James Bartle Outland Denim Interview | ProActive Podcast by MeMedia #119
James Bartle is the founder of Outland Denim, a clothing company determined to help put an end to worker exploitation and human trafficking.
Listen as he discusses with Chris Hogan how consumerism can be a force for good, the need for businesses to have a purpose, and why there’s hope in the fight against slavery.
- Chris Hogan coming to you for episode 119 of the proactive podcasts. And I'm here today with James Bartle, the founder of Outland Denim, a brand that's 100% built on purpose, welcome James.
- Yeah, cheers Chris.
- [Announcer] welcome to the proactive podcast, brought to you by MeMedia.
Chris Hogan - Thanks so much for joining us mate, just come a little bit closer to that mic. Mate, I'm just gonna read a little bit of a update on a bio on Outland Denim, 'cause some of you may not know who they are and it was founded in 2011 and to provide opportunity to women to have, who have experienced exploitation. Outland Denim invests in underprivileged communities through employment. Today the brand welcomes employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability and social injustice, offering training, living wages and educational opportunities as well as leading in sustainable fabric practises and water usage. 750 people so far have benefited from a stable employment with Outland Denim in Cambodia. Mate, congratulations are in order.
- Cheers, Man.
Chris Hogan - May, because in May, 2020 mid pandemic, mid GFC 2.0, basically we saw you close out an equity crowdfunding campaign raising $1.3 million.
- Yeah, yeah. It wasn't a good time to be doing it, it wasn't.
Chris Hogan - Mate, you wouldn't say so, but I think your target was, what was your target?
- Yeah, well look, we put a target if we could get over 500K, because we're right in the midst of a pandemic, we thought we'd be doing well and we hit that really quickly. Actually we were the fastest company that platform had ever had to hit their minimum target. So, you know, it just proves, I think that there's an appetite for, you know business that's built on purpose.
Chris Hogan - 100%, and mate music to my ears, that's what proactive is all about is building brands on purpose and mate you call yourself the people's brand, tell me a bit more about that.
- Yeah, look I mean, I've always dreamed of being able to have a brand that could benefit as many people from the beginning to the end. And I think when we talk about things like brands built on purpose or proactive brands or businesses you know, we often think about the immediate need that the business or brand exists to help. And for us, that's vulnerable women in situations where they've been exploited and it's our job to be able to give these opportunities, to sort of give them a much more stable future and then also the environmental side. But, we forget often about then the next part, and that's where, you know, the other stakeholders come into our brand. That's the media who talk about it, it's the retailers who sell it the sales associate on the sales floor who sells it and whose family rely upon those sales. And so for us, it was, it just made absolute sense to be able to raise equity in this way where we could offer it back to the community, the people who genuinely wanna see the change that we exist to create within the fashion industry. So, that's the reason we call ourselves a people's brand is we believe that everyone from the very beginning, that person who plants that seed in the ground, to the very end person who buys and wears the product needs to benefit from this. And if we can create that will then really where we haven't created a model, it's got this impact from beginning to end that we dreamed of.
Chris Hogan - Awesome mate. And so like I often say that the the ultimate brand goal is to have an emotional connection with your consumer. Are you seeing people you know, that buy once, come back and buy again and again, and then they, that they do have an emotional connection with Outland Denim.
- Well your one of them.
Chris Hogan - yeah.
- I mean, I look up your profile and you've bought a few pairs of jeans off person. So absolutely, there's absolutely no question that when people go, look I'm buying a product that is worth it's price because of the quality and the lifestyle that the brand represents. But then also I know that I'm helping create a much better future as a result of purchasing this product. I mean, that's a no brainer for most people today and know the cherry on top is when they open up the product and they rate on the inside of one of the pockets, a little thank you note written by one of the seamstresses. And you know, usually that's a pretty powerful tool to engage our customers with the lives of those that are the ones that are producing their products.
