ONE ON ONE CHAT WITH OUTLAND DENIM’S CEO & FOUNDER JAMES BARTLE
When I received the call about a new denim brand on the market, I wasn’t expecting to then watch a video clip that would completely stop me in my tracks. So when I had the opportunity to chat with the CEO and founder of Outland Denim, James Bartle, I wanted to find out why and how this unique approach to a new denim brand is literally stopping human trafficking.
This is the story behind Outland Denim, a brand built to re-shape the world one pair of jeans at a time; committed to a cause in freeing women of sexual exploitation, human trafficking and modern day slavery. In buying an everyday item we all know and love, a pair of denim jeans, Outland Denim will donate $50 out of every purchase to the frontline, helping agencies on the ground to free women from a life filled with poverty and anguish in the sex trade.
Flying into a sun filled Gold Coast, it was a bag drop off at my hotel and straight on the road for a 50-minute drive up north to the tranquil head-office Outland Denim calls home, Mountain Tamborine. A small town north of the Gold Coast that is blissfully peaceful, which after flight delays and heavy traffic, was a perfect intro to my weekend ahead.
Sitting down for a one on one chat with James, naturally the first question I ask is “what inspired the decision to start the label, and why jeans?”
J.B: The desire to help all started with watching the Liam Neeson film “Taken”. After the viewing and learning that women were being stolen and sold into the sex industry all over the world I felt such anger! That led to going on a trip to see what it looked like first hand on the ground in Thailand and Cambodia.
It was during this trip into Asia that I saw a young girl who looked scared and very intimidated standing out the front of a brothel, waiting to be chosen by one of the many passing sex tourists. It appeared that by the fear you could see in her eyes this may have been the first night on the job for her.
There was nothing we could do for her that night and leaving felt incredibly confronting… I imagined if it was one of the two nieces I had and that’s when the deep desire to do something was really burnt into me.
On my return home my wife and I researched what was the root of this evil and discovered that poverty was one of the greatest factors in placing these young women in vulnerable positions.
Our research indicated that if you could create sustainable employment for some of these girls it would reduce the risk significantly of them having to ever go back to the horrors they once faced.
We needed a product to produce and that was quite an easy decision as jeans are the one garment that you will find most wardrobes throughout the world, they are a staple piece that isn’t meant to be a fast fashion throw away item, so denim jeans is where we began.
D.L: The stories shared in the Outland Denim clip are unbelievably moving. Is there one story that particularly stands out which continues to drive the brand toward growing as much as possible?
J.B: There is a number of stories and just walking into our sewing room and seeing the faces of these incredible women each time I visit is enough to keep driving you to keep going.
There is one particular story however that I do find quite incredible. This is the story of one of our first seamstresses. We went to interview this particular girl while to see what impact having the training and consistent employment had made on her life. She told us that since working with us that she had been able to build a house for her family, buy rice fields for them and a block of land for herself. This was incredible to hear but when she then told us that she was also able to buy her sister back off a man that had purchased her, well that was the moment that really brought it all home.
D.L: It’s really quite the domino effect, where by helping and restoring one person, you go on to help a village so to speak. How many lives have you already changed?
J.B: Well the changing of the lives is largely thanks to the front line agencies who find, rescue and begin the restoration process. Outland Denim does however have a significant part to play in this. The beautiful part about providing them with a consistent, safe and well paid place to work is that the impact filters into families and communities. Our #50forthefrontline donation where $50 from each online jean sale is contributed to front line agencies that find and rescue other victims also gives the staff a great sense of purpose.
D.L: How did you come up with the brand name?
J.B: We loved the sound during a brainstorm session and also love the meaning of outland. We felt it really encapsulates where we want to be… in the outlying areas where there are people in need.
D.L: From the get-go you’ve set out to achieve a product that’s not only fit for cause, but delivers on quality. How is each piece made?
J.B: We never wanted to create a second rate or cheap product. We have always been dedicated to getting the quality of our product to be amongst the best. We also wanted to make sure that our supply chain was also squeaky clean so we set about the very long and painstaking process of following our supply chain back so that we could ensure that no one had been exploited in the process of making any part of our jean. We also want to reduce the environmental impact as much as possible so began looking for better suppliers that were dedicated to producing high quality denim that was organic or recycled fibers. The leather patches we use are also tanned with vegetable tans and the dying in all our new ranges of denim is vegetable dyes.
D.L: Would this be how you’ve reached a level to be one of the only denim producers with a proven social impact?
J.B: I can’t speak for anyone else’s social impact though I can guarantee that with our five years of development we know that our social impact is proven. People’s lives are changed by having this opportunity.
DL: Building a brand isn’t easy, let alone one that ticks every ethical and sustainability box, so how long has it taken to reach this point and what were some of the initial challengers back then and some you face today?
J.B: Well it’s been over five years and we have faced a fair amount of challenges and continue to. I remember our store room flooding and destroying denim rolls, over paying staff and causing the reverse negative impact to underpaying, one of the biggest challenges has been keeping the funds coming to keep the project running during the five years of development.
Aside from their amazing mission, the product alone stands for itself. The hand feel and finish of these premium cut and quality threads are second to none; one which you’d be mistake for as a long established label.
D.L: The brand officially hit the market only few weeks ago, and one of the most inspiring things about both yourself and your wife Erica, is that not only is there risk involved with every new business, but neither of you come from a fashion background, yet have delivered a premium brand with a global vision. What was some sound advice you’ve been given along the way?
J.B: We have been fortunate enough to had some great people with industry experience that we could bounce ideas off from time to time. Some of the advice has been trust your gut, Know your market, budget carefully!
D.L: And what would be some advice you’d give other aspiring startups?
J.B: Trust your gut, Know your market, budget carefully… haha. But honestly I can’t say how important these things are and don’t be afraid to seek out others who have been there before you to learn from.
D.L: Your debut collection includes both men’s and women’s jeans with 6 styles in total across both ranges. Do you have a favourite style?
J.B: Well I love the ladies Isabel jean as it’s the first ladies jean we developed and for the men’s I really like the Dusty jean.
D.L: How do you see the brand growing to in the future? Any exciting plans already?
J.B: Our goal is to continue to grow and expand outside of Australia. I leave for the US next week for a week of appointments, so who knows where that will lead.
D.L: To finish off, what’s your personal mantra?
J.B: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and “have a go”
Knowing your fashion acquisition has just helped someone you’ll never meet rebuild their life, is quite amazing. Starting from $189 with free shipping and returns, it’s a no risk shop. Each pair of this dapper denim is shaping our world into a life free from human trafficking, so check out the full range at outlanddenim.com and have fun selecting your next pair.
Till next time.
Robbie – Dapper Lounge.