Meet Outland Denim, a social enterprise creating premium denim products that help tackle the worlds human trafficking crisis. Every 30 seconds, someone is sold in the human traffic industry. Once in, it’s nearly impossible to escape.
Human trafficking is quickly surpassing drugs and guns as the world’s fastest growing criminal industry.
According to a United Nations report, the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are mostly women and girls. The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour (18%), although this number may actually be more, because forced labour is less detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation. Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children.
Outland Denim has created an approach of zero exploitation, to help prevent young girls being drafted into sex trade, or as slave labor into the garment industry. This approach is done through a program that Outland created called The Denim Project. This program offers young girls with an interest in sewing to earn fair wages, and to learn and master the crafts of sewing and fashion.
Outland Denim began when founder James Bartle travelled to Asia and saw first hand how human traffickers prey on vulnerable young girls in order to service the sex industry. After learning that once a girl has been rescued and rehabilitated, sustainable career path is vital for securing her future, James created the “Denim Project”, which would enable those girls who demonstrated an interest in sewing to put their new skills to use.
Now, every purchase supports a commitment to zero exploitation. In addition to this great program, Outland Denim carefully sources all their raw materials and creates fashion only through responsible and sustainable methods.
Below is a Q&A with James Bartle, founder of Outland Denim.
What inspired you to start Outland Denim?
I became aware of the reality of human trafficking after watching the Liam Neeson movie “Taken,” I then had the opportunity to travel through Asia with a rescue agency, and on that trip, my eyes were opened to the gravity of this problem. After researching the issue, we discovered we needed to create sustainable employment for those who are made vulnerable from poverty or those who have survived the human trafficking trade.
How does the Outland Denim team handle the transition for new seamstresses coming in, leaving their unsafe situations behind?
Often these girls have experienced some sort of trauma and therefore need additional support like time with NGO social workers or other support systems that are in place to help our staff leave the past behind and move into the future.
We have a strong emphasis on working as a team and therefore our staff support each other and others have understanding for each other and the things they are going through.
Simple things like working in a safe and supportive environment where they are loved and appreciated make a huge difference in the healing process. A career path waits for them now along with incentives, so they become more driven and find they have more purpose as they are now part of the solution for getting the next girl out of her hellish situation.
What does your training program look like for your seamstress team?
We work with rescue agencies, and they will refer to us women or girls they have rescued. Once they have have been through the rescue agency program, we take over. Our job is to offer OPPORTUNITY, and it’s important to note that this is key to creating genuine change. We can’t save the day, our job is to generate the opportunities and then equip our staff with all the tools to be successful. Opportunity, training, education and living wages make up the most important components of our business model, which is entirely designed to give freedom to those who gain employment with us.
Tell us a little about your approach to sustainably made jeans and what raw materials you are using.
This has become such an important part of our business model. #zeroexploitation is our motto. We are committed to finding the most sustainable ways of reducing environmental pollution. We have a transparent supply chain page on our website where you can find out where each part of the jean has come from. For us, we are committed to following each raw material back to the original source to make sure the people and planet have been respected the way they should be.
We use organic fibers, vegetable dyes, and other sustainable products to craft our jeans and as a result of it’s noticeable from the very first time you try them on.
We love your business model. Can you explain a little bit more about the business model and the supply chain you have created?
We spent the first five years developing our business model until we could claim to be the most humanitarian denim brand in the world. It’s not about prideful claims but rather about provoking others to look deeper into how we have been able to create such a powerful change in what often has such a bad reputation, denim jeans manufacturing.
One of the most important things to note is that for us, we understood that the product was the key to creating real sustainable change. We love denim, and we love fashion, and that passion for a beautiful product has to be maintained. It’s all too easy to only focus on the charitable aspect of our business at times as you can’t beat the feeling of watching the transformation take place in the lives of our family of seamstresses. But for real change to take place the product needs to lead.
Our model is designed to create a closed loop system where our incredible customers don’t have to be making donations to change the world, they just need to keep partnering with us when they are in need of another pair of jeans. We say to all of our customers that we aren’t looking for donations and if they don’t like the fit of our jeans then that’s OK. If they do, then buy our jeans rather than another pair that hasn’t considered the people or the planet. That’s how they become a powerful part of the change that is taking place with every jean sale.
Another extremely important factor is that we are profitable, and this is hard for a new brand breaking into the rag trade. I think most times the groundwork put in before taking your product to the market is where the race can be won or lost. Asking questions like…is there a place in the market for your product, how much market share can you get, what problem is your product solving and marketing, you can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it, then no change will be made.
It’s really this simple, if anything we do isn’t benefitting all involved, then it is still exploitation. If our decisions are negatively impacting the environment, then we are knowingly destroying the future for our children and grandchildren.
Grant is the founder of Causeartist, one of the most influential impact business platforms in the world. Since 2013, Causeartist has been read in over 150 countries. Grant has personally interviewed 700+ impact entrepreneurs from around the world, highlighting innovations in ethical fashion, climate change, ethical technology, impact investing, and sustainable travel.