Chris Hogan - Right, most businesses, all businesses should be solving a problem worth solving, you know, not another coffee app, you know, not another, you know, way to, I guess, save money every time you purchase a coffee you know? Yes, saving is important, but there's plenty of crap ideas out there and solving a problem worth solving, I think you are definitely doing that. And I think there the challenge that most businesses have when they're trying to establish their purpose and how their business is going to operate and why they exist, they don't have a problem big enough that's worth solving. I mean, and you've sort of taken it like to a world level, where you're trynna solve one human trafficking, so anti-human trafficking. I mean, that was the original reason why you started the business.
- Absolutely, yeah.
Chris Hogan - And coincidentally, yeah Taken was on TV last night and yeah, it's a shocking, shocking industry that I suppose you can call it an industry.
- It is, it's an industry. Yeah, it's worth $150 billion. Like it's a full blowing, massive profitable industry.
Chris Hogan - Yeah, and so, and Denim jeans how much, what's value of that industry 66 billion, I think something like that.
- Yeah, it's huge. I mean but it's nothing in comparison to human trafficking and, but fashion is in the trillions and it's a monster of a thing. It's, you know, one of the worst exploiters of all industries and of people and planet. And so it's also the ultimate industry to be able to challenge some of these massive wrongs that we see as normal today. So whether that be human exploitation of whatever kind or environmental degradation. And the exciting part is that we're in a time in history where we can address these issues and the community is gonna get behind it and back it. And in fact it's become a very popular thing to do is to be seen to be supporting these kinds of initiatives. So we don't want anyone to have to sacrifice and make a donation. Actually, what we want people to do is just buy products that treat the people and the planet and the way that they deserve to be treated. And if we could do that, then the future is absolutely bright. The future is full of solving problems, and the fashion industry is the perfect place to start.
Chris Hogan - Yeah, right. I mean, that's shocking that you know, the fashion industry is one of the worst offenders. Are you, talking things like sweat shops and, I mean slavery and.
- Yeah, man slavery like, you know, one of our staff members, you know 17 year old girl taken as a 14 year old with her friend into Malaysia and held as a literal hostage there as a slave making clothing her friend died while there, because unfortunately today it's cheaper to replace a slave than to look after them. Until eventually she was rescued by an incredible NGO which is where we came into contact with her and were able to give her the next step in employment, an opportunity beyond what she had faced in her past. That's unfortunately a very common story. And to us, that sounds like my gosh like let's get the rights to that thing and write a movie, but that's so many millions of people around the world. In fact you know, the rate of slavery today is much higher, it's growing, it's not getting smaller. But again, I keep coming back to the fact that I think we're at a very unique time in history that's gonna be marked by a time when industry stepped up and went no, no more. And we see that happening in places like Australia with the government saying introducing the Modern Slavery Act. And that's a first step, it's not the end goal, but it's a first step in being able to hold companies to account for the way that they operate, the practises that they introduce into their company culture. And today we're seeing companies having to completely rethink the way they operate. And the funny thing is that most humans don't exist to be bad. We don't want to be, but unfortunately we're all part of the problem, I'm part of the problem too. And so that's what's exciting is that now we can innovate and create and come up with new businesses that address these issues. And you started before talking about the idea that, you know it's hard for brands to find the purpose or businesses to find the purpose, their why. And we've addressed one which is a big one, but it's also our superpower. If we weren't addressing an issue as big as this or an issue that needs a solution as much as this, I would have quit a long time ago, but I can't quit because I think about those people and I go, the future could be very different for them. If only we could create something that changed the opportunities they have to be able to be prosperous on their own. And if that could become a globally recognised movement or business model, so not just our business, but if other businesses adopt this kind of model, then man the sky is literally the limit. You could do anything, you could change the world. You could end poverty through business
Chris Hogan - 100% James. And that comes from, I believe the 1960s sentiment is in total rebirth, it's a nostalgic sentiment that's come back. It's an anti-establishment sentiment saying that basically we're not gonna wait for governments to actually make these changes. Glad you know, glad governments are making changes but people fade out waiting. And, so that nostalgic sentiment is power to the people. And I actually heard, it said just a couple of days ago and I've been writing about it in my book. And I was like bit taken back the first time I've heard it publicly said out of rally and that, you know, that's it, we've had enough, we're taking it back and we're voting with our wallets and I've voted with my wallet when I've purchased Outland Denim because basically I've said to myself, listen, if I'm gonna purchase Denim jeans which I am, you can tell I love it. I wear it has a uniform, basically how can I justify spending money with another brand that doesn't have a purpose or doesn't have a cause as strong as yours. And it's the reason why you guys exist. So right, I'm properly, you know, stoked to have you here. And my hat goes off to you because you can see the passion that lives within you and within your team. All because you guys are basically have the same value set and are driven by that same purpose. What are some of the other things that you've mentioned you know, except from environmental that come into the business or that you found that the makeup, the I guess the negative parts of the fashion industry that you are also trying to change within your business.
