Producing with Purpose - Episode 8: Featuring James Bartle of Outland Denim
Outland Denim Instagram: @outlanddenim
Producing with Purpose Instagram: @producingwithpurpose
Noskin Instagram: @noskin.co
On this episode of Producing with Purpose, presented by Noskin, I speak with James Bartle of Outland Denim.
Outland Denim are an inspiration in the fashion industry, producing beautiful garments, but more importantly, providing employment opportunities for women who have been affected by the 1.5 billion dollar human trafficking industry.
Due to the nature of Producing with Purpose being a business-based podcast, we focussed on a lot of the growth and operational side of Outland as a business, but I encourage everyone to do more research into the cause that Outland are supporting. I was shocked to learn about the scale of this problem when I was researching for this episode, and the work Outland, and many other organisations are doing in this space is well worth looking into further.
Fighting a 150 billion dollar industry
We kick things off with James summarising the issue that Outland are fighting against. With sex trade and human trafficking forming a $150 billion industry, where 1 in 130 women around the globe are victim to a form of slavery, there is a serious issue that many people are not fully aware of.
Outland was initially formed as a not for profit, to provide working opportunities for women who had been victim to this horrific industry and James talks us through these beginnings.
With a solution in mind to give training and education for people to be successful via the fashion industry, James reflects how they approached this with one of the most difficult products to manufacture, denim.
"When you start from a place like that - you're given a superpower that other brands may not have. You have something to fall back on in the tough times."
We talk about the first years of Outland Denim where James started as a not for profit, balancing the business with his primary job, until realising that there was more impact that could be had with investor funding and a profiting business model.
"A business that exists to address the needs of our world, planet or humanitarian needs that does it out of its own profits, is the ultimate"
A challenge bigger than imagined
With a strong idea and vision for change in mind, James partnered with an NGO to find women who needed these opportunities and start setting the foundations for the manufacturing. "Back then, there was no power in the villages we were working in, so we were making an entire jean with a single needle sewing machine" Sourcing local fabrics and working with people who hadn't previously made denim, there were many challenges along the way, with the first samples that arrived missing the mark significantly. As is the case with any venture, it was about solving the problems at hand, picking yourself back up and finding ways to iterate and improve. Our co-host Ash opens the conversation with James about some of the denim production, and how this has expanded over the years.
Now having the latest technology in their factories, Ash and James discuss the newer technologies in sustainable denim and how this is impacted by the price restrictions in larger companies.
Covering how expensive these processes can be, but how it important it is to the brand to make sure they are genuinely elevating the people, but also leaving the planet in a better condition.
"It's one thing to have a great marketing story, but you've got to sleep at night"
James shares his views on fast fashion, slow fashion and the negatives that come with both sides, which provides an interesting and pragmatic take on what can often be seen as a black and white situation.
Growing the brand
When researching this episode I found so many interviews, articles, podcasts and blogs featuring James, which is testament to the hard work he has put in to spreading his message and growing his brand.
We discuss the impact this has on the advocacy side of the brand's vision, but also the bottom line for sales, and how these go hand in hand.
"I'd say to any business, the greatest thing I think you can do to get cut-through in a cluttered space like this is to be authentic. And if you're not authentic - it will show."
"The press we do is, yes, benefiting the bottom line. But it's about the education, about taking people on the journey with us."
James focusses on the importance of getting not just the message, but also the product in front of people, which leads into my question about the Outland model of selling their products in major department stores. It may seem like the dream of any brand to be sold in Barney's New York, or Nordstrom, Myer or David Jones, and it certainly is something we would love to do with Noskin, but there are also other elements to consider, such as losing creative control and being in a price war with your own products.
I speak to James about this in more detail and get his thoughts around this subject.
"There's a risk in launching brands to soon, and to be honest, we launched our band to soon in a number of big department stores. And surprisingly, we are still there, but it's only because they want this brand to succeed, because of the impact"
Expansion of a brand
Considering the brand presence and distribution of Outland, their live product range is relatively streamlined compared to others. As Noskin goes live, we have put a lot of focus onto a refined selection of products to find out what our customers want. Keeping our product range small ensures we aren't left with clearance items, or items that go into landfill, which we see as our responsibility as producers.
James highlights how their current offering is a result of some design and production limitations, whereas they will be doubling their product offering in the coming year, whilst carefully considering the longevity of each item, and place it holds in the customer's wardrobe.
Considering I personally am going through a similar situation to James, where I've jumped into the world of being an entrepreneur in fashion, without direct experience in the industry, I'm keen to learn as much as I can about the mistakes that James made in that first 12 months.
James focusses on some of the mistakes he made, but also his thoughts on failing.
"I would say that failure is necessary. If you want to make it, you need to learn how to fail, too. How to lose gracefully, how to get back off the ground. Learning from other people's mistakes, you don't develop the grit. You don't develop what's needed to be able to make it."