James Bartle Redefines Denim Social Entrepreneurship From Australia

James Bartle is the founding CEO of Outland Denim, the denim brand making jeans differently and setting a new standard in fashion manufacturing. Outland Denim was created as a means to provide stable employment and economic opportunity to women who would otherwise be vulnerable to being trafficked. And James Bartle didn’t stop there. He innovated on industry standards to create a superior line of jeans with a minimal footprint. This is James’ story - from the first sparks watching a Liam Neeson movie to a truly inspiring social enterprise.

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Prior to Outland Denim, in the mid-2000s, James Bartle had founded an extreme sports tour group that travelled around Australia promoting healthy lifestyle choices to mostly youths. He was first exposed to the idea of creating apparel through merchandising for that business, though at the beginning denim and sustainability weren't on his radar. “To supplement my income, I had worked in various trades, including an electrician and a welder, so I had a very practical skill base. Outland Denim’s origins began when I watched the film, Taken, a fictional film inspired by the very real $150 billion illicit trade in human beings. After encountering an NGO doing work in the field, I had the opportunity to travel with them to South-East Asia and saw first-hand what it was like on the ground, and how human traffickers prey on vulnerable young girls; girls who weren’t much older than my nieces at the time.” After some research, James quickly discovered that once a girl has been rescued and reintegrated into her family or community, a sustainable career path is vital for securing her future. From there he laid the foundations of his new brand Outland Denim, as an avenue for training, employment and career progression for women who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing, sex trafficking and other social injustices. “Today we welcome employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability and social injustice to elevate people into prosperity via opportunity, skills acquisition, living wages and education,” James admits that adapting his skill set to the requirements of jean making, the mechanics of jean making, and setting up shop in a foreign country where he didn't speak the local language was a learning curve. Over six years Bartle developed a unique business model – before launching in Australia in 2016 - that would provide young women training in a skill set that can be utilised in any stage of life and complementing this skill set with soft skills, education and a pathway for career progression; give employment with a living wage and benefits to provide these women with financial security; tailoring learned skills to a product that is universal in nature, premium in value, and also sustainable. “Along the way we have learned denim is not only one of the most challenging sectors of the fashion industry to break into, but also, one of the dirtiest. So, while we set out to create something 100% socially sustainable, we act on our responsibility to help clean up the denim industry, by way of making the leading sustainable denim products on the market, too.”

“Our priority is to offer a core range of quality, classic, season-less options for year-round wear, as well as small, limited-run seasonal capsule collections that allow our customers to give their denim collection a re-fresh in a considered way.”

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James Bartle defines the Outland Denim style as “minimalistic and timeless, made for the ‘jeans-and-a-tee’ person who appreciates that the impact of their jeans stretches far beyond themselves. Our customers love versatile styles they can come back to season after season such as our classic black skinny jeans or slim-cut, mid-blue denim.” At Outland Denim, everything starts from sustainability, “for us, this means we are looking at the full lifecycle of our products, from our raw materials to our production and handling, and deciding what will make the best impact across our key sustainability measurement points: social, environmental and economic.” Bartle’s design team resides in Australia and London and so they bring to the table a global perspective and have inspiration from around the world.

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“Our priority is to offer a core range of quality, classic, season-less options for year-round wear, as well as small, limited-run seasonal capsule collections that allow our customers to give their denim collection a re-fresh in a considered way.”

 

Usually, denim jean production has a devastating impact on the environment due to its use of attentive water, energy, and harmful chemical use. Outland Denim mitigate this harm by employing industry-leading water, energy-reducing technology and investing in in-house research, and partnership with universities and governments around the world. “The Outland Denim Wash and Finishing Facility based in Cambodia is where we put the finishing touches including fades, distressing, whiskering, and ageing onto our jeans.” Outland’s Wash and Finishing Facility are equipped with the latest water and energy-saving technology which include these techniques: Laser - the most environmentally friendly way to create a character on your jeans, Ozone - the greenest oxidising agent available, and E-Flow - the leading technique for transferring wash recipes to your jeans. “Using these technologies, we have been able to create designs such as our Amy Former jean, the most sustainable vintage wash jeans on the market today! It’s made using 67% less water, 46% less energy, and 83% less chemical than conventional vintage-wash jeans.” Plus, all of their denim is cut from organic cotton. “We source the finest raw materials from suppliers who share in our mission and excel in social and environmental responsibility.”   

 

James Bartle’s brand is clearly turned towards the future, opening up opportunities for other brands to create their garments using the sustainable and ethical manufacturing facilities Outland Denim have become known for. By working with other brands in this way, Outland can significantly expand both their business and impact. “For us it is simple, the more we grow, the more positive impact we can have.” Not one brand on the planet has all the answers when it comes to sustainability but Outland Denim is evidently driven to find them. “We also invest in innovation and research projects in partnership with institutions and governments around the world in order to discover even better processes that the whole fashion industry can benefit from. We are undeniably dedicated to building a better future by way of the fashion industry, more specifically with denim.”

Words by Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

Photos provided by Outland Denim

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