- Well look to be perfectly honest, Chris when I started I did not care about the environmental issues. And in fact, if you had to try to talk to me about it, I would have thought your tree hugging hippie and I would've moved on very quickly, but during this journey and really wanting to help the people, I discovered that the environmental degradation on communities where our products are made in particularly in the poor communities, like where we work in Cambodia, they're absolutely exploited. They're ecosystems are exploited to industry.
Chris Hogan - Is that things like dyes running into.
- Yeah men, like going and Google, you know, blue dogs of India, you know, you'll see these dogs that are swimming in the river, coming out indigo blue because of the dyes running down the waterways. And, you know, I could go into many stories that directly impact the people we employ as a result of those kinds of behaviours from within our industry.
Chris Hogan - And so those dyes that they're using they're also toxic.
- Absolutely toxic, even plant-based ours can be toxic, you know? So we decided that we needed to address this, we couldn't say we care about the people if we didn't the planet. And it was at that point that I realised that, you know, they are one in the same. You know, if we enter talk about addressing this issue with slavery we need to address this issue of environmental degradation. And in fact you know, very interestingly you could claim actually that based off some studies that a man named Kevin Belts has done, that one of the biggest contributing industries to environmental degradation is actually slavery. And so if we really wanna solve some of these environmental issues that we face today, we first need to address the people. If we address the people, if we help them and we get them out of this hand to mouth and get them into a position where they have the ability to be able to be educated and think and dream about the future and what they want it to be like, then we can make a change on the environment. They can't be done separately, they have to be done together. And so it was on this journey that we learned these things and started to adopt different technologies. And so we started to look for, well how do you address these problems and what actually are they, we discovered that there's incredible technology that's out there. And if you could take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and you put it together you've got something that really, changes the dynamic of producing a jean, and the impact of producing a jean. Jeans are the worst product in fashion for the disaster that it creates you know, on an environmental level. So we, it's the dying, it's the amount of water that's used in producing the fibres all the way through to the washing and finishing processes. We don't want a jean that looks like it's been worn for 30 years. Well, to get that, you've gotta use really harsh bleachers and chemicals, Palmer stone, so stone washing. And all of these things together, you know, create a pretty hideous outcome. And so we knew that that had to change, we introduced laser technologies, e-flow and ozone technologies. The laser doesn't even use water, just use the laser beam to literally laser on those little stonewash highlights, e-flow technology uses nano bubbles instead of submerging in thousands of litres of chemical and water. It mix these nano bubbles over fabric and gets the same results. And then ozone, it doesn't use any of the harsh bleaches and is able to get that bleaching result. So, you know by those things, you've completely changed the impact of a product. But again, we're not perfect. You know, we've still got a long way to go, but when people buy our product, we innovate. We use it to find new ways and continue researching, I mean, we've done everything with partnering with universities, to grow mushrooms on textile waste, to try and consume it and solve some of those issues. We're consistently working on these things, And that's why I think that the future for fashion is really exciting because I actually believe that the answer to these problems is consumerism. I don't think the answer to environmental degradation is slow fashion, and that's what you hear out there in the marketplace. But that's thinking about the environment only, not thinking about the people. And like I said until we combine them, we'll never solve the issue. But what if we could create products where the outcome was that the people on the planet, were in a better position after being created than they were before. And I believe that's possible, because Richard Branson was clever enough to build a rocket that could fly to the moon. That sounds way harder to me than solving some of these issues. So I just think all we need is the resource to be able to invest into it. And that's why we created our brand, and that's why people buy our product. And with those things together, with the support of the community and the resource, we can actually find solutions to these things like we've already found so far.
