Outland Denim released its first sustainability report Tuesday, revealing plans to open its Cambodian manufacturing facilities to other brands and establish an in-house standard for sustainability.
The Australia-based brand, known for its sustainably washed organic cotton jeans and efforts to eradicate modern slavery, is ramping up its voice in an effort to lead the denim industry to reduce its collective environmental impact.
“Our customers aren’t just buying a pair of jeans; they are investing in positive change,” said Outland Denim founding CEO James Bartle. “They are taking us up on our promise to create an impact on their behalf.”
Part of this positive change is the development of the Maeka Standard, a certification that represents Outland’s “high expectation of sustainability as a manufacturer and as a brand.”
The standard is a combination of Outland’s policies that center on zero exploitation and jeans that are made without slavery, poor labor standards or environmentally harmful materials and techniques; garments made with the intention to create positive change; and a social mission to “correct injustices with the desire to positively impact” all stakeholders.
Outland will extend the standard to other brands it manufactures for in an effort to streamline sustainable production, alleviate doubling up on intellectual capital and infrastructure and reducing the costs associated with responsible production.
The first products in development with the Maeka Standard are a denim jacket and jeans from the Outland Denim x Karen Walker collection.
“By offering the opportunity for other brands to produce using the socially, environmentally and economically sustainable facilities that we have established and become known for, we can stretch our impact and grow our business,” the company stated in the report.
In the world of responsible denim manufacturing, Outland Denim, which was established in 2008 with a sustainable DNA, has a running start.
2020, however, proved to be a major year in the brand’s eco journey. It moved to 100 percent leather-free designs, increased its natural raw material use by 93 percent, slashed water and chemical usage in its washing and finishing facility by more than 80 percent and introduced “the most sustainable vintage wash denim on the market.”
Dubbed the Amy Former, the rigid jean combines a variety of natural fibers including organic cotton, recycled cotton, and lyocell. The fabric’s open-style weave results in a color contrast, and allows Outland’s wash recipe to react to the fabric faster, and a short wash process means less environmental impact.
Next, Outland aims to decrease the environmental impact of using stretch fabrics while maintaining durability and expand product repair opportunities. In the next two years, the brand plans to change the interlining of jeans waistbands to an option made using recycled polyester. Outland is also challenging traditional black dyes by investing in research for an alternative that uses organic or plant-based dyes.
Change of plans
The pandemic has cast a light on the need for a more sustainable approach to manufacturing—both in terms of the environment and the stability of business.
“The repercussions of COVID-19 for people working across the fashion value chain have too often been devastating,” Bartle stated in the report. “Our ongoing commitment is to ensure that we represent and speak for the most vulnerable while making continual improvements to our business to ensure equity for all.”
Outland began to respond to the crisis in early March by enlisting its management team in Cambodia to receive COVID-19 training through Better Factories Cambodia and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia. The company’s wash and finish and cut-and-sew facilities temporary closed, however, the majority of the staff returned to work by June 15.
Additionally, many of its Australian staff, including senior management, chose a salary reduction to help the company weather the immediate economic effects of a decline in wholesale orders, allowing Cambodian colleagues to continue to be paid while on leave.
The pandemic has led Outland to reevaluate its production calendar and product assortment. Instead of seasonal collections, the company will produce bi-monthly capsule collections and expand into new garment categories that are available to both consumers through Outland’s own channels and its wholesale clients.
The shift, the company noted, will support retailers by offering a shorter lead time from design to delivery, minimize the risks associated with long lead forecasting, minimize dead stock, and offer newness to consumers.
Pivoting to capsule collections will also have a positive effect on workers, the company said, noting that it will result in a more consistent workflow and structure to the work week, ultimately allowing more consistent training and education programs.