Denim done right means blue jeans are green, according to Australian-based Outland Denim. And that’s why the premium denim brand — known for its global mission to fight against human trafficking — released its first annual Sustainability Report, which details a unique eco-strategy and explains how its employees benefit from a social enterprise business model.
James Bartle, Outland Denim’s founding chief executive officer, said “The repercussions of COVID-19 for people working across the fashion value chain have too often been devastating. Our ongoing commitment is to ensure that we represent and speak for the most vulnerable, while making continual improvements to our business to ensure equity for all.”
Authors of the report said 750 people, including staff and household members, benefit from stable, life-changing employment with the brand, citing that 85 percent of its formerly at-risk staff report a reduced level of risk to exploitation after six months of employment at Outland Denim.
“Our customers aren’t just buying a pair of jeans; they are investing in positive change,” Bartle explained. “They are taking us up on our promise to create an impact on their behalf. We hope that our customers read this report and feel empowered that despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented to the world, purpose-driven-business that puts people and the planet first is the way forward.”
Founded in 2011, Outland Denim has seen steady growth in the U.S. market, partnering with major retailers such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and select boutiques across the U.S., Canada and Australia. The brand is a rising star in the sustainability space and recently received the Thomson Reuters Foundation 2020 Stop Slavery Award for SME.
Bartle told WWD that its Sustainability Report aims to communicate the brand’s impacts mainly to its customers. “As a purpose-driven brand, we are no strangers to reporting; however, we felt it was important for there to be a public-facing avenue to benchmark our impact and communicate this to our customers. The report is a chance to celebrate the wins and also set our goals for the future.”
Its successes by the numbers point to impressive stats regarding its overall processes, as the brand uses up to 86 percent less water, 57 percent less energy and 83 percent less chemicals in its Wash and Finishing facility, in addition to 94 percent of its direct supply chain traceability effectively meeting strict social and environmental criteria.
From a material perspective, measured by weight, 93 percent of the raw materials used by Outland Denim in the past 12 months were natural, and the brand proudly shared that its “Amy Former Jean” is the most sustainable vintage-wash denim available in the market. The brand uses organic cotton, vegetable dyes and employs washing technologies such as laser, Ozone and E-Flow.
For Outland Denim, it’s all about the details: 550 pounds of its biodegradable cassava bags replaced its plastic poly bags for international garment transport, and, the brand is going vegan, as it has committed to transitioning all of its leather patches that adorn the back pockets of its jeans to jacron paper over the next 12 months.
And the brand’s decision to open its manufacturing facilities to other brands under the name “Maeka” offers the opportunity for other brands to produce in its facilities. “[For brands to use] the socially, environmentally and economically sustainable facilities that we have established and become known for, we can stretch our impact and grow our business,” the report said. Its first designer working with Maeka is Karen Walker, and product is already in development.
Bartle told WWD, “We know that our customers are deeply interested and invested in how their garments are made and who makes them. Not only do we believe our customers deserve this level of transparency and accountability, we believe it’s completely essential in a time when consumers are being subject to so much greenwashing.”
Its garments are constructed at its stand-alone cut-and-sew facility based in Cambodia — which recently launched an on-site Health Clinic and Education Center — where its employees are offered fair, safe and fulfilling employment, the brand said, emphasizing that many of its staff members come from vulnerable and exploitative situations.
“Without clearly communicating our impact and sustainability journey, we are essentially asking consumers to take our word for it, and that’s not good enough.”
“Our primary goals in releasing this report are to further foster consumer trust and set sustainability benchmarks which we can improve upon in the same way a business would set financial benchmarks. We hope that our report encourages other businesses to pursue similar reporting.”
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