Can you please tell us about how the social enterprise, Outland Denim, began?
Outland began as a means to solve the problem of modern slavery. Our founder, James Bartle, witnessed the problem first hand on a trip to Asia and was moved to action. Outland was conceived as a mechanism through which those who had been the victims of human rights abuses could receive skills training, sustainable employment and a living wage, and as a result of this be able to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.
You are setting a wonderful example, can you please explain the ethos behind Outland Denim?
Outland Denim uses the hashtag #zeroexploitation. It is our desire to treat both people and the planet with respect and dignity through our entire value chain, from the cotton farms to our customers. This is a huge challenge, and we are not there yet, but every decision that is made is measured against that ideal.
What are your thoughts on the future of sustainability and the fashion industry? What changes are you witnessing internationally?
It is encouraging to see a shift within the fashion industry where the conversation around sustainability is becoming much more mainstream. Fashion journalists and publications are giving the topic far more air time, retailers are starting to consider who they are stocking, new and innovative brands are taking territory and some larger brands are investing in more R&D, greater transparency and supply chain due diligence. There is also a move towards collaboration to see solutions to problems that no single brand could undertake on their own. It is still very early days and there is SO much more to be done as the scale of the problem is so large and many problems are systemic, but it is very positive to see the beginnings of change.
What role do you think Outland Denim could play in helping encourage other companies towards a sustainable and ethical business model?
I think the best thing Outland could do is prove not only the positive human and environmental impact, but also the financial profitability of "business for good." There will come a time when simply pursuing the traditional bottom line will no longer achieve the best financial outcomes, that customers will demand more from their financial outlay. We would love to see the impacts on planet and people as key aspects of reporting back to customers and stakeholders for all businesses.
Can you share with us any stories where Outland Denim has played a positive role in the lives of the women that work with you?
Sharing the stories of changed lives is the best part of this job, and there are many! One of my favourites comes from one of our earliest recruits. Taken out of a situation of exploitation and referred to us, she has since been able to save for a home for her family and even purchase her own sister out of slavery. To think that the opportunity that Outland gave her has subsequently led to a better life for those around her, as well as herself and the generation that will proceed her, is an incredible testament to what business done well can really achieve.
What do you think young people expect now from businesses in regards to transparency and authenticity?
There is certainly a lot of evidence in the public sphere now that the younger generations are expecting more from brands. The 2019 Pulse of the Industry report mentioned that honesty was the most important ingredient for customer loyalty. There seems to be an understanding that perfection is not yet attainable and customers respect the truth - good and bad. Transparency is vital for future success in business.
What are the short and long-term goals for Outland Denim?
In the short term, we aim to see a larger offering of high quality products in many more accessible locations for customers across Australia, New Zealand, North America and the UK, as well as a continued increase in employment opportunities for vulnerable people. In the long term, we would like to expand operations to more areas of need, collaborate and influence to solve major industry challenges, make a significant dent in the modern slavery industry and become a carbon positive business operation.
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind as a social enterprise?
We would love to see "business for good" - business that adds to the world rather than takes - becomes normalised. We would love to see it as the standard rather than the exception.
What are the biggest challenges Outland Denim has faced so far along the journey and how have you overcome them?
There are so many challenges that we have faced and that we continue to face on a daily basis. I think one of the greatest challenges stems from the physical and cultural distance between our HQ, our manufacturing facilities and our suppliers - this would also include language barriers. Accurate communications are essential for smooth and transparent operations and this is an area of consistent learning and development for us.
What advice can you give to those who want to walk a similar path?
Ethical business is definitely a growth area, but it is highly challenging and you need the strength of conviction, true grit and unwavering determination to keep going despite the inevitable setbacks. A deep-seated belief in the value and worth of what you are doing is essential to carry you though from dream to reality.
Who are your customers and what are they most concerned with?
We have a very broad range of customers from younger to older, those who are well acquainted with ethical fashion and make very deliberate purchase choices to those who have little concern for our story and simply like the way they look in the product. The breadth of our appeal is indeed a positive thing.
What other brands impress you in regards to sustainability, transparency and ethical operations?
Spell and the Gypsy Collective have done some great work to ensure a traceable, ethical supply chain. Fellow B Corp Allbirds is doing some great work in the sustainability space. Adidas and Marks & Spencer both have done incredible work on supply chain traceability and ethical due diligence considering their vast and complicated supply chains.
On a personal note, what does wilderness mean to you and what do feel about the future of the world's wild places?
There is nothing quite so centering as connecting to the natural world. I find both my mood and perspective shifts into a better place when I spend time in the "wilderness" and I really do treasure those moments and consistently wish for more of them. Wilderness is also where the base resources for sustaining life come from, and we are completely reliant on it. The destruction of our beautiful natural world is devastating and we must learn to work in partnership with it rather than against it for both humanity and nature to flourish.