Meet the man who’s changing the world one pair of jeans at a time: James Bartle.
James saw that something was very wrong, so he created Outland Denim in an attempt to make it right. Not only did James become passionate about cleaning up the messy process of jean production, he also wanted to use this as a tool to rid the world of another dirty industry: the sex slave industry. Now, with a thriving ethically and sustainably made jeans company and a circular business model that allows for the employment of women who have been saved from.
What made you start Outland Denim?
I saw a need for sustainable employment to meet the vocational skill set of a very vulnerable group of young women, and making jeans seemed to be a good idea at the time (a time when I didn’t realise how difficult it was to make jeans!). The back back-story is how I was impacted by the reality of human trafficking after seeing a very young girl being prostituted on the streets in Thailand and had to do something to make a change to the way young girls are exploited by giving them a way out.
What is something others wouldn’t know about denim and the process that is used to create them that you think they should?
Unlike a traditional production facility, our seamstresses are trained in every element of the jean-making process. Over a period of approximately two years, our trainee staff enrol in a program of cross-training and upskilling to gain a deep knowledge in the areas of cutting, finishing, and sewing.
With demonstrated proficiency, our seamstresses are given the opportunity to progress their careers at Outland Denim.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
In choosing to make jeans the way we do, to the standard that we do, and with our sustainable credentials and HR policies, we have really taken the hard road in every single way. So on the production side, in sourcing and handling and getting the jeans to a premium standard, there have been hurdles. On the business side, finance, cash flow, investment dollars and sales are always a concern for any CEO.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’, In the scope of Outland Denim, who made your denim? Can you tell us a bit about them?
I wish everyone could meet our team of seamstresses, because if you did you would never buy another jeans brand again! When I go to Cambodia and visit our production house, the reception is just amazing. But one of the young women I am always particularly overjoyed to see came to us with a disability. Her beaming smile and sense of pride in the work she is doing for us makes all the challenges worthwhile.
And one of our longest serving sewers. The fact that she has been able to take the money she has made with Outland and turn that into a rice field and rooftop for her family’s home, as well as buying her sister out of bondage, and now support her own daughter, just amazes me. It’s all about just giving someone the opportunity, and for so many of our seamstresses, life options are limited to a point that we in the Western world just can’t understand. The ability to earn a good income is just phenomenally empowering for them, but so too is the value-added stuff that we are able to do, as education has not been a feature of their lives. So lessons in English and budgeting and health and hygiene, as well as the fact that they can come to work in a safe place, one that we would be equally comfortable to work in, is the other bonus.
Our actual denim fabric comes from a Turkish mill called Bossa, which is a highly reputable mill that engages Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton growers and also uses recycled and organic cotton in its denim. I visited the Bossa mill in 2016, which was important to us as a company to ensure everything is above board. You can read up about Bossa in our supply chain information on our website.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Work in your strengths and staff your weaknesses.
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Understand it is hard and it will take more hours each week than a regular job, which means making sacrifices in other areas in your life, but is very satisfying at the same time.
Where do you envision Outland Denim in the future?
To be manufactured in other countries as well as Cambodia in order to give more vulnerable communities the same opportunities; to be producing a fair share of the denim consumed; and to be leading the way for environmentally, socially conscious fashion.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
I’m inspired by the example my parents set, William Wilberforce for having such a huge vision to end slavery, and the staff who make your jeans (they have overcome so much).
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
Yes, I ask God for favour and wisdom every day, or most days, anyway.
One book everyone should read? Why?
I am not much of a reader, but one day I would like to read the Bible from cover to cover.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Ashton Kutcher is doing great work with thorn, leveraging technology to combat online child pornography.
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