earth day is an amazing opportunity to reflect on how sweet mother earth is and how we should be treating her. in the wake of all those earth day feels we wanted to continue the conversation on how we can show her some love through the clothes we buy. we’re big advocates for shopping second hand, always. but we also recognize that sometimes you need a crisp new white t-shirt that fits just right. that’s why brands like Kotn are key to keep us in mother nature’s good books. we sat down with Mercede from the Kotn store in toronto to talk about everything sustainable fashion and all the ways we can be playing our part.


Kari: hi Mercede, thanks so much for having a coffee and a chat with us today. could you tell us a little about what you do at Kotn and some of the story behind the brand

Mercede: i’m Mercede and i’m the manager for the Kotn store in toronto, ontario. in addition to managing the retail location i’ve started the buying for third party products including accessories, lifestyle, and vintage items that compliment our basics. Kotn started with three cofounders, a group of friends and their response to fast fashion but also identifying a trend of always wearing white t-shirts and how limited the options were. they were thinking you live in a busy city and your life is crazy and for most people you have a going out white t-shirt which you paid upwards of 200$ for and then a day to day t-shirt which is some cheap fast fashion pick up that you’re throwing out regularly. they really wanted to create a product, initially just a white tee, that was built to last but was also a middle ground between fast fashion and high-end. One, of our three cofounders is from egypt and he was actually going there to visit family while they were conceptualizing the ideas and through this trip they really noticed there were all these holes in the egyptian economy particularly the egyptian cotton market and how, right now we have alot of american made cotton. alot of people are opting for that as a cheaper alternative especially fast fashion brands. so they wanted to help the economy in egypt and play a part in rebuilding the egyptian cotton market. you obviously you see it traditionally in textiles but not in clothing because it can be very expensive. that’s kind of how it all started but since then it has sky rocketed from there. you couldn’t go anywhere and get a 30$ t-shirt that’s well made and well priced but because we’re working directly with the farmers in egypt and hitting the ground running there we can. we even have an office there, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for middle men or for questions. we’re the ones on the ground there, we have teams there and are able to work with the farmers and the factories and make sure that all the practices are ethical. we are also a certified b corporation, it’s a really great stamp of approval and you have to go through a strenuous assessment to make sure that we have all of our checks and balances from the farming of the cotton to the milling of the cotton and production. even to how we run our business model on the ground here, the bags that we use are all recycled and we’re using recycled paper. so that’s a little history of what Kotn is and where is came from.

k: how did you get involved with Kotn, was it through friends, or through a job posting? or did you really identify with the brand and seek out a position there particularly?

m: i went to george brown college for fashion management where i met a friend of mine heather, who is our retail operations manager now. we both had to do an internship through our school program and i had interned at a different brand and heather was at kotn so she’s really been there since the beginning and has helped grow and develop it. they just kind of started as a little pop up shop on ossington and then in 2017 they had their flagship store open. i kept checking in and they didn’t really have a lot of women’s stuff at that time but then they slowly introduced it and i could identify with it more.

k: yeah i remember when they came out with only men’s stuff and i loved the brand and what it stood for so i kept looking back at the site thinking maybe i should just get some socks.

m: yeah and i was still buying the men’s t-shirts, but at the same time i could only buy so many men’s tees. so when they came out with the women’s turtlenecks and women’s tank tops and a few basics it was great. i was searching and really wanting to work with a brand that i identified with and that i knew a bit about and i had always wanted to work for a smaller business personally that has a really strong brand ethos and abides by their values. it’s also really cool that all of our cofounders at that time were under thirty and it seemed like a very right place and right time kind of thing. so i stayed in the loop with heather and told her to contact me if anything become available and in july they were searching for something part time. they didn’t know it was going to be full time because they were just about to really take off and were still growing really rapidly and i don’t think anyone could have imagined how quickly it would grow. they thought, oh yeah maybe part time but it ended up being full time right away. i’ve pretty much been there full stop ever since.

k: wow, that’s amazing. so before moving on to work with Kotn you were clearly in the realm of fashion. did you always have more of a disposition towards sustainable brands? or did that come later on?

