Published September 1, 2017
Tell me a little bit about how you three met?
Ben: Rami and I have known each other since high school. After meeting on the school’s swim team, we became best friends. The two of us stayed close throughout university, but a few years after, Rami moved to New York. He didn’t know many people when he first got there, but somehow found Mackenzie on LinkedIn.
Mackenzie: We’d previously met in Toronto through mutual friends. When Rami saw we’d moved to the city at the same time, he reached out and asked if I wanted to hang out. We became friends really quickly, and a few weeks later, Ben came down to visit Rami. Rami brought Ben to my housewarming party, which is where we met. Ben and I basically started dating after then, and…
Ben: Got married. Rami was our best man, so now he’s our third wheel for life.
How did you come together on the vision of KOTN?
Ben: Rami and I have always been working on projects together. Throughout high school, we started about 15 businesses together. None of them went anywhere, but that didn’t matter. We enjoyed the creative process. KOTN itself came together in a series of steps. We all had different goals for the brand, which have come together over the years to form our company today. I had the original idea of selling basicwear as an idea for a side project, and Mackenzie’s background in fashion helped us bring that idea to fruition.
Mackenzie: It was at that time that Rami decided to travel and explore the world on his own. He quit his job in New York and booked a flight to Egypt without much of a semblance of his future path. On one long-distance call, I casually mentioned the side project Ben and I were working on. Rami was immediately on board, and began doing some overseas research. His family has a history of working with Egyptian cotton, and he used those connections to find work at various cotton farms.
Ben: I flew out 6 months after Rami’s departure from New York, and quit my job shortly after. Mackenzie quit hers subsequently, and by that point, KOTN was serious business. We all moved back to Toronto, and began to work on the brand full-time. We launched with one style of t-shirt, and have been learning and growing together since then.
In one word, how would each of you describe the brand?
Ben: SWAG. Kidding. Cozy!
Mackenzie: Ordinary, but not in the traditional sense.
Sweet. A large focus of yours seems to be on giving back to the community. For those unfamiliar with the brand, will you expand a bit further on KOTN’s social conscience?
Mackenzie: When Rami started looking into cotton farming in Egypt, we discovered that there were a lot of problems with the industry. The government had cut subsidies it had once granted farmers, which made it very difficult for them to afford the necessities of seeds and labor before the growing season. Upon partnering up with cotton farms, we decided to give farmers private subsidies, which allowed them to purchase some of those essentials they needed. Further, we’ve always made it a priority to offer a guaranteed price. We’re currently focused on education planning for the next generation of farmers in this area, and are looking for ways to improve their transition into leaders of these businesses. A lot of these kids are faced with a lot of adversity in this area, so we’re looking at solutions for that.
Ben: Which are top secret. We’ll be announcing those soon.
Beyond your brand, how do each of you find beauty in the ordinary?
Ben: Before we’d even launched the brand, Mackenzie came up with an insight that still rings true today.
Mackenzie: I’d noticed that most of the moments we’d flag as important for social media and the like weren’t the ones that truly made life count. So much fashion marketing focuses on specific, full-impact life events, whether that be athletic training, wedding attire, clubbing – you name it. Not much of it is focused on the 95% of our life we spend living our average lives.
Ben: I’ve recently been thinking a lot about a childhood memory I have of my grandmother singing Joni Mitchell to me. It may not be glamorous, but I’d trade any high-profile event or fashion show in to hear her sing one more time. Since kicking off the brand and incorporating this concept into our vision, we’ve definitely put more of a focus on time spent with loved ones. Even getting a puppy has changed my worldview and brought a lot of joy to our lives.
Rami: Agreed. I think that ordinary moments have become increasingly undervalued in North American culture as of late. We’ve moved from actually living life to pretending we are, which we can attribute at least partly to the rise of social media. Don’t get me wrong – Instagram’s an important marketing tool, and it has its time and place. That said, it becomes problematic when we begin to do things we don’t enjoy to keep up an image, especially when it’s one that isn’t even reflective of real life. What matters when you look in the mirror at the end of the day is how you’ve treated your friends and family and whether or not you’ve lived according to your values.
In the past, you’ve collaborated with the likes of Tokyo Smoke and Collectif NUDE. Are there any dream collaborations you’d like to make happen?
Rami: Holiday Magazine.
Mackenzie: Yeah, that was mine too.
Rami: Mackenzie obviously leads our creative, so a lot of our dreams are very much her dreams, haha. She has the vision, and we all usually end up on the same page.
Ben: Yves Behar. If Yves Behar designed a closet for us, that would be sick.
Mackenzie: I’d love to do a shoot with Bruce Weber. His work is pretty commercial, but he’s incredibly skilled at capturing lifestyle. I’ve always admired how he’s able to pull together shoots with both professional models and everyday people, and I often turn to his work for reference. Also, he looks like Santa Claus and has like, 12 golden retrievers.
Any hints about future projects?
Rami: Lots of new colours.
Mackenzie: More tailored workwear – think oxfords and flannels.
Ben: Cozy for the whole family. PJs are definitely on the menu.
See the new store below, or check it out for yourself at 754 Queen Street West.