Ah, the T-shirt. That most essential of essentials. Tees have been a steadfast staple in the wardrobes of every man, woman and child at least since Brando played Stanley Kowalski, and in some respects, it feels as though they’ve never been more important than they are right now.
In 2016, there’s a tee for every occasion. Running errands on a Sunday afternoon? Pull on that standby gray number you’ve had since high school. Dinner with the in-laws? Wear a blazer over a hefty white crewneck. Hitting the bar with the homies? Rock the elongated black designer joint you save for special occasions. Problem is, all those different kinds of T-shirts come at equally, ahem, diverse price points.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you didn’t have to settle for cheap tees on weekdays and quality ones on weekends? What if you could get well made, incredibly soft, perfect-fitting T-shirts at a price reasonable enough to pick up multiples?
That’s what Toronto natives Mackenzie Yeates, Ben Sehl and Rami Helali set out to accomplish with their label KOTN. Launched in 2015, the brand’s signature tees are the epitome of elevated basics: available in white, black and heather gray, they feature a tailored, modern cut and a choice of three neck styles: a classic crew, a contemporary scoop, and a V that’s ideal for wearing under a button-down. But the two most significant, surprising features of the shirts are how damn soft they are, and how damn affordable they are — both of which are a direct result of the tees’ point of origin.
KOTN oversees their line’s entire manufacturing process — from the raw materials to the spinning of the yarn to the production of the final tees — in Egypt, within a 150-kilometre radius of the Nile Delta. It’s a unique choice that gives them access to the very best materials in the world (Egyptian cotton has long been admired for its unparalleled fibre length), and allows them to support an age-old, historically important industry that’s on the verge of extinction.
“I spent six months in Egypt before we launched, living with these farmers, working with finding the right suppliers,” Rami remembers. “It took awhile to really gain and build up trust.”
But those efforts have paid off handsomely on both ends. KOTN’s tees immediately found an audience among style-savvy dudes across North America, and that success allowed the brand’s founders to give even more support to their Egyptian brethren: in addition to providing much-needed subsidies to the growers and producers they work with, they’ve begun working with a local charity that provides educational opportunities to families with children.
Now, with their T-shirt line established and rolling, KOTN’s moving on to another beloved menswear basic: the crewneck sweatshirt. And, once again, the Toronto-based trio have completely perfected a classic. It’s crafted from an insanely soft, loop-backed terry cloth fabric that’s just the right weight for a cool spring day, and cut trim enough to wear out on the town, but loose enough for a day of Netflix and too many snacks. In other words, it’s just the thing to keep you looking cool and comfortable through anything and everything life throws your way.
“Our brand is all about ordinary moments,” Rami says. “People spend so much time worrying about their Instagram feeds and Facebook — the pictures on their are all of significant moments. But when you look back, the memories that really stick out to you are the ordinary moments you spend with the ones you love. That’s actual life. That’s the prize we’re trying to accomplish through the clothes we make.”