A Cup of Coffee With James Bartle, CEO and Founder of Outland Denim

July 21, 2020 by
Sanne Leenders

We like to have inspiring discussions about cross-border e-commerce over a nice cup of coffee (or tea). In this article, we are focusing on the phenomenon of influencer marketing. James Bartle is the founder of the Australian denim label, Outland Denim. This company is driven by a #ZeroExploitation ethos, to create positive change for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The success of their business model proves that the fashion industry can have a major influence on some of the world’s most pressing issues. This article was co-produced by eTail.

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Outland Denim
Subject’s Rights: 

Outland Denim exists to create positive change for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our unique business model is proof that the fashion industry can solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Coffee or tea? When and how? 

Coffee, definitely.’

Can you tell us about Outland Denim and how your online proposition contributes to your success?

‘We launched three years ago, as a premium denim brand. In a short amount of time, we have stepped into both the online and offline world. We began as an avenue for training, employment, and career progression for women who had experienced exploitation. Today, we’ve welcomed over 100 employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability and social injustice to elevate people into prosperity via skills acquisition, living wages and education. 

To keep control over our social and environmental impact, we run our own production facilities in Cambodia, including our Cut-and-Sew facility and our new Wash House. For the latter, we use state-of-the-art water and energy-reducing technology to put the finishing touches on our jeans.

Investing in e-commerce allows us to introduce our brand to new markets and customers and, therefore, lets us have an even greater impact and share our initiatives.’

Outland Denim strongly focuses on a sustainable production process, on various levels. Why is this so important to you?

‘Sustainability is at the core of why Outland Denim exists. I founded Outland Denim as an avenue for training, employment, and opportunities for women who had experienced or were at risk of experiencing exploitation or abuse after learning about the atrocities of the $150 billion human trafficking industry. Through training, employment, and a holistic approach to supporting our staff, we have proven that a sustainable career path is critical to real social change.

Along the way, we learnt the dirty side of denim. We feel that, when it comes to social and environmental policy, you cannot have one without the other. It is our responsibility to help clean up the denim industry. With the model we have created over years of development, the fashion industry can be a solution to the social and environmental issues we face today.’

How important is it to be transparent about your manufacturing process as a fashion retailer?

‘Transparency ensures that our practices are continuously internally scrutinised and held to the highest standards. It ensures that our ethos of #ZeroExploitation is a constant and that the success of Outland Denim does not come to the detriment of other people on our planet. For our customers, transparency provides a connection to the maker that is mostly not visible in fashion. Transparency is key in building trust with customers who are longing to belong to brand communities that mirror not only their style but their values, too.’

Sustainability is a buzzword in e-commerce. How important is it for you?

‘Consumers take ethical fashion a lot more seriously now than when we first started. It was more of a niche conversation, perhaps a bit elitist, at that time. There is a lot more education and awareness now. The fact it is a buzzword just shows how far we have come as an industry. For us, it is not a marketing campaign or an after-thought. It is the whole reason we exist.’

What challenges do you face realising your goals?

‘A challenge in fast fashion and the way we have been educated as consumers is the idea that cheap fashion is okay. However, with more awareness and education, that is changing. Online searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019. The market segment is growing so fast that all major brands are looking for a sustainability angle. We have spent ten years developing a business model that addresses all three elements of sustainability, and our accolades and certifications, such as our A+ rating in the Ethical Fashion Report, are a testament to our leadership in this space.’

What is the biggest pitfall of sustainability for a business?

‘Approaching sustainability as a marketing tool can cause a lot of greenwashing in the industry. We ensure that our impact and marketing teams are separate in their goals and projects but come together to work closely in ensuring our message is factual, never misleading, and is motivated by positive impact rather than brand awareness.’

Are consumers more loyal to brands that focus on a circular economy?

‘Research shows that customers want to support brands that share their values. With environmental issues being such a large concern globally, brands who are investing in circularity will certainly be praised and supported.’

This article was previously published in Cross-Border Magazine 14.

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