James Bartle, Outland Denim

Handouts just don't work, but giving people an opportunity to pull themselves out of this horrible situation has a real flow on effect on their personal lives and they gain a real sense of purpose.

For James Bartle, it all started with one movie – ‘Taken’ starring Liam Neeson. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it’s a pretty heavy flick that shines a light on the terrible world of human trafficking. Having two young nieces at the time, the movie rattled him but also sparked something inside – he had to do something to fight human trafficking and exploitation. Fast forward five years, and the former welder and freestyle motorcross rider is now the driving force of Outland Denim, a brand that is selling jeans to help fund agencies on the front line in places like Cambodia and Thailand. It’s a fair leap from his former life, but the Mount Tamborine local is now tackling the issue head on by selling everyone’s wardrobe staple to fuel the fight, and it’s all because he decided to watch a movie. Oh, and by the way – the jeans are really rad. 

So, how does one make the jump from being a freestyle motorbike rider and welder to creating fashion brand?
Well, they actually cross over – building a metal structure and creating a pair of jeans – it’s the same principles really! Over the past five years I have been learning about denim, and having professional consultants come and teach us and our employees in Cambodia what we need to know. I’ve always been working towards getting Outland Denim to the stage were I can be in the business full time. Like the welding and bike riding – it’s still all business, so the components are all the same.

What has been the biggest learning curve?
It’s the fashion part and learning a new product, how it’s manufactured and how to get the quality where it needs to be that’s been the steepest learning curve. What I’ve also learned over the past five years is that it’s really important to have that commercial value also – if it doesn’t make money it’s not sustainable, so it’s really important that we put a lot of effort into the business’ commercial sustainability.

What sparked your interest in the issue of human trafficking?
The very first thing that got me interested in the issue of human trafficking was when I watched Liam Neeson’s movie Taken – that really rattled me. It got me thinking about the issue and my wife and I looked into a little bit, but we then came across an organisation called Destiny Rescue, who find girls that have been stolen and sexually exploited and they give them other opportunities and rescue them from whatever situation they’re in. These organisations are on the front line – they are the ones finding these girls and putting them though restoration programs where they can get the help they need. A trip overseas to see what this organisation does was when I first witnessed this with a really young looking girl. I had two young nieces at the time, so it really shook me. That was the moment where it became definite for me that I wanted to do something to help. Having kids now has made it all a lot more real for me.

Tell us a bit more about the intentions of Outland Denim and why Cambodia is the focus?
Poverty is one of the greatest contributors to the issue of human trafficking and exploitation. We spend of time researching the issue, and it all comes down to sustainable employment. Handouts just don’t work, but giving people an opportunity to pull themselves out of this horrible situation has a real flow on effect on their personal lives and they gain a real sense of purpose. We’ve kicked off our campaign ’50 for the frontline’, which sees $50 from every pair of jeans we sell doing directly to the frontline agencies. Our intention with Outland Denim has always been to support these organisations – that’s why we exist and that’s the only reason we do it.

Can you see that what you’re doing is working?
We’ve got the proof of this funding pulling people out of poverty. There is one young girl that got to purchase her sister back off someone else who had purchased her – there are lots of amazing stories like that that we’ve got the proof of now which is really important to us. We’ve employed local staff, from the seamstresses to the managers, in our facility in Cambodia. To operate these facilities well you need to be able to understand culture, which is hard for foreigners. You need that local advice and support otherwise it would be a disaster – you’d be thinking you’re doing the right thing, but you’re actually making it harder for them.

What’s next for Outland Denim?
We plan to launch into the states next year – there’s a lot work to do. There’s a big population over there, but it’s a no-brainer because at the end of the day it comes down to the more jeans we sell, the more girls get  rescued.


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