Fighting Human Trafficking with Denim | Business with Purpose Podcast EP 218: James Bartle, Outland Denim
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Sex trafficking is a $99 billion industry, and human trafficking in its total is a $150 billion industry. The statistics around human trafficking can feel incredibly overwhelming and at times it can feel like there is just no way that we could ever make a real change in this industry. A denim company is striving to make a dent and a real difference in fighting human trafficking. My guest this week is the incredible James Bartle, founder and CEO of Outland Denim. Outland Denim started as a means to provide stable employment and income opportunity to women who would otherwise be vulnerable to human trafficking. But James didn’t stop there. He innovated on industry standards to create an incredible line of jeans with a minimal footprint. This was an absolutely phenomenal conversation. James has been a highly requested guest this year, and I was really honored to have him on the show. We touch on some important topics and you’ll see what I mean when I say that I could have talked to him for hours!
4:32 – The James 101
- James is the CEO and founder of Outland Denim, which has been in the marketplace for about four years now. They’ve spent the last six years developing their business model to impact people around the world and right environmental and social injustices. James knew in order to truly accomplish this, he needed to be impacted first.
- James was first introduced to what human trafficking is while seeing the movie Taken. The film mentioned in text that human trafficking happens in the real world, and it really affected James. Over the next few years, James and his wife started researching more about the issue. James had a chance to travel with a rescue agency through Southeast Asia and witnessed a life-changing and heart-breaking situation where someone was selling a young girl.
- James thought of his young nieces and now his own daughters. He was horrified that any human has to be sold for their own survival, family’s survival or are stolen and held captive. They knew it was an economic problem and if they wanted to solve it, they needed to come up with something that addressed the economic system and/or situation that was making them vulnerable.
- It is important to recognized that human trafficking is very nuanced and complex. It can’t be summarized in one movie. For James it was a very gradual learning experience. He wished he could go fix the problem immediately but realized it would be much more complicated than that.
- James realized that it wasn’t until they could address the roots of the problem and systemic issues that they could really start to help people out of trafficking. They knew they needed to equip people to make their own decisions to change on their own through education and opportunity.
12:19 – Change Can Come from Us
- Sometimes there is a disconnect approaching Human Trafficking from a business standpoint when a portion of profits go toward a cause. James and Outland Denim began early-on by melding with another industry: the ethical fashion industry. At the root of the fashion industry is trafficking. James chose to merge the two things by fighting trafficking while building a sustainable fashion brand.
- James learned early on in his education about trafficking that nearly 80% of people that come through rescue programs often end up in a worse position later down the road because there’s no way for them to move forward with a plan or new life.
- Before Outland Denim, James never gave the health of the environment a second thought, but once he was able to link environmental degradation to social injustice. He realized that his worldview as a Christian should also include a responsibility to protect the planet and that doing so also helps protect marginalized people groups.
16:10 – The People and the Planet
- Outland Denim understands that you can’t care for people without the planet or the planet without the people: they are very much connected. They decided to try to use industry to challenge the environmental degradation of the planet by the fashion industry while also impacting not only the lives of marginalized people groups all over the world, but even the sales associate and the brand’s stakeholders.
- James sees denim as the ultimate product for changing the world. It’s one of the most unsustainable and damaging fabrics in fashion. The chemicals, water, and energy used is massive.
- Denim can also hold a nostalgic comfort in our psyches. James compares it to music. It can conjure memories and emotions. Everyone has their favorite pair of jeans that they never want to throw out that can transport them to another time or distant memory. The goal is to remove the environmental damage and keep the positive impact. Outland Denim even prints messages of thanks in the jean pockets from the women makers who made that pair of jeans.
- If ethical brands are not thinking about making a product that customers want, it’s just a “pity purchase.” It doesn’t empower the artisan who made the product. When a product has consumer demand, you sell more product and are able to employ more people.
- We can’t push people into the change, but we can inspire them to want to be a part of the movement. More Christians can lead the way in supporting ethical fashion. If we are called to love our neighbors more than ourselves and deny ourselves and follow Jesus, we can invite others to be a part of a bigger story like Jesus does for us.
