5 things we learned from Outland Denim and Karen Walker’s conscious collaboration

30 October 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

The two brands have joined creative forces with a limited-edition range that will help sex-trafficking victims and end cycles of exploitation.

Karen Walker is a tastemaker who not only creates her own covetable designs, but carves out new ideas through a range of collaborations, and curates bright sparks of others’ at her Playpark store.

After an introduction through a mutual friend, Karen Walker is not only stocking the stylish Outland Denim brand at her store but is the first fashion designer to team up with the social change company to create a six-piece limited-edition range.

The resulting capsule of tailored and topstitched denim jeans, skirts and jackets, and a tee that sees Karen Walker’s ‘Runaway Girl’ carry a drum instead of a bindle, is cool, of course, but it also has a strong social conscience.

Joining Karen for lunch to launch their progressive project, Outland Denim founding CEO James Bartle shared with us the purpose behind his business – to protect their staff and their communities from exploitation and prove that the fashion industry can be a force for good.

Here’s what we learnt during the discussion:

1. It all began with Liam Neeson.

While it is a fictional film, 2008 action thriller Taken, where Liam Neeson infiltrates a sex trafficking ring that has kidnapped his daughter, alerted James to the very real illegal trade of humans happening worldwide. Wanting to know how he could help, James travelled to Asia with an anti-trafficking group, where they intervened for a 12-year-old girl who was up for sale. He learnt that once a girl had been rescued and returned to her family, a sustainable career path is vital for protecting her future, and he started looking for a holistic solution.


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2. Outland Denim is not a charity.

Outland Denim creates change with their four pillars of responsibility – training, opportunity, living wage and education – for those most vulnerable. With their production house in Cambodia, the ethical fashion company teaches their seamstresses the skills needed to produce premium denim before further training, including management skills. Staff participate in personal enrichment programmes including budgeting, women’s and infant health, computing skills, human trafficking awareness, English, and self-defence. The company does not want their workers to become dependent, or indebted, to them, rather seek out their own empowerment. “These women change their own future and that is the key throughout all of this,” says James. “They have the skills now and no one can take that from them.”

3. Meghan Markle put them on the map.

When Meghan Markle wore Outland Denim jeans on the Royal Tour in Australasia, the international media were quick to praise her sartorial and socially-conscious choice. As a result, the brand reported their website received a 948 percent increase in traffic the week following her being seen in the pair of black high-rise Harriet jeans. Through the awareness and sales Meghan generated, they’re were able to reinvest into the company, and hire new seamstresses.


4. It’s all about people.

Referencing the Maori proverb he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – it’s the people, it’s the people, it’s the people, Karen asked James to share the importance of the Outland Denim community. In just under 10 years, the company has grown from employing five aspiring seamstresses, recommended to them by a non-government organisation with frontline operations in Cambodia, to 100 employees today. They have opened their doors to an increasing range of employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability looking for dignified work,  including those leaving exploitative situations within other garment factories and those with physical disabilities.

“This collection represents a huge milestone for us, to work alongside someone so highly regarded in our industry,” he says. “The fact that our team has tailored this collection is testimony to their dedication to their craft, and we are incredibly proud of this achievement.”

5. It’s sustainable too.

With the philosophy ‘you can’t care about people without caring about the planet’, Outland Denim strives to be as sustainable as possible, throwing themselves into research and sourcing raw materials from suppliers who share in their social and environmental responsibility – from premium organic cotton to natural dyes and off-cut and compostable packaging.

“At the core of this collaboration is our brands’ and our communities’ shared ethos of consuming less, less often, and choosing better quality,” says Karen. “Karen Walker and Outland are both committed to creating well-designed and well-crafted pieces that are enjoyed and worn for many decades and the pieces in this capsule are testament to that.”

For Outland Denim, this is an ongoing process to ensure the company continues to change the fashion industry from the inside out – to save both people and planet, one great design at a time.

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer


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