Brands with an ethical focus were front and center of the Duchess of Sussex’s recent tour wardrobe in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. And arguably none more so than Australia’s Outland Denim, in whose skinny black Harriet jeans the duchess stepped out on at least four occasions over the course of the 16 days.
As first reported by WWD, the resulting blitz of international media coverage the Mount Tamborine, Queensland-based brand, which provides employment for Cambodian women rescued from sexual exploitation and human trafficking, prompted large web traffic and sales spikes, with the company processing orders for 10,000 jeans in a fortnight. An additional 46 seamstresses were, in the end, hired to meet demand.
The brand was launched in October 2016 by former pro motocross rider and welder James Bartle, following nearly six years in development in Cambodia, during which Bartle worked with the anti-trafficking group Destiny Rescue. Beyond its strong social message, sustainability is also paramount for Outland Denim, with the company now attempting to map every facet of its business. “We employed an engineer for six months to go through and create a flow chart of all the places where we don’t link back into being a circular business and that comes down to the pens we use,” Bartle said.
“Integrity is everything to us as a business” he added. “The goal is to be a big part of changing the fashion industry for good. Our strategy is to be product-focussed, to not be a charity and to create a genuinely sustainable business model that changes people’s lives and the environment at the same time.”
Key sustainability achievements of 2018: In April, Outland Denim achieved B Corp certification from the 12-year-old Pennsylvania-based nonprofit B Lab, that rigorously vets companies on their impacts on workers, customers, community and environment. Also in 2018, the company built its own state-of-the art washhouse in Phnom Penh, installing Jeanologia equipment, which uses laser and ozone technologies to reduce usage of water in the washing process.
Sustainability target for 2019 and why: Outland Denim is working on improving environmental practices at its Cambodian production house. In collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology, the company is researching renewable energy options and techniques to reduce power usage and improve both water filtration and waste management systems. Targets include repurposing production off-cuts into other products that can be useful for community.
Third-party plaudits: Outland Denim’s supply chain is groaning with green credentials, starting with Turkey’s Bossa denim mill, which is part of the Aid by Trade foundation’s Cotton Made in Africa program. Its accreditations include Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycle Standard, Oeko-Tex Standard 100, ISO 5001, ISO 14001: 2004, Organic Cotton Standard 100 for 100 percent organic input and OCS Blended for blended compositions.
Outland’s zippers are from YKK, which is part of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative and has Oeko-Tex Standard 100 credentials, as do button and rivet supplier Timay and Tempo, as well as Viet Thang Corp., Outland’s pocket lining supplier, which is also ISO9002 and ISO14001-certified. The company’s thread supplier is Coats, also a ZDHC member, with 10 of its sites ISO 14001-accredited.
Brand patches are by Australia’s Packer Leather, which has a Gold rating from the U.K.-based Leather Working Group. Outland uses 100 percent carbon neutral energy supplied by Powershop; printing and packaging from Print Together, which uses 100 percent recycled paper and natural vegetable dyes; freight and shipping in Australia by Fastway Couriers, a signatory to the CitySwitch Green Office program, and for international shipments, DHL’s Climate Neutral service.
Green awards: In April, Outland Denim was given the highest A+ rating on Baptist World Aid Australia’s fifth annual Ethical Fashion Report, which assessed 114 Australian and international brands on a scale of A to F based on the strength of their labour rights management systems to mitigate the risk of exploitation in their supply chains.
In October, the brand was one of six companies shortlisted for the 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Award. Apple and Unilever were the joint winners, as announced in London on Nov. 14.
Biggest challenges to overcome: “Funding growth — growth is expensive” Bartle said. “On a sustainability front, it’s coming up with new ways that haven’t been invented yet. How do we filtrate the water so that we can drink it in the end or that there’s nothing harmful left in it? Or how do we manage our waste? I think the question that we sometimes forget to ask is not ‘How do we reduce our carbon footprint as a brand?’ but ‘How do we eradicate our footprint as a brand?’”
If you could wave a magic wand: “It would be to do one thing to change human beings and fashion, so that we can all take this seriously enough — [the fact] that people are being enslaved for our own benefit. I think when enough people go, ‘Actually that’s not OK. I’m going to change my habits, my buying behavior,’ I think then it will change quite rapidly.”