Chris Hogan - Yeah, mate rock on. So you actually founded, he in the Gold Coast it landed on tambourine mountain. And, mate you were just saying to me that Australians aren't really like buying denim as much as you would have thought. And that your biggest markets are actually overseas, and specifically the Gold Coast aren't backing Outland Denim anywhere near as much as you should, guys come on. You know, homegrown hero right here, and absolutely we should be getting on board and you do have a stockists, you've just released stockist listing, or a feature on your website that people can actually find where you're stocked.
- That's right.
Chris Hogan - And I'm happy to say my good friends at West and James, and James readability heads, are the only Gold Coast stockists.
Chris Hogan - And so get down there and try those garments on, if you are a bit hesitant about sizing and all that sort of stuff, and once you've done that then you can buy a truck load online for sure. So that just came out in June. And mate you've also introduced an Outland Denim medical clinic, what's that all about?
- Well, I guess it's consistently looking at how we can, or what are the needs first? What are the needs of our staff in Cambodia, where we have our two facilities. And, you know, medical treatment and care is something that is hard to come by, and it's hard to come by good care. And so we introduced a little clinic and that was before COVID, then COVID hit and was just so vital to us to be able to keep our staff as safe as possible during this time. And because we had nurses on site that would be able to do training and hygiene and then how to follow up and look at any of the health needs that any of our staff had. But the beauty is it can go beyond our staff and go into their families and the educational process which is one of the most powerful things. When you educate people around health needs and health care. And then that goes back into their families and into their communities. And we've been collecting data, tracking what actually happens when you educate somebody. Where does it start and where does it stop? And it doesn't stop, it continues on. So if you can put really good sound educational opportunities in front of people, then the impact is gonna be generational. The world can change through that alone. And so this medical clinic is a big part of seeing the need on a range of levels. And then introducing it, we've had a lot of support to do that as well, we had the Australian government support to introduce those things. You know, we go back to community again here in Australia. I mean we've had a lot of Australians support by buying our product. And actually, I do need to correct you, Australia's actually become our biggest region. Biggest sales. And so that is something that has changed. We started in Canada, that was bigger than Australia but I think Australia takes a little while to adopt these things.
Chris Hogan - We wanna see if you're for real and you know, are you legit about what you're doing, but when we see that you are, we're right behind you and that's what we're experiencing now when you mentioned James and West in Bali.
- West and James.
Chris Hogan - West and James sorry, in Bali. And you know, it's great little retailers like that that give us the ability to do these kinds of things because they take away selling that product day after day. And, so I always say to people, go to them and buy the product.
- You know, you can buy it online for sure, but if you can support a local retailer especially now when small business is hurting go down there and buy product from those guys and, you know you're furthering the impact of what you can have just by buying an Outland Denim product.
Chris Hogan - 100%. I think, there's another reason to congratulate you as well. In July you became a father yet again, around two?
- Three, I got a third.
Chris Hogan - Sorry for punishment, I've got three as well. And baby Jack.
- Yeah, baby Jack.
Chris Hogan - So two girls before that.
