An Interview with James Bartle, Founder of Outland Denim

The story of Outland Denim is an incredible one, a brand built on ending modern-day slavery and supporting garment workers in finding a sustainable career path.

Outland's Founding CEO, James Bartle, is a pretty inspirational character, and the driving force behind the brand's mission to make a difference in the lives of the people making your jeans.

Here he talks to us about his journey starting Outland Denim, and what to look for as a consumer wanting to shop more consciously.

Image courtesy of Sam Jam Photo and Outland Denim

What did your career look like before Outland?

Prior to Outland Denim I had founded an extreme sports tour group that travelled around Australia promoting healthy lifestyle choices to mostly youth. I was first exposed to the idea of creating apparel through merchandising for that business, though denim and sustainability weren't on my radar. This was back in the mid-2000s.

I had worked in various trades, including as an electrician and as a welder, so I had a very practical skill base. That came from my father; he's a painter by trade, and a pastor, but has run a farm for as long as I can remember, and he always took the time to demonstrate how to fix machinery. He also has a dogged work ethic.

Adapting my skill set to the requirements of jean making, and the mechanics of jean making, and setting up shop in a foreign country where I didn't speak the local language was a learning curve, but I think that once you have an appreciation for how things work, and how to do things well, and to be flexible in your learning and skill set, you can more easily move sideways into different fields. Outland was very hands-on from the beginning. 

How did you get started with Outland?

Outland Denim’s story began when my wife and I saw the movie ‘Taken’. While a fictional film, it was an introduction to an industry that exists today in 2022, where people are stolen and sold for profit; about 40.3 million people are caught up in modern slavery.

As we began to research, we soon discovered the complexity of the problem and its prevalence all over the world; no nation is untouched. I had the opportunity to travel through Southeast Asia, where I saw what the problem looked like on the ground.

We discovered that in addition to sex trafficking, trafficking for labour was also a common threat within vulnerable communities. We learnt that once a woman has been rescued and reintegrated into the community, a sustainable career path is vital for securing her future. Outland Denim was founded to offer that sustainable career path.

What does your typical day look like?

On a typical day I'll spend most of my time at our HQ on Mt Tamborine in the Gold Coast Hinterland.

Here I'll catch up with our team on brand and manufacturing activities, possibly sit on an online panel discussion, grab some lunch from Mountain Brew - the cafe next door, and spend a lot of time on phone calls. I can't help but pace when I'm on a call so if the team can't find me in the office they know I'm probably walking up and down the street on the phone getting my steps in!

At the end of the day I head home to enjoy spending the afternoon with my wife Erica and our three kids.

What are you most proud of achieving since starting Outland?

There are so many moments to celebrate. But the reason we started Outland is for impact, so the moment that stands out for me was in our earliest days, in talking to one of our first staff members.

We asked her about three years into her working with us, 'How is this helping you; this kind of employment and opportunity?' She went on to say that because of this opportunity she'd been able to build a home for her family who previously lived under a plastic sheet. She went on to say that she was also able to buy her sister back off a man that owned her. 

At that moment I thought, 'Well, I've reached my career high'.

Image courtesy of Sophie Baker Photography and Outland Denim

Which is your favourite Outland style?

I live in our Ranger jeans and Johnny tee.

What should consumers look for if they are wanting to start shopping more sustainably?

A few tips I would begin with:

  1. Look out for brands who are not just talking about environmental initiatives, but also how their garment workers and supply chain are treated.
  2. Be wary of greenwashing - which can present in brands making broad general statements without presenting evidence.
  3. Use 3rd party resources like Fashion Revolution, Good On You, Clean Clothes Campaign, B Corporation, and Fairtrade who research the practices of brands to help you find ones that match your values.
  4. Look for boutiques who specialise in offering sustainable brands (like Bay Store!). They and their team have done the leg work in looking at brands sustainability claims so that you don't have to.

How can consumers find out more about who makes their clothing?

Fashion Revolution has a great email template that customers can use to ask brands to share more information on the people who make their clothes.

However in the long term we hope to see stronger legislative action and also cultural shifts in brand leadership to normalise this kind of transparency so that customers do not need to continue to do the work in asking this question.

When it comes to your Outlands, the simplest way to connect with the person who made your jeans is to turn them inside out - each pair is finished with a special 'thank you' message printed inside. When you're finished reading it we invite you over to the Good For Humanity page of our website to send a message back -

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