The “Meghan Markle effect” has had an impact that stretches beyond sales for local label Outland Denim. The “world’s most humanitarian denim brand” has its headquarters tucked away on Tamborine Mountain, but was recently a topic of global discussion following an outing by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Dubbo during which the Duchess donned her “Harriet Black” Outland Denim skinny jeans. In solidarity for the brand’s humanitarian mission, the Duchess donned the staple skinnies a further six times during the tour.
The result was not just a rapid increase in sales, but employment opportunities for some 30 vulnerable women in Cambodia in keeping with an expansion of the business across the globe.
“We were completely taken aback by the level of interest that the Duchess wearing our denim created,” said Outland Denim founder and CEO James Bartle, who has operated the business for eight years, beginning the enterprise following an encounter with the reality of human trafficking on the streets of Thailand.
“The phone started running off the hook, our website traffic spiked and boxes of Outland Denim jeans started being mailed to people across Australia and the world. The level of community support has also been amazing. People on Tamborine Mountain and the broader Scenic Rim are really proud of their association with Outland Denim.”
The immediate effect following the news of the Duchess wearing the jeans was a 3000% website traffic increase to Outland Denim’s Australian site and about a 948% increase in traffic to the brand’s global suite of sites. The “Harriet Black” jean also sold out within 24 hours, with a sizeable waitlist for the style growing still.
The recruitment process for the new seamstresses is already underway. The business employs women who have experienced situations of exploitation and human trafficking, as well as those prone to other vulnerabilities, such as exclusion due to disability, but the risk of poverty is the key link between them all. After undergoing a training period, the women learn to harness their sewing skills across each segment of jean construction.
In a typical factory situation, women will work on one part for several years, but Outland Denim’s “cross-training” philosophy is designed to ensure each of the women have a covetable artisanal skill set to call their own, while also encouraging them to work through the ranks to become team leaders and expert pattern cutters.
Outland has created a clean, bright training and production facility in Cambodia from where they manage manufacturing operations and oversee the holistic care of their staff through wage, career progression, and personal development initiatives such as education in English, women’s and infant health, and self-defence.
This sort of human-first profits-second social enterprise business model has become increasingly relevant since the widely publicised Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, which saw more than 1000 Bangladeshi garment workers perish after a factory collapsed. This exposed the fashion industry’s hidden history of exploitation to the world and galvanised a large portion of the global community behind a “fashion revolution” championing worker rights and better pay and conditions for workers in developing countries who make heavily discounted clothes for prominent clothing chains across the globe.
“Meghan choosing to wear Outland Denim once is a reflection of alignment with our values,” says Bartle. “She has been quite outspoken about matters of social justice and women’s empowerment in the past, so clearly our brand resonates for her beyond the comfort of our jeans. It’s her subtle, dignified way of saying she cares about the work we are doing.”
Outland Denim’s jeans are crafted from premium European denim and are designed to last more than several seasons for both men and women. The company is committed to sourcing the most ethically and environmentally sound raw materials, from organic cotton pocket linings to recycled packaging, and invests in ensuring its entire supply chain sits in alignment with the world’s best practices.