m: i was never specifically geared towards sustainable fashion, i was always very price point driven and i used to be the queen of zara which is kind of shitty to say but because i was a student and was taking fashion you want to stay with the trends and stay current. my family wouuld always get me giftcards to zara because thats where i would go to get everything.

k: and i mean i hate to admit it but the clothes are cool.

m: yeah they rip off the runway so often that it’s elevated and can look really good.

k: it’s definitely, in terms of how on trend it is, more fashionable than what you’d get at somewhere like h&m or any of the other large fast fashion retailers.

m: it’s very cute and they pretty much nail every look that you see and they basically just give it to you. you know you’re always going to get a compliment. so that was kind of me during school. but other than zara i was always at value village and my mom owned a consignment store with my grandma when she was growing up and she’s always been very thrifty. when i was a kid i was always like ew thats really gross i don’t like second hand clothes and i would hate when she went to value village but as a i got older i didn’t have enough money to just go out shopping so when i got back to school i was only doing value village hauls. so yeah, i was never really sustainably driven i guess. but then brands like reformation came out which i kind of discovered but it was obviously i’d say still a little out of my budget so that was something i would keep an eye on and i would save up and get one piece. when Kotn came out i could get three pieces which was cool. they were the first brand that was sustainable and accessible. and it identifies with me specifically for that reason.

k: so in terms of that how would you kind of classify your own personal style. not putting yourself in a small defined box but if you could just use some words to describe it.

m: i think definitely since Kotn i’ve toned down a lot especially when i used to shop only at value village and zara i was very much into loud prints and you know stuff that looked extremely kitschy like grandma’s 70’s vibes mixed with a zara piece. now it’s a little bit of kitsch mixed with minimalism. i’m usually wearing a few basics and then maybe i’ll pair it with one stylish print that’s usually vintage florals, stripes and i like alot of abstract patterns and i still really like nods to art. so i’d say a little bit minimal, a little bit kitschy and a little bit vintage.

k: yeah that’s such a good mix and i guess for context because they can’t see you right now but she’s saying this while wearing an entirely neutral outfit so i would love to have seen maybe the zara days with prints all over i feel like that would have been great. are there any pieces in your wardrobe that you can’t live without, aside from a white t-shirt?

m: for me it’s jeans. i always need jeans. levi’s does a really great pair and i also have a pair of citizens jeans and as you probably know they’re extremely expensive but my mom actually got them for ten dollars at salvation army which makes me very happy to have them. they’re like a really beautiful medium washed culotte with a wide leg and i wear them with everything. they really dress up the Kotn pieces really well. so you put them on with a nice piece of jewelry and a nice shoe. i’m also a really big jewelry person so dressing things up with jewelry is very much my vibe. but denim, i need denim, especially good denim.

k: i very much relate to that, i had a full on denim crisis a few weeks ago. it was a struggle. when you find a good pair you don’t want to give them up and buying new is such a struggle. we are actually working with a tailor in halifax to do some custom denim for this summer which we’re really excited about.

m: you’ll find a lot of vintage levi’s out and about and you rarely find a pair that fit you well, so that’s a great idea.

k: do you have any tips for shopping sustainably or starting to shop more sustainably?

m: one thing i did when i started to shop at value village is i would get super overwhelemd which was one reason why i didn’t like shopping there at first, it can be busy and picked over. if you have an idea, especially with instagram now you can save pictures. just save a bunch of pictures for inspiration and go in and know that you’re looking for something specific. have visual references so it’s easier when you’re at these places so you see something and know thats kind of the look you were going for. like a specific style cardigan or some white jeans. also Kotn is very accessible but we still have customers who comment that they can’t justify a 30$ t-shirt. you have to keep in mind that the more you invest in something that is sustainably made and well made it’s actually just going to last you longer. if you buy one 30$ t-shirt its going to keep you from buying five 5$ t-shirts from fast fashion brands. and also just care for your things. if you’re going to be investing in vintage or thrift or even Kotn basics use cold water always, don’t put anything the dryer. they’re obsolete. properly care for your garments and they will last.

k: that’t honestly just good life advice, advice we should all be passing down to the next generation: you don’t even need a dryer.

alex and mercede in toronto

alex and mercede in toronto


to shop Kotn basics check out their webstore at www.kotn.com or on instagram @kotn

Kari BeiswangerComment