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Selling Social Change: How This Founder Cashed In On Giving Back


So you want to sell t-shirts. Great. 

But how do you stand apart from the countless options that are out there online or on clothing racks?

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If you ask Ben Sehl from KOTN, a sustainable apparel and home goods company, it all starts with creating ethical systems that value living and working conditions for cotton farmers and garment workers.

One model wearing a navy hoodie with beige pants by KOTN, while the other model wears a green and maroon zipped sweater with white shorts by KOTN.
KOTN was born out of the desire to create a better everyday t-shirt.  KOTN

“We … saw the underbelly of how supply chains worked.” Ben, who founded the company along with Mackenzie Yeates, and Rami Helali, said. That’s when the team realized they could attract more customers by focusing on social change. 

A wooden framed bed with cream cotton bedding by KOTN in a bedroom setting.
For the KOTN’s team, it’s not just creating better apparel or home goods but how to change the systems that revolve around the whole supply chain. KOTN

KOTN started with a single product: a plain white t-shirt. While visiting farms in Egypt near the Nile Delta, the co-founders noticed how the children of farmers were in the farm fields instead of being in school. 

“Turns out there are no schools nearby,” Ben said. “The nearest school is a four-hour walk away, so they had to choose.”

A model in a black dress and white socks by KOTN sitting on a pale green bench.
By building schools near cotton farms, KOTN is able to improve the lives of farmers, their families, and their communities for generations to come. KOTN

By partnering with a local NGO, the Misr El Kheir Foundation in 2014, KOTN dedicated all proceeds from its Black Friday sales period to build a school near their first partnered farming community. 

Since then, KOTN’s investment in these communities has multiplied. 

“Now we're up to 15 elementary schools in the Nile Delta,” Ben said. “We're impacting 2,600 smallholder farms, maybe a little more now. And that equates to about 150,000 lives.” 

Making a difference with your own company is just one of the lessons Ben shared in his recent interview with Shopify Masters.

Take a listen to the full episode

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This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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