LOOK GOOD, DO GOOD OUT­LAND DENIM

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - LESSONS EARNT -

It was watch­ing a Hol­ly­wood movie that lit a fire in James Bar­tle’s belly and spurred him to to­tally change his work­ing life. Six years later, the for­mer mo­tocross rider and his wife, Erica, had set up Out­land Denim, a fash­ion la­bel and so­cial en­ter­prise that em­ploys, trains and sup­ports women in Cam­bo­dia, many of whom have been res­cued from the sex trade and hu­man trafficking.

So, what was the movie? “Taken, with Liam Nee­son,” says Bar­tle. “Have you seen it? You must. It’s fic­tional, but at the end they fea­ture stats that put the story in con­text. They ex­plain how many peo­ple are ab­ducted and stolen for the pur­poses of sex and forced labour. I still re­mem­ber the im­pact of that — it re­ally dis­turbed me.”

The In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion says 21 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally are trapped in mod­ern-day slav­ery, and the hu­man trafficking in­dus­try is worth about US$150 bil­lion ($190 bil­lion) a year, with more than one fifth of vic­tims traf­ficked for sex.

It prompted Bar­tle to travel to Cam­bo­dia to visit a lo­cal res­cue agency and dis­cover more.

“The agency works to find un­der­age girls in broth­els and [of­fer] ways of get­ting them out, pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion, coun­selling, homes and jobs,” he says. “Erica and I wanted to do some­thing to help, and the gar­ment in­dus­try seemed like a good place to start.”

They de­cided against launch­ing a T-shirt brand, he says, “be­cause ev­ery­one does that — but then I thought of jeans. We all buy them, and it’s a prod­uct peo­ple are pre­pared to pay a lit­tle bit more for if the story is in­spir­ing. We thought an eth­i­cally-run denim brand had great po­ten­tial for [pro­vid­ing] steady em­ploy­ment.”

They were right. The cou­ple be­gan by train­ing and em­ploy­ing five young Cam­bo­dian women to sew. Out of a Ph­nom Penh work­shop, they pro­duced jeans for Out­land us­ing or­ganic cot­ton.

To­day, Out­land em­ploys a staff of more than 30, pays a liv­ing wage and pro­vides vo­ca­tional train­ing, English classes and “the sorts of work­place con­di­tions we take for granted in Australia”, says Bar­tle — that is, fair pay and reg­u­lated hours, free from ha­rass­ment.

“It’s not char­ity,” he says. “What we’re do­ing is fa­cil­i­tat­ing an op­por­tu­nity, but they’re the ones who are mak­ing the change for them­selves. That’s why I be­lieve this is a pow­er­ful busi­ness model.”

But, says Bar­tle, it’s not why you should buy the jeans. “You should buy them be­cause they look so cool. A so­cial en­ter­prise like this only works when the prod­uct is awe­some.”

FROM LEFT Out­land Denim’s ‘Vanguard’ jeans in Royal Blue; James Bar­tle in Cam­bo­dia.

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