- Yeah that's right, I got a boy. We were totally done to be honest. You know, my wife told me we weren't having anymore. And then all of a sudden, hey and just, we've got this little guy.
Chris Hogan - Mate, congratulations.
- Thank you.
Chris Hogan - Congratulations to you and Erica, and the whole Bartle family. And what else have we got to hear some nights, joined a group of Australian businesses industry groups and civil society organisations to urge the federal government to remain focused on the need for sustainable future. What's that about?
- Well, I mean it's again, it's you mentioned earlier about you know, the people taking the responsibility back to get something done. We wanna see a different future, we gotta take it on ourselves. There is also this petitioning of the government and petitioning of other bodies to be able to use the power and the resource they have available to create the change we wanna see, so that's part of it. But I'm actually a really strong believer in if you see a need it's not anyone else's responsibility, but yours to fill it. And again, I think that's what's exciting about now is people are going, oh I'm not gonna wait for the government, 'cause you know the reality is the government isn't set up to be able to solve the social needs of our community, that's the reality. It's actually the people within community that are set up to solve those social needs in community. And so, we are in a time right now where people are stepping up and going yup, it's my responsibility. And I'm gonna do something about it, And we see the change, it is happening, it's happening rapidly. So if you are a business that isn't engaged in this movement, 'cause that's what it is, it's a movement. You will lose, no longer are we interested in being manipulated. We don't care about greenwashing, we want real genuine impact. And we will back and support real genuine businesses and brands that are there to solve a problem.
Chris Hogan - 100%, music to my ears, you nearly did my sales pitch for me.
- Oh, sorry, man.
Chris Hogan - it's better when someone else says it, and, oh, I forgot my train of thought. Oh, so a lot of people would say that you know, running a business or just go out there and start a business. I've heard that being said like, if you're humming and harring about starting a business, just get out there and do it. I think there's a, I don't know the stats that there's a massive amount of fire in small business. And, what were some of the lessons that I guess you learnt early in the pace, that you wish that you wouldn't have to go through again, if you started again.
- You know I don't really think there's much that I'd say I wish I didn't go through. It's actually the failures that have created the ability to weather the storm. And I don't think I'm at the place where I can weather any storm by any stretch of the imagination. But man, I think about the things that are even the most embarrassing things to me or the biggest mistakes I've made, or what a total tool I was at a time.
Chris Hogan - Tell us one mate, tell us one.
- If we start we weren't able to stop, but you know, it's going out there arrogantly and thinking, you've got an answer and getting frustrated with humanity in that no one cares. Yet, you've got a community full of people who care. And it was just those stupid moments that you look back on and you go, you've, you get all flushed is like, oh my gosh, I said that, and I said it publicly, you know, but those things make you because you don't wanna do it twice. So my advice to anyone starting a business is well, one, you said it already, what's the problem you're solving. If you're not solving a problem, I don't think there's room for you. That's hard, but I think that's the truth, you need to solve a problem. But if you are, and you think that success looks a certain way, I think you should really look at it because we're just on that road to whatever success really looks like, and failures are the only way we get there. It doesn't get there just by success after success.
Chris Hogan - Yeah, I have a list and it all starts with pay. Basically, we've gonna solve a problem.
Chris Hogan - It's people, planet, there don't have to be mutually exclusive, and profit.
- Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Hogan - We cannot be altruistic businesses.
- Have you seen one of our pitch decks, You have haven't have you?
Chris Hogan - No sorry, I didn't know.
- There's five of them I named, you missed one.
Chris Hogan - What's the fifth.
- So we are have people, planet, profit purpose and product.
Chris Hogan - I think I was gonna say product, right.
Chris Hogan - Maybe I didn't say purpose.
- No you did, you did.
