James Bartle from Outland Denim
I’m feeling pretty grateful right now as I was lucky enough to have the very busy James Bartle, the CEO and Founder of Outland Denim, put some time aside while he is currently on the road between LA and NYC to answer my beyond the brand questions!
For those of you that aren’t aware, Outland Denim is a brand that really epitomises the idea that you can make a difference through what you buy. I’ve gone into a pretty in depth summary all about Outland Denim and the things they do for both people and the environment which you can read here.
As most of you will be aware by now, my goal with the Beyond the Brand series is to try and help bridge the connection between the brand and the consumer. It also offers an opportunity for you to gain a better understanding about the person who founded the company, and why they did.
Today’s interview is one I’m incredibly grateful to have. I hope you enjoy it Changemakers.
What made you start Outland Denim?
I saw a need for sustainable employment to meet the vocational skill set of a very vulnerable group of young women, and making jeans seemed to be a good idea at the time (a time when I didn’t realise how difficult it was to make jeans!). The back back-story is how I was impacted by the reality of human trafficking after seeing a very young girl being prostituted on the streets in Thailand, and had to do something to make a change to the way young girls are exploited by giving them a way out.
What is something other's wouldn't know about denim and the process that is used to create them that you think they should?
Our process isn’t in the least automated, as with other jean manufacturers. We hand draw and cut our own patterns, a seamstress handles each element (there are up to 15-20 pieces per jean), and the final product is carefully checked by a person. This is a brand that is 100% human-made!
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
In choosing to make jeans the way we do, to the standard that we do, and with our sustainable credentials and HR policies, we have really taken the hard road in every single way. So on the production side, in sourcing and handling and getting the jeans to a premium standard, there have been hurdles. On the business side, finance, cash flow, investment dollars and sales are always a concern for any CEO.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'Who made my clothes?', In the scope of Outland Denim, who made your denim? Can you tell us a bit about them?
I wish everyone could meet our team of seamstresses, because if you did you would never buy another jeans brand again! When I go to Cambodia and visit our production house, the reception is just amazing. But one of the young women I am always particularly overjoyed to see came to us with a disability. Her beaming smile and sense of pride in the work she is doing for us makes all the challenges worthwhile.
And one of our longest serving sewers – the fact that she has been able to take the money she has made with Outland, and turn that into a rice field and rooftop for her family’s home, as well as buying her sister out of bondage, and now supporting her own daughter…that just amazes me. It’s all about just giving someone the opportunity, and for so many of our seamstresses, life options are limited to a point that we in the Western world just can’t understand. The ability to earn a good income is just phenomenally empowering for them, but so too is the value-added stuff that we are able to do, as education has not been a feature of their lives. So lessons in English and budgeting and health and hygiene, as well as the fact that they can come to work in a safe place, one that we would be equally comfortable to work in, is the other bonus.
Our actual denim fabric comes from a Turkish mill called Bossa, which is a highly reputable mill that engages Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton growers and also uses recycled and organic cotton in its denim. I visited the Bossa mill in 2016, which was important to us as a company to ensure everything is above board. You can read up about Bossa in our supply chain information on our website.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Work in your strengths and staff your weaknesses.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Understand it is hard and it will take more hours each week than a regular job, which means making sacrifices in other areas in your life, but is very satisfying at the same time.
Where do you envision Outland Denim in the future?
To be manufactured in other countries as well as Cambodia in order to give more vulnerable communities the same opportunities; to be producing a fair share of the denim consumed; and to be leading the way for environmentally, socially conscious fashion.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
I’m inspired by the example my parents set, William Wilberforce for having such a huge vision to end slavery, and the staff who make your jeans (they have overcome so much).
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
Yes, I ask God for favour and wisdom every day, or most days, anyway.
One book everyone should read? Why?
I am not much of a reader, but one day I would like to read the Bible from cover to cover.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Ashton Kutcher is doing great work with thorn, leveraging technology to combat online child pornography.