In the Badlands of Fashion

Hidden amongst the Hinterland of the Gold Coast there is a battle brewing, whose cause has been supported by the Duchess of Sussex and locals alike. Get it’s Kathleen Loxton is at the frontline reporting on Australia’s fight for ethically and environmentally produced fashion

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Photo: Cameron Spencer and Getty Images

Denim, like a great pair of jeans, is a ladies’ best friend and a comfort piece we reach for in time of strife. It’s something every woman has in her closet, and yet how we choose to purchase this garment has impact far beyond our daily style. It affects the lives behind every stitch and the environment in which it’s created.

With fast fashion increasingly available to us, and designer brand’s long-held production secrets revealed, the fashion industry’s darker side is being illuminated by savvy consumers and conscious fashion lovers. Over the last few years, headlines have been plastered with the likes of: factory fires caused by malpractice in developing areas, clothing brands burning unused stock and workers getting unjust pay – or not getting paid at all. Human trafficking and modern-day slavery has also been infiltrating the world of fashion, causing a chain of poverty with those in it trapped in a cycle of abuse with little hope of breaking free and finding opportunities for a better life.

It doesn’t just impact the international market either, and here in Australia we have a responsibility to play our part too. In fact, SBS reported last year, “Less than 10 per cent of Australian fashion brands scored an A or A+ on an annual report into ethical fashion production around the world.”

That’s why the drive to take this fight from our sun-kissed shores and beyond is so strong for founder James Bartle and his team at Outland Denim.

James noted, “People are passionate about their denims and loyal to their favourite denim labels.The universal, egalitarian appeal of denim speaks to our core as a humanitarian brand seeking to create lasting social change for vulnerable peoples, more particularly young women.”

The pivotal moment behind this core value was James’ first encounter with the very real 150-billion-dollar business of illicit trade in human beings. After watching the 2008 film Taken, James fortuitously met with an NGO doing work in the field, he had the opportunity to travel to Asia to see firsthand what it was like on the ground, and how human traffickers prey on vulnerable young girls.

After a research period, James learnt that once a girl has been rescued and integrated into her family or community, a sustainable career path is vital for securing her future. It was from here that the foundations of Outland Denim were placed as an avenue for training, employment, and career progression for women who have experienced, or are at risk of experiencing, sex trafficking and other social injustices.

Outland Denim Cambodia

“For our seamstresses and their communities, the impact of purchasing a pair of Outland Denim jeans is not a flash in the pan, but a contribution to true generational social change. Along the way we have learnt that denim is not only one of the most challenging segments of the fashion industry to break in to, but also one of their dirtiest. So, while we set out to create something 100% socially sustainable, we now see the opportunity and our responsibility to help clean up the denim industry too” said James.

It was obvious in his tone how passionate James is about this cause and the brand, in particular when he recalled seeing Reasmey*, a tailor at Outland Denim who has a significant physical disability: “What this job means to her, how our team has rallied around her and supported her, and how she has become one of our best seamstresses…that is what does it for me. That is what keeps me going.’’

This ethical responsibility of consumers to make the right purchasing choices spans global consideration and calls for reflection on what is happening in our own backyard. Last year the ABC reported on the findings of the Australian Human Rights Law Centre, which stated of the approximately 25 million slaves worldwide, around 4,300 modern slaves live in Australia.The Sydney Morning Herald reported around the same time that the global endemic crosses all fields, in particularly: sex work, fishing, construction, hospitality and textiles.

Jeans aren’t a throw-away item (or, they shouldn’t be), but something you keep for years if they’re of a good quality and the right fit. They wear with you.

James is determined the future of fashion is bright though, explaining: “This is the direction people are insisting the fashion industry move towards. According to the Business of Fashion’s 2018 State of Fashion report, millennials as a generation are particularly interested in more sustainable solutions when it comes to their clothing, with 66 percent of global millennials willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. Their voice is being supported and amplified by organisations such as Good On You, B Corporation, Fashion Revolution, EcoAge, and many more who are working to bridge the gap between brands and consumers and build understanding on both sides.”

The tearing down of the veil of secrecy between fashion brands and consumers is an integral step towards greater industry transparency and consumer autonomy, but we still have some way to go. The BBC reported last year that while clothing production has doubled in 15 years, we’re discarding more than ever before, and yet approximately only 1 percent of our clothes are ultimately recycled. It is businesses like Outland Denim and the Australian public who can make a huge impact right here at home. According to SBS Australia’s demand for textiles is one of the highest per capita in the world, with the fast fashion sector having grown 19.5 per cent over five years – we can make a difference by choosing where fashion’s future goes.

James Bartle and his team at Outland Denim

In Outland Denim’s future, it is without a shadow of a doubt 2019 will be a monumental year for the brand. Currently they are working hard to open their own wash house; a state- of-the-art facility in Cambodia providing the opportunity to welcome more workers to the Outland Denim family whilst giving the company greater control over their environmental footprint. They’ll also be launching their first leather-free range of garments, partnering with some new stockists and allowing customers to discover and sample denims before they buy around the globe. On the design side, Outland Denim will introduce exciting new styles including their first skirt (the Florence), statement white colourways, the oversized Ava jacket and an increased offering in old favourites, such as the Harriet and the Ranger jean.

As for those humble pair of jeans in your wardrobe? We love James’ approach: “Jeans aren’t a throw-away item (or, they shouldn’t be), but something you keep for years if they’re of a good quality and the right fit. They wear with you. They’re like the lifelong friend who goes through all your ups and downs and stays faithful. You might not see them for a while, but you can guarantee that they will be there for you when you want them. For most people, they’re the foundation to a wardrobe that you build upon.”

So, Get it girls, get inspired to make sure that the story behind your clothing is a beautiful as it looks on you. We know we speak for all of us when we say we’ll be joining the fight to make the fashion industry more beautiful, one pair of jeans at a time.

*Name changed to protect the identity of seamstress as per Outland Denim Media Protocol.

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