Chat with Owner of Outland Denim Erica Bartle
How and why did Outland denim start?
To put it simply, we learnt about a problem and decided to create a solution! The problem, of course, is big: 40.3 million people worldwide are victims of human slavery; about 19% of those are victims of sexual exploitation, and 99% of these are women and girls. We wanted to provide the opportunity for some of these young women to create a better life for themselves with dignified employment, living wages, and the opportunity to grow and learn under the umbrella of a company who deeply cares about them. But also, women worldwide make up the lion’s share of the 60-70 million people working in the garment industry, and they are often paid poverty wages for making our clothes. So we have sought to address both issues with one neat brand. That’s Outland Denim.
Who is involved in the business? How big is it?
We have grown considerably from our little team of five seamstresses to more than 100 staff in Cambodia, where we have concentrated our operations. We also have a staff of around 10 people in Australia, and agencies across the world who represent our brand with retailers.
Where are the jeans made?
Our jeans are cut, sewn and trimmed in our very own production house in a Cambodian province (we can’t disclose the exact location, as the identifies of some of our staff have to be guarded), and they are washed in our shiny new eco-friendly facility in Phnom Penh.
How important is a sustainable working policy to you?
It’s everything. We try to scale our production according to the market (i.e. what people actually want!) and according to the feedback we receive from customers and retailers around the world. Sometimes we miss the mark, but our intention is to always be, erm, intentional in our work! We source quality sustainable raw materials and apply beautiful craftsmanship to our jeans; it’s important to us that our jeans are worn and loved by the people who invest in them!
Describe what happened when Megan Markle wore your jeans?
That was a game-changer. Ms Markle has a phenomenal effect on fashion sales when she wears a designer’s garments, and we were so proud and lucky to be the beneficiaries of her “Markle effect”. That said, it can create problems in terms of scale and meeting demand and customer expectations. We are still a relatively small enterprise, and we endeavour to do things the exact right way, and don’t cut corners, so to keep on track under the pressure of an unexpected but nevertheless welcome sales spike increased interest in our brand is hard but also worthwhile. She is the gift that keeps on giving – every time her ethical/sustainable fashion choices are talked about, there is Outland Denim. Maybe people are sick of hearing about us? Ha!
Are you a jeans girl? What’s your fave pair?
Absolutely. At least six days a week. Every now and then I have to bust out a skirt or a dress, though, to channel my inner girl. My favourite pair are the Lucy True Blue – they’re a straight leg, beautiful mid-blue wash with a vintage look and feel that sit just right on my post-babies belly and they’re amazingly comfortable as they’re made with organic cotton!
How has the experience of running the business been compared to the reality? Hmm, the experience of running the business alongside my husband would have to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. Not just because we are both stubborn and pig-headed with very strong ideas and opinions, but also because we are trying to raise two little ones while also needing to be available 24/7 to the business. That doesn’t quite work! I don’t think we have it figured out quite yet, though the Meghan effect has also allowed us, and shown us, the necessity of having experienced staff in vital support roles.
What has running your business taught you about other people?
People can be so good – there has been so much goodwill toward what we are trying to achieve. People are very genuine in their support and willingness to make personal sacrifices to help us get the business across the line. Our staff are so dedicated! They are amazing! If you are committed to a good cause, people really want to rally.
What has running your business taught you about yourself?
So much! And most of it not good! I am a terrible perfectionist, so have struggled a lot over the years to admit that I simply can’t do my job to the best of my ability while also being very dedicated to motherhood, and wanting to be very hands-on with our little girls (I hate missing a school pick-up or Baby Rhyme Time!). It just doesn’t work – you kind of end up being shit at both, and work stress + small children stress = yikes! So admitting that has been a learning curve. I am also hopeless at some of the aspects that my job has necessitated, hence we have been able to employ people to make good on my shortfall. I think I have fired myself twice. And I really can’t work late nights after the kids go to sleep. I am human and need sleep not Wonderwoman! On a positive note, I’m pretty good at some things, too, and it’s nice to be able to parlay some of that into a business working to the betterment of the world.
What excites you most about Outland Denim?
So much! We are really carving a path for ourselves in the ethical and sustainable fashion space on a global level, while also honing in on the styles that we offer, because people want to wear wonderful ethical brands but they also want to look cool too.
What pair of jeans do you think looks good on everyone?
Oh, the Lucy! That classic, straight-leg, slim-fit cut that goes with sneakers or heels or boots. It is my uniform jean for work and mum-hood. But if you’re into skinnies, it’s the Black high-waisted Harriet jean that Meghan wore – everyone needs a pair of quality black skinny jeans. If you’re a bloke, the Dusty is my pick!