34:39 – Global Brand
- Outland Denim had a successful launch in Australia, and then James’ wife told him about WWD (Apparel and Retail CEO) Summit happening in New York (about 5 years ago). There was no mention of sustainability in the presentations he heard. It was all about finding cheaper production in another country and how other markets were doing. It was disheartening for James to witness where the fashion industry was then, about five years ago.
- James sat next to a man and the two got to discussing what James did for a living. The man grabbed a handful of James’ jeans and told him, “Tell all your investors they’re about to lose all their money!” The man’s wife, embarrassed by her husband’s actions, invited James to lunch and they stayed in touch after the Summit.
- It turns out the man was a distributor in Canada, and he invited James to come visit to show him the jeans. He took a big risk and put James in front three of the biggest retailers in Canada. They gave him 20 minutes, looked at the product, heard the pitch and an hour and a half later, everyone is crying and wanting to know how to help.
- The next day, another retailer came with a family member who was extremely passionate about sustainability and that retailer, Harry Rosen, Inc., still supports Outland Denim to this day. They’ve helped evolve the brand, the product, and bring relevance to their customer.
- Not long after that, Outland Denim signed a contract with David Jones, one of the biggest retailers in Australia. And shortly after that, Megan Markle visited Australia, WEARING OUTLAND DENIM JEANS! The media went crazy and James had to jump on a plane for TV appearances. She really opened the brand up to the world and because of the attention, Outland Denim was able to hire 46 new seamstresses!
- That lead to more exposure to other retailers and right before Covid-19 hit, Outland Denim launched with the new Nordstrom store in New York City! Many retailers really do want to be a part of creating change now and are supportive of brands that do. To support the brand, it is important for purchases to go through retailers, and is generally sustainable well into the future.
Tune in to hear how Outland Denim has been affected by Covid-19 and the creative ways they are working toward the future. Find out how we can turn the word “consumerism” into a positive phrase and solve global issues that the government isn’t able to solve.
46:54 – Getting to Know Our Guest
- Enjoy hearing some fun facts about what James’ favorite movie was when he was growing up, his guilty pleasure, some common misconceptions about Australians and Americans, and of all of his pet peeves, which is the strangest, and more! You’ve got to tune in to the end to hear from James what it means to him to run a business with purpose!
9:54: “If we really want to create change, we’ve got to change people’s hearts in countries like ours ad well as countries that we work in. We’ve got to be able to create opportunity that gives everybody, people in developing and poor nations, the same opportunities we have to be educated, have health care, save (money), and live with their families. Just the basic stuff.”
11:46 “It is incredibly powerful when you put the power back in the hands of the people to make the change themselves: you give them what they need to be successful at it and everything changes.”
32:02 – I hope that’s a legacy about the brand, that it would have a small part to play in motivating our staff that “You’re not a victim, but you’re somebody that has so much to offer in your community and in the world.” If we all look for that opportunity and use it, we’re going to create massive impact.
Thank you to our partners of the show:
Did you know I have an ethical brand directory? That’s what Chelsea used to start finding products for her boutique almost four years ago! Now, Amma’s Umma carries over 50 intentionally sourced brands and is the perfect one stop shop for all your gift giving needs. As a thank you to the Still Being Molly community, she is offering 20% off with code SHOPWITHMOLLY. Head to shopwithmolly.com for all the details.
At GOEX, we believe in the power of purchase. We use a simple t-shirt to connect our customers with their apparel makers. GOEX customers sustain fair wage jobs that liberate workers from poverty and empower them in their families and communities. We are proud to be a verified member of the Fair Trade Federation. Shop sustainable, eco-friendly t-shirts and sweatshirts with purpose today at goexapparel.com.
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The Lemonade Boutique
This episode is sponsored by The Lemonade Boutique, a women’s clothing with a cause store. Featuring ethically made and fair trade items from over 10 countries, every item is made by women facing extreme challenges such as trafficking, poverty, and more. Your purchase empowers women to take life’s lemons and make lemonade. Shop at THELemonadeBoutique.com. Listeners of the Business with Purpose Podcast can save 15% by using code PURPOSE15 at checkout.
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