A brand supported and worn by Meghan Markle, Outland Denim is making its mark on sustainable fashion while helping victims of human trafficking — proving that ethics can be synonymous with success.
According to the newest report (2017) from the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, approximately 40.3 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery. Outland Denim was born out of a need to tackle this issue and make an impact where it could. Founded by James Bartle, the Australian company utilizes a unique business model that employs victims of human trafficking in Cambodia by offering them stable employment and economic opportunity. The certified B Corporation brand (which also engages in sustainable practices) is just proof that doing good in business is not mutually exclusive from looking good, too.
Would you consider yourself a fashion-focused sustainability brand? Or a sustainability-focused fashion brand? What drives your decision-making process?
We are a sustainability-focused fashion brand. We started [Outland] to solve some of the greatest issues we face today while producing a product that we are not only passionate about, but also has amazing fits and fabrics. When I visit the factory in Cambodia, I can see the difference we are making in the lives of those who work for us. One girl has been able to purchase a rice paddy field for her family and now 10 people work there. Another girl has purchased her sister back [from human trafficking]. We are seeing real change happen firsthand. This is what drives all of us every day.
What do you think are the core tenets of a socially-conscious brand?
It’s where a business commits to preventing exploitation in a social or environmental context. For Outland, it’s both. I believe there are four pillars true to sustainability: opportunity, where you employ someone who may not otherwise be able to get a job (those who are not able-bodied are even more vulnerable); training, where you take someone with no skills and train them to perform a job at its highest level, thus equipping them to be independent and employable elsewhere; living wages, where individuals are able to pay rent, save, and have money for things like healthcare; and education, where people can become informed on a range of things from language to finance.
Why do you think it’s so important to understand where things come from?
It’s important because we’ve been fed marketing stories where brands will say, “buy our sustainable t-shirt.” Yet only one percent of the collection is sustainable and the rest is made in a way where people and the planet become severely disadvantaged. Knowing the brands we buy from and how they produce is the only way that we can send a message to those companies and say that we are not OK with irresponsible behaviour.
How did you educate yourself on the issues around exploitation and sex trafficking?
I had the chance to travel to Southeast Asia and witnessed it myself. I have done a lot of research but my true education has been on-the-ground experience and learning from those who are on the frontlines dealing with the issue day in and day out. I am grateful to our partner rescue agencies who are constantly educating us.
Denim is notorious for the amount of pollution that it creates. How does your company circumvent the waste that is a result of denim production?
We adopted a #zeroexploitation rule in the way we produce, which means that we use organic cotton, vegetable or organic dying, and the latest technology in washing, like laser and ozone washing. We are committed to reusing the water that has already been drastically reduced and are continually working on new ways to repurpose all of the waste or byproducts of production.
How have these brave women been teachers to you?
I learn from these women every day! I’ve learned to overcome and not use your misfortunes as an excuse; to work hard for the benefit of others. I have such deep respect for these women, and the courage and dedication they have shown to improving their own lives, but also to creating a product that we can all be proud of.