These jeans are radically changing people’s lives

Jeans are supposed to be super casual, but this brand is getting serious in the best way possible. “Human trafficking is the fastest growing black market industry in the world,” says Michael Purkis, president of Caulfield Apparel and a minority shareholder in Aussie denim label, Outland. The statistics are staggering, especially for women and girls, who make up 74% of cases. There are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, and even here, incidents of human trafficking are on the rise, according to Statistics Canada. So what does all of this have to do with jeans? Outland denim, founded in 2016 by motocross rider James Bartle, is rescuing and rehabilitating females from human trafficking through the sale of its ethical denim, available at Holt Renfrew, Sporting Life and Harry Rosen in Canada, with styles for both women and men. (In the U.S., you can purchase via outlanddenim.com).

Bartle was driven to create the brand after an eye-opening trip to South East Asia with an anti-trafficking group, where he was struck by the vulnerability of young girls being forced into the sex industry. Fast-forward seven years and Outland’s factory, located in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, employs 45 rescued women, who are paid a ‘living wage‘. “Living wage allows people to live a lifestyle like you and I would—they can save, they can buy a house, they can buy a motorcycle,” explains Purkis. “After two years on the job, one of our sewers was able to buy her sister back from a local brothel. She bought a rice field, which her family now works, and a house—five years ago they lived in a shanty.”

ethical denim
Wearing Outland Denim’s Isabel cut in Washed Black, $245

In a lot of sewing factories, people are taught to do one thing, like sewing a belt on, for their whole life, notes the Canadian distributor. But to create Outland’s premium, ethical denim (an average pair costs $235), employees learn how to make every aspect of the jean over 18 months. Trainees spend about 25% of that time on basic education, like how to read and write, and how to manage a check book— self-sufficiency skills they’ve missed out on. Collectively, employee spending power helps bolster the local economy, where the cycle of poverty is a major contributor to human trafficking.

Outland also aims to end exploitation of the planet. Its ethical denim is made from a pesticide-free, organic and sustainable cotton, sourced from a Turkish mill that they’ve audited to ensure there’s no forced or child labour. Everything from the metal in the zippers to the threads have been considered for the least amount of environmental impact—though they do not claim to be 100% organic. A non-organic tencel is said to allow jeans to hold their shape longer, so you can wash less often. And while we noticed that the vegetable dye transferred onto our straw bag upon first wear (and then faded, phew), it’s better than the toxic impact of synthetic indigo dyes. We’re just waiting for Outland to expand its predominantly skinny styles to a good ‘boyfriend’ cut so we can invest in our next pair.

 Photos: Emily Wraith

Wanna know how else you can help change the world? Try shopping with chic reusable bags instead of  hideous plastic ones.