Chris Hogan - Come on. Right, so where's the brand going at the moment? You know, you have 1.3 million in the bank, from crowdfunding. And like how much does that actually scale? 'Cause you know, you don't wanna go and blow it. You know, you don't wanna blow it. So you got to really manage the projects that you're working on. And you've gotta manage the investor expectations and reporting back to the investors. You're not a public company, so you don't have to tell everybody what you're doing, but I'll have really loved the investor reports that have been coming out. And also the cake platform, I think, you know that's been fantastic, well done Jason. So, can you lead us into maybe some of the things that we can expect over the coming months?
- Yeah, for sure. I mean, look we've been working really hard to launch a few new things. One of them was when COVID hit, we fast, hit fast forward to go to a sort of, I guess, a goal we had for a little further down the road, which was to manufacture for other companies. So we hit the green light on that and we did our first manufacturing contract, we delivered on time. We delivered a high quality, that was a massive milestone for us. We'd done a collaboration before producing product for another brand, but never production where our name wasn't in it, this was the first time. So that was massive, and we have inquiry every day. I'm so particular about what brands I'll make for, we also are launching a blank t-shirt programme. So we want any new brand or any sporting club or any group to be able to buy t-shirts that are blank that you can brand up with all your own stuff. But they come with a maker standard, which is the Outland Denim standard. It's the social, environmental and economic standards that we operate to in that t-shirt. And there's so much exciting development around the technology, that's integrated into the t-shirt to be able to offer transparency and insight by customers, which has given to the brand. So it's very, can be brand and product centric, that advertising or that marketing that the brand can do then, as well as expand our collection. So there's gonna be a lot more, that's gonna be coming to the market, keep our eyes on our website, November, December, because we're gonna be dropping new product. We're gonna be dropping much more regularly, we were doing two seasons a year, we're now going to buy monthly. And there's a lot of reasons for that but we've rejigged our entire business and we've looked at it and gone how do we maximise our impact? And part of the impact, like you said, it's profit. We need to generate a profit. I now have over 1000 investors and yeah, that's heavy. It's probably the thing I'm most scared of is failing with a thousand people. I say to my wife, oh my gosh, where would we live? I go to the service station and a random person walks up to me and goes, oh, James, I invested in your company. It's like, oh man, they're everywhere. You know? And so I've got all these new bosses and therefore I have to report more. So, you know, lifting our game in that space, you know we've got an amazing advisory board that we had our first meeting, you know, just not so long ago which, you know, I've got some some really high profile players in there that are really changing the scope of what's possible for us as a business. So, we certainly have a long way to go. There's some tough days ahead I recon for us to be able to, you know, hit some of the goals that we've got, but all comes back to product. If we can produce beautiful product that matches our story, then we'll be able to have an impact that I believe goes well beyond what we've ever imagined.
Chris Hogan - Unreal, unreal. Well, mate that's a perfect segue to basically wrap up I think, and how to people stay across what Outlander Denim, sorry what Outland Denim is up to and what James Bartle is up to, where's the best places to follow.
- Yeah, just follow on Instagram and you know, sign up for our newsletter. That's the, that's probably the best place, and you know, we're really keen to engage the community in what we're doing. We really do genuinely believe this is a brand that was for the people. This isn't about, you know, a few fat cats at the top getting rich. This is about creating that lasting impact, and I believe that's gonna happen as we engage our community. So we want you to come on the journey with us and you know, we want your feedback. Talk to us, try our product, it's a risk free trial product, buy it, order it, we'll pay for the shipping there and back if you don't like it full refund, we just want people in this product. This is life changing product. And we're stoked for the support, and thank you to the community for backing us so far.
Chris Hogan - 100% like you said before, support your local. If you do have a local retailer in your area, 100%, give them the support. That's also supporting the people as well and supporting jobs and supporting the economy. So thanks so much James.
- Chris, thank you man.
- Yeah, thanks for watching guys. That's another episode of the proactive podcast, that's building brands on purpose. You can check us out on @memedia.com.au, there's plenty more episodes there. And otherwise we're on Apple and Spotify, cheers.