From one-off collections to in-store fundraising events, the fashion industry’s efforts to “give back” are often short-lived. However, for Outland Denim giving back is ingrained in its manufacturing process.
Founded by James Bartle in 2011, the Australian company provides human trafficking victims and other at-risk workers the opportunity to learn new sewing skills and earn a living wage at its company-owned manufacturing facility in Cambodia. At the facility, Outland Denim provides holistic care services for its staff, including personal development and wage initiatives.
Bartle was inspired to help create sustainable career paths for the women and girls he encountered during a visit to Asia with a rescue organization.
“The first time I had witnessed the impact of a young lady, or in this case a young girl not much older than my nieces, I had to do something,” Bartle told Rivet. “The research identified that poverty was an enormous contributor to making these women and girls vulnerable. The solution seems to be an economic one and therefore we set out to prove a business model that offered true sustainability and opportunity to those that worked within it.”
Outland’s commitment to doing good extends to its product, too.
“We wanted to be that basics brand that fills your wardrobe, and sustainability is on the top list of things that are important to us as a brand,” Bartle said.
Sustainable core product is the overarching theme in Outland’s collection. The brand uses natural indigo dyes and natural vegetable dyes, which means workers are exposed to fewer toxic chemicals. Bartle added that the likelihood or severity of water pollution is reduced, leading to an overall increase in the sustainability of Outland’s jeans.
The company collaborates with Tak Son, a Cambodia-based washhouse that offers a separate organic washing facility, for its denim washing process. Tak Son’s three-step cleaning and testing process ensures that water discarded after washing does not contaminate local water systems.
The company also partners with likeminded suppliers. Outland sources organic cotton denim from Bossa in Turkey, taps YKK for zippers and thread from Coats, both of which are part of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative (ZDHC). Outland also uses vegetable tanned leather patches from Safa Impex.
Doing good comes with a premium price. The brand, which made its U.S. debut at the February Liberty Fairs in Las Vegas, enters the market with retail prices between $195 to $245.
“We have just taken our Fall ’18 collection to the North American market and had such a positive response. From amazing boutiques to departments stores, we have had positive feedback and yes even orders,” Bartle said. “I am blown away by the retailers that are willing to partner with us.”
Bartle shared details with Rivet about Outland’s Fall ’18 line and why he believes it’s the right time for retailers and consumers to embrace better manufacturing processes.
RIVET: What’s new for Fall ’18?
Bartle: Pretty much everything you see from us is new. With women’s denim, we have gone to more latitudes. The Abigail is new and that is probably where most interest is coming from at the moment. It is fitted through the waist and hips, but relaxes with a subtle taper through the legs, giving a more flattering shape on the body. It features raw, cropped and regular finished full-length hem options with more traditional vintage washes inspired by the ’90s.
We are focused with getting a really solid core range for men’s. We have four different silhouettes: the Vanguard, with a real skinny jean leg; the Dusty, which is my personal favorite because it is slim and not too skinny; the Ranger, our slim tight jean; and the Country Traveller, our straight leg jean that is not too relaxed.
RIVET: What are some of the other denim pieces in the collection?
Bartle: The jean jacket, I think, is really important. Jackets are timeless and with increases in unisex trends, women wearing our oversized jackets are right in line for solid sales growth.
RIVET: What’s trending in washes/finishes/trims/hems and rises? What are the key fits for Fall ’18?
Bartle: The washes and trims for the Fall collection are all about sustainability, though our sourcing standards are always about creating every one of our denim pieces in this way. We have released our core products this season with rich indigo tones and the lighter vintage washes like our Lucy – True Blue or Dusty Driftwood have nice subtle wash effects.
The fabric has been colored with vegetable-based dyes and our desire with this range was to offer timeless pieces that give our customers an option for all occasions. I particularly like the simplistic internal trims and messaging from one of the Outland Denim seamstresses printed inside the jean.
RIVET: What’s the status of rigid denim?
Bartle: I love rigid denim, but don’t love the feel of it and the process of breaking it in. That’s why we went to 98 percent cotton and 2 percent elastane. That 2 percent elastane gives comfort, but it still maintains a rigid garment look. As much as we love raw denim we are probably not going to go there in the near future. It is a smaller market, and for us, it is about comfort, which is something you can’t achieve with a 100 percent cotton jean.
RIVET: What’s your overall prediction for the denim market in 2018?
Bartle: Consumers are becoming more educated on the atrocities committed by denim manufacturing and the global environmental issues created by the industry and therefore are looking for alternative brands that can still deliver the products they have grown to love while offering better manufacturing and production practices.
The reason that we want to be in the mainstream stores is because we want to go to the wider public—and for those that haven’t heard about us, we are able to softly educate them on what we are doing to be part of solving these issues.