When most guys pull on a pair of jeans, they just want to look good and feel comfortable. When they pull on a pair of jeans from Outland Denim, though, they’re also helping pull people out of poverty forever.
During a recent trip to Autralia this week with Prince Harry, for example, Meghan Markle drew widespread attention for her decision to wear jeans from Outland, a local firm that has a dual mission of creating stylish apparel while transforming the lives of young women in Cambodia who have been victims of sex trafficking.
James Bartle, co-founder and CEO of Outland Denim, first became inspired after watching Taken, the 2008 film starring Liam Neesen which illustrated the dangers of sex trafficking and modern day slavery. Unlike most viewers, though, Bartle left the theatre and met with a rescue agency to learn more. While studying what was happening in Cambodia, he became more aware of the garment industry there and the potential to start a sustainable business that would address those left with nothing after some horrifying life experiences.
“We not only give the opportunity to get work, but put the framework around them through education and training into important skill sets,”
Bartle told Swagger in a recent interview. “That means vocational care, helping them to deal with the trauma, learning how to deal with finance, things like language, personal development and infant care.
“We’ve found in the first five years of developing the program, we could say that if somebody comes into employment here and goes through this process, they could pull themselves out of poverty,” he continued. “The fall-on effect is huge — it benefits the extended family, siblings. There’s a generational impact.”
It also means Outland Denim’s employees are treated in a way that doesn’t involve abuse, which for some may be an new experience entirely.
“We’ll have comments that it feels like family, or just that ‘our bosses aren’t shouting at me,’” Bartle said, adding that the idea is not necessarily to keep them making jeans forever. “We want to treat our staff so well they never want to leave but equip them so well they can get a job anywhere. It’s a pay-it-forward mentality.”
Bartle acknowledges that the notion of ethical fashion tends to appeal to specific kinds of individuals, and Outland Denim tries to keep the Meghan Markles (and their male equivalents) of the world in mind with its designs. He described the current collection as having an “adventurous tone,” aimed at those who with a global outlook with a relaxed shape but still tapered to ensure a good fit. Even the materials for the denim are ethically sourced from premium suppliers in Turkey who have been vetted against possibly exploited any workers in collecting it and the sustainability of their practices.
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We cannot think of a more suitable woman to carry the Outland Denim brand. A big thank you to the Duchess of Sussex (and bump!) for choosing to wear Outland Denim on this #royaltour! Meghan wears the high-rise Harriet jean in Black. #madedifferent #zeroexploitation #GameOnDownUnder #IG2018 #DukeandDuchessofSussex 📸 Samir Hussein & Getty Images
“You can be confident that it’s not just that people working for us have been liberated, but that the environmental impact has been severely reduced as well,” he said. “People have become more aware of ethical practices and the way their clothes are put together and manufactured. For us, our commitment is to be the most socially-conscious brand on the planet. That’s a commitment we’ve kept.”