Australian-born James Bartle is the founding CEO of a denim brand that’s making jeans differently by giving young girls who are victims of human trafficking employment opportunities in developing nations.
“I had the opportunity to actually travel with a rescue agency that was directly responsible for identifying and rescuing women who had been stolen and sold,” Bartle said.
“On that trip in southeast Asia, I saw a little girl for sale, and when you see something like that with your own eyes, it’s very hard to turn away.”
The trip was a life-changing moment for Bartle. His passion and purpose to prevent the trafficking of young girls have been the driving force behind Outland Denim, a Toronto-based company that generates employment and training opportunities for women in developing countries like Cambodia.
“From the moment we employ them, we spend about three years in training them in the process of making jeans,” Bartle said. “If the women could learn to make the entire jean and not just a pocket or belt loop the way it’s done in traditional factories then they’ll become highly skilled seamstresses, and therefore, that gives them independence.”
“For us to be able to provide living wages for people versus minimal wages — which means they probably get to enjoy life where they can have health care, education, pay rent and go out for dinner on a Friday night — that’s the stuff that changes people’s lives,” Bartle added.
From the start, Bartle’s motivation was to create social and environmental change. Six years later, he’s done just that by using the fashion industry as a catalyst.
“We hear the word sustainability thrown around pretty loosely these days, and it’s my mission to be able to educate people on what sustainability really means,” Bartle said.
“It’s really about how we start back at the farm level where the fibres are grown and then follow that process through our supply chain, making sure that people are treated the right way in the process, but then it’s produced in the most sound environmental way that there is.”
From hiring two women six years ago to having 100 employees currently on staff, Bartle credits each one for being the driving force behind his denim brand.
“There is no question: these women are the driving force behind the brand. I think every brand today needs to have a purpose, and ours is really solid,” Bartle said. “We started because of that purpose, we didn’t attach it to that brand. Our brand was attached to our purpose.”