Ethical Brand ‘Outland Denim’ Expands Operations in Canada

By Mario Toneguzzi

Outland Denim, the sustainable Australian fashion brand with a mandate to combat human trafficking, has expanded its wholesale operations in Canada through high-profile retailers such as Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew and now Sporting Life.

Outland Denim was started in 2011 with a mandate to combat human trafficking (and the sex trade) in Asia. James Bartle, a former Australian motocross racer, wanted to create a fair, conscious and sustainable fashion brand – and a new model for doing business. The brand started with pop up sales at music festivals in Australia. Today it is a Certified B Corporation global brand, having launched in Canada in 2018 with Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen.

The company rescues people from the sex trade in Cambodia and gives them a living wage and way out of the poverty cycle.

The company is also 100 per cent sustainable using vegetable dyes, recycled zippers and rivets, ethically sourced cotton.

The company manufactures its jeans in Cambodia employing about 100 people.

“We know that true sustainability is only ever going to be achieved if we’ve very strategic about the way we scale,” said Bartle.

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“We started selling (in Canada) in the spring 2018 with a very, very soft sell to test the market . . . We’re brand new in Canada. We’re selling men’s with Harry Rosen and women’s with Holt Renfrew. And we have Sporting Life and a range of different independent stores as well as online.”

Bartle said the company is hoping to grow its brand in Canada.

“Canadians have been early adopters of the brand. Your biggest retailers have seen what this brand can offer,” said Bartle, adding that the advantage those retailers get with the unique brand is bringing new customers to those locations.

“As they start to learn that we’re sold in those stores, we’re bringing the kind of customer that’s looking for that ethical purchase.”

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The genesis of Outland Denim really began when Bartle encountered an anti-trafficking group at a music festival and then traveled to Asia to see how human traffickers prey on vulnerable young girls to service the sex industry.

According to the company website, after learning that once a girl has been rescued and supported through her recovery, a sustainable career path is vital for securing her future, Bartle created the "Denim Project,” which would enable those girls who demonstrated an interest in sewing to put their new skills to use.

"I've always lived in jeans. If you were going to produce anything, why wouldn't you produce the most staple part of a person's wardrobe? Jeans aren't a throw-away item, but something you keep for years,” he said.

The company says it is committed to sourcing the most ethically and environmentally sound raw materials, from organic denim and pocket lining to recycled packaging.

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As a Certified B Corporation, Outland Denim is part of a group of businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

The company is based in the little town of Tamborine Mountain, about an hour's drive from Brisbane, Australia, which is where its flagship store and office is located. Its manufacturing operation - The Sewing Room -  is based in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, about three hours from the capital, Phnom Penh.

Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: mdtoneguzzi@gmail.com

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