S & S Spotlight: Outland Denim

At A Glance

Outland is a brand that dares to dream the possibilities of denim. Through empowerment, sustainability and transparency, founder James Bartle and his dedicated team deliver denim that seeks to eliminate poverty.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to meet with James and Head of Design, Claire Ford to view their collection and learn about their mission.

In Focus

If you’ve ever travelled to Cambodia or surrounding South East Asian countries, you may have witnessed the disproportionately high number of children and young women working in unregulated industries. This could be garment shops or walking the streets at night where they are often sexually exploited or face illegal trafficking.

Whilst most citizens are aware of the environmental degradation created by the fashion industry, at times the social repercussions of the global value chain and conditions workers are subjected to fall second in importance.
Most founders site their connection with the environment as a driver for starting their business, however James was spurred by Liam Neeson’s famed Taken (2008). Themes of child slavery and the trafficking of women were re-emphasised when he witnessed a girl for sale in Cambodia. Over the last decade, this problem persists where over $150 billion worth of illicit trading of humans takes place.

Thus, the idea of Outland was born with a truly integrative approach to its supply chains, social impact, environmental effect and governance. The foundation of the business model was carefully considered for years prior to launching on the market – the dedication to principles over profit is clear. Their authenticity and drive have earned their status as a certified B corporation as well as accreditations like their A + rating from Ethical Fashion Report and Eco Age brandmark. They have the sustainable development goals at the core of their purpose, in particular Goal 1 to end all poverty and Goal 8 to provide decent work and economic growth. (Read about the UN’s 2030 17 Sustainable Development Goals here).

Sustainability and transparency credentials aside, every wardrobe needs denim and one need to look no further than Outland for staple pieces. Their campaign #MadeOnPurpose is strong, questioning what did your jeans do today? Whether it’s giving safe work to women in need, providing health, education, fair living wages or made using less water and energy, double denim has never been so easy.

Claire walked me through their considered range of cuts and colours that use natural indigos and organic chemicals, many favoured by the likes of the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.  The jackets and my personal favourite – the jumpsuits, complete the edit making Outland the one-stop shop destination for your apparel.

Claire later shared her thoughts with me – “I believe that as a designer we have a huge responsibility, 80% of the impact of each garment is decided at the design stage so we need to design the whole process as well as the garment and create timeless pieces people will want to keep forever. As well as the environmental and economical impact, social impact is rarely discussed, even at sustainability events. 98% of garment workers do not make enough to meet their basic needs, a living wage is a human right! I love working for a brand that empowers their staff to forge their own path in life, free of poverty & exploitation.”

A touch that connects the wearer with the hands that made each piece are the messages found inside the pockets of the garments.

Unlike the vast networks and multiple tiered supply chains of mass market denim retailers where warehouses and labour are unregulated, Outland distinguishes itself.

At the crux of Outland’s denim is the philosophy of being made with opportunity. Social empowerment is fundamental to the company’s DNA. The seamstresses in their factory earn a living wage, they are trained over the course of two years with a programme that provides long term opportunities. Claire recently visited the factory where she worked with the team directly to train and teach them new techniques.

For over 100 of their workers, financial security, education, and most importantly – hope, has been made possible by James and the team.

This should be a source of inspiration for all in the clothing sector as they champion best practice and collaborate with stakeholders including government bodies and the UN global compact to alleviate wrong doing in the industry in general.

The Need To Know: Denim On Closer Inspection

The water intensive nature of denim throughout its lifecycle has raised many an eyebrow. Here’s why:

  • The average pair of jeans utilise 3000-9000 litres of water – the equivalent to 4-12 years of drinking water for 1 person.
  • 68% of water usage comes from growing the cotton alone. (Outland only uses organic cotton which typically uses around 30% less water.)
  • 9% of water is used in finishing the garment.
  • 23% of water is used in consumer care – in the washing of our clothes.

Outland’s life cycle operations combat this. Here’s how:  

  • O- Zone – They wash garments with ozonated water instead of sodium hypochloride or potassium permanganate. This saves up to 65% of water, 20% energy and 80% nasty chemicals.
  • E-flow machines – These replace conventional stone and acid washing with air from the atmosphere. It transforms into nano bubbles with eco-friendly chemicals which are then dispersed across the surface area of the fabric. This saves 95% of water, 40% energy, 90% chemicals.
  • Laser techniques – the investment in unorthodox lasers means that no chemicals/water/potassium permanganate are used to remove indigo.
  • Organic chemicals – Paying a premium of over fifty times the price of conventional denim chemicals to ensure zero harm is created.  (If you’re interested in chemicals in the fashion industry you can read more here.)
  • Indigoferra dye  – A non synthetic indigo. Indigoferra is a natural vegetable dye, bright in colour, made with bio-resins and natural enzymes which use less water and energy. They also choose ecru as this is one of the most sustainable colours on offer!
  • Recycle metalwear – This  requires less water, energy, electricity and chemicals in the process and means no electroplating (metal finishing).
  • Waste – Any residual waste from the production process is donated and the team are currently innovating a new process!

Final Thoughts

Being sustainable and socially responsible is not a zero-sum game, it can benefit all stakeholders, the hands that stitch our denim, the planet and the business. Outland Denim proves your jeans can be a tool to use fashion as a force for good and are a beacon of hope within the industry.

Their designs are as gorgeous as they are ethical and sustainable. I fell in love with the story of the Cambodian women that create these and there’s no doubt you will too.

You can purchase Outland denim here – keep your eyes peeled as they will hopefully be available for purchase in the UK very soon!

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