For Outland Denim founder and CEO James Bartle, denim is a means to give back.
At a young age, James Bartle was taught to always help others when he had the opportunity. As an adult, he made that lesson the foundation of his company Outland Denim. Founded in 2011 as a way to protect vulnerable people from exploitation, the denim brand provides its staff with wage and personal development initiatives within its Cambodian production facilities. Those credentials, as well as a dedication to sustainable best practices, led Bartle’s company to become Australia’s first Certified B Corp denim brand.
This year, Outland Denim announced a partnership with the Global Fashion Agenda to further its dedication to social sustainability. Bartle wants each fashion brand to join him in “taking responsibility for its use of human and natural resources throughout the supply chain.”
Why are you drawn to the business of denim?
The universal, egalitarian appeal of denim speaks to our core as a humanitarian brand seeking to create lasting social change for vulnerable people, particularly young women. I thought quality denim could carry our message well; that the weight of it and its longevity with the wearer would allow them to evolve the story with us, as opposed to a garment with a shorter lifespan. Denim inherently has some of the qualities that we were looking to imbue as brand values.
I’ve personally always lived in jeans. If you were going to produce anything, why wouldn't you produce the staple of a person’s wardrobe? Jeans aren't a throwaway item, but something you should keep for years. Naturally in our development, we grew to understand the dirty side of manufacturing denim garments, and so while our aim was to build something socially sustainable, we now see the opportunity, and our responsibility, to make clothing that earns its keep environmentally.
What challenges lay ahead for the denim sector?
We are excited to see that in 2019, reducing the environmental impact of creating jeans is at the forefront of conversation for brands, the media and in the retail space. However, challenges still lay ahead in ensuring the social sustainability of the denim industry. It’s been noted that modern slavery, which is a prominent issue in the garment making sector, is one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions. Protecting our garment workers is in our best interest, not only from a human perspective, but from an environmental standpoint also.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Not so much advice as values. My parents demonstrated that you don’t just look out for your own, but for opportunities to care for others also—even if it costs you. They’ve always taken in other people and tried to use what they have for the benefit of others.
What can other industries learn from the denim sector?
What I appreciate about the denim industry is that embedded in its culture is an emphasis on celebrating the quality and longevity of the product. By industry representatives and consumers alike, value is placed not on the newness of a garment, but the number of years it’s served you.
What’s exciting you about denim in 2019?
In 2019, the denim sector is rich with opportunities for innovation and collaboration. In our experience, denim brands are prioritizing collaboration over competition, and embracing the role we all need to play in solving the social and environmental issues that face our industry. We can see a day when our collective successes in sustainability as an industry are not a point of difference, but the norm.