest into their farming communities to improve literacy rates and decrease instances of child labour and marriage. With help from consumers and the community, Kotn has funded five elementary schools in the Nile Delta and Faiyum, Egypt—four currently operational, with another scheduled for the New Year!
In this challenging cultural context, girls are often seen as a burden to their fathers. They will often be married off at ages 10 or 12 to ease financial strain by moving into the husband’s home. Because of this, Kotn mandates that at least 50% of the children in their schools are girls to ensure they have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Why is there a lack of transparency in terms of where our clothes are coming from and how they’re made? How does your philosophy and mission support transparency?
Initially, I think it comes down to a lack of education. Brands, and especially customers, weren’t aware of what actually went into creating a product, and didn’t ask the questions to find out. They focussed on the final product, or the fabric to create it, but didn’t ask what came before that point.
With growing globalization, the fashion industry’s supply chain has become more complex and decentralized. As consumers have started to become more educated and asking who made their clothes, companies are pressured to disclose their production partners, but rarely beyond tier 1: their cut-and-sew facilities. As in all industries’ supply chains, it’s the lowest tiers that get hit the hardest—the farms, yarn mills, dye houses, and sub-contractors who go beyond a brand’s first touchpoint of factory partners. It’s a race to the bottom, squeezing the bottom line to increase margins up top. In Fashion Revolution’s 2019 Fashion Transparency Index, they state that only 5% of the top 200 global fashion brands disclose their raw material providers. Only 5%!
What inspires Kotn from its identity to manifesto and aesthetic?
Kotn was built from a desire for timeless essentials that didn’t cost a fortune. Those pieces that are designed for versatility, not trend. That you can reach for every day for the next ten, twenty, thirty years—they’ll still be wearing T-shirts in space, right? We get inspiration from a variety of places—history, film, art—anything beautiful.
In building the brand, however, our manifesto became so much more. It became caring for the communities we work within and helping them to create a sustainable future for their businesses and families.
We now very much live at the intersection of product and purpose. We’re a product-first company, as we believe someone needs to want to buy the product before knowing the story behind it, but every decision we make is carefully considered with our communities and impact in mind the entire way.
Can you tell us more about your design process, and how you go about creating a new piece from concept to the retail floor?
We first find inspiration from what we feel is missing in our own closets. What are those pieces we wear every day? What pieces do we wish we had to wear every day? Then we go about creating the most beautiful version of that piece. It starts with a drawing and reference imagery, then a technical sketch—or tech pack—that includes measurements and key details, then we create a sample of that piece, make adjustments. We then send that to our production team to work with the farmers, yarn mill, fabric mill, dye house, and cut-and-sew to create the perfect fabric and final piece.
How does Kotn measure success and what are you continuing to work on?
We measure success in a lot of different ways, but at the end of the day if we’re able to create a desirable product that people want to wear, that also positively benefits the communities that make it, then we consider ourselves successful.
To support KOTN or learn more about their initiatives in fully transparent & traceable supply-chain sourcing: