It's rare to find a company these days who isn't trying to capitalise on the eco movement. After all, the fashion industry talks a lot about sustainability these days - and so it should. But like other buzzwords in the eco lexicon ('ethically sourced', 'vegetable tanned' et al) they can become, dare we say it, a little redundant at times, not to mention lost on the average consumer. But let's get one thing clear: Outland Denim is the refreshingly real, 100 per cent ethical deal.
Launching this month, Outland Denim is the brainchild and passion project of James Bartle, the Australian brand's founder and CEO. It's aim? To raise awareness and offer real-world solutions for women affected by Cambodia's rampant sex trafficking industry. By donating $50 from every pair of jeans sold to anti-trafficking agencies, Outland Denim isn't just being charitable to victims of the sex slave trade, it also employs rescued women and gives them jobs and valuable life skills. In fact, when you buy a pair of Outland Denim jeans, you're wearing clothes made by these very women.
So why Cambodia and why sex trafficking? For Australian-born James Bartle, the impetus for his company came from something as simple as watching the movie Taken. "At the end of the film there were some stats that came up about human trafficking," he explains. "I remember feeling disbelief that this is still happens. I thought it was just in movies." But it wasn't until a trip to Cambodia five years ago placed him face to face with sex slaves as young as 13 that the seed was planted.
And like with most charities, it hasn't been easy journey to go from idea, to start-up, to implementation. "[Just] giving money to poor people doesn't work," says Bartle. "We need to provide something that's sustainable. That's why we've taken five years to get the company marketed because we knew what we had was so precious that if we rushed it we [wouldn't] get everything sorted, and then it might not last." Now, five years after that fateful encounter, Outland Denim proudly employs roughly 30 female staff who have come from sex trafficking backgrounds.
Partnering with non-government organisations to teach them sewing skills and assist in the rehabilitation program, the Outland approach has been one of trial and error. "One thing we've got to be careful of is that we don't disrupt the lives of everybody else in the sewing room," says Bartle. "We have had experiences where a girl comes straight out of a brothel and into our sewing room. We worked out very quickly that that doesn't work." Instead, Outland work with NGOs to implement aftercare programs and counselling so that the women are emotionally take care of before coming to work with them.
And the results are heart warming. "One of our initial staff members who came on in the beginning was two years into a program and she was able to build a home for her family. They were all living under a tarp previously and she's now been able to go and buy a rice field, so they now have a way of generating an income," says Bartle proudly. "I think that was the golden moment of anything I've ever done."
But it's not just the charitable proceeds that make Outland Denim so impressive - it's that the company takes a 360-degree approach to sustainability. From the premium Turkish denim sourced from ethically run factories that Outland has personally visited, to the vegetable-dyed leather labels, sustainable rivets and zippers and stitched-in thank you notes on every pair of jeans - it's celear that all aspects of the manufacturing process have been examined by Outland to make sure every process is as eco-friendly as possible. "This is the best social and environmentally friendly jean that you can purchase anywhere in the world," says Bartle. "That's our goal: to always lead in this way."
And lastly, even despite the feel-good vibes, you can rest assured you're getting a quality pair of jeans (I've personally tried them and the fit is spot on). That has always been paramount for Outland Denim. "It's not making a donation - you're buying product and that's where they bond to us," adds Bartle. "People are buying good quality product that's worth the money."
Outland Denim's male and female jeans start from $189 each. Visit outlanddenim.com to shop the range and find out more about the company.