Have you ever watched the news, a documentary or YouTube clip which moved you so much you vowed to make the world a better place? James Bartle and his wife did, and now they are.
"It started with myself and my wife. We were watching the movie Taken, the Liam Neeson film, and I was shocked by the stats at the end of the film on human trafficking and how it was out of control. I was blown away. That was the start of the journey -- it intrigued me and made me angry," James Bartle, founder of Outland Denim told The Huffington Post Australia.
To fill you in, human trafficking (also known as modern-day slavery) is defined by the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime as the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion of abduction or fraud and deception, of the abuse of powder or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.
The Profits and Poverty: The Economic of Forced Labour report done in 2014 estimated that forced labour, including human trafficking, generates US$150 billion in illegal profits each year. It estimates that there are more than 20 million victims globally of which 4.5 million are in forced exploitation. Children comprise nearly a third of all detected trafficking victims, most of which are girls. They are huge numbers and numbers that Bartle could not ignore.
"After watching the film I decided to travel through Thailand and Cambodia to witness what was actually happening, and what it looked like on the ground. I went with an agency and they took me into Pattaya in Thailand, and I was walking up a street called Walking Street, which is the sex capital of the world. I wasn't that impacted to begin with until I came across a line up of girls and one looked particularly young. I asked my guide what we could do for her and how old she was. I was told that she looked about 13 and that it looked as though it was her first night [as a sex slave]-- she was very scared and intimidated.
"There was nothing we could do for her that night but take the name and place of where she was and then they would send a team back to try and find her. I had two nieces at the time and I imagined one of them. To my knowledge this girl didn't have a dad looking for her, or someone who was worried about her. Can you imagine? I now have a daughter of my own and another on the way, which makes it so real. Something has to happen," Bartle said.
On his return to Australia, Bartle and his wife looked into the root of the problem: poverty.
"Poverty makes them so vulnerable, so we asked ourselves what we could do based around that. We were interested in fashion, and in particular jeans. We decided that being able to manufacture something that is in nearly every wardrobe throughout the world was the obvious thing to do. We were really naive at the time, this is five years ago, about how difficult it actually was to make a pair of denim jeans. And to make jeans that are of a premium quality was what we wanted to achieve but didn't realise how difficult that would be."
That naivety played in their favour, for had Bartle and his wife known the difficult road ahead they may not have proceeded, desperate in their determination to offer safe and fair employment for these girls rescued from the sex trade.
"We spent the next few years bringing girls in and training them," Bartle said.
Which isn't as easy as it sounds. These girls are often terrified, having originally been told they would be cleaning hotels to then end up forced into sex slavery, they are hesitant in trusting the front one agencies who work to rescue and rehabilitate them. They often experience immense shame, ostracisation from their families or community and horrific abuse.
"We started as a not for profit business and we were able to grow to five girls, but we then realised it was nearly impossible to get beyond that, so we changed our model to a profit for purpose business. We then needed investors to grow, and came across a couple in Queensland who were cattle farmers. After they heard our story they sold their cattle farm and moved to a much smaller block away from their kids in boarding school so they could help fund the business to get us to where we are now. They have taken a massive risk," Bartle said.
"Since then we have grown to having 29 local seamstresses over there and two other Cambodian staff -- one is our production manager and the other an admin manager. We have seen massive changes in the lives of these girls, it's incredible to witness their new-found happiness, independence and sense of worth. One of the girls we employ saved up her wage to buy her sister back from the slave trade. Can you imagine saving to spend your wage on that?"
Fast forward to now and the end game is a premium denim offering. Without even knowing the backstory, Outland Denim offer cool, quality jeans for both men and women. Sold online, the brand offers free returns, so there's no risk to the customer. Beyond providing these women with fair and safe employment, the brand also gives money back to rescue more people for the same fate.
"There's two main parts of the business. The first is the $50 from every pair of jeans we sell being contributed to front line agencies so they can rescue more girls and put them through restoration programs. And beyond that it is being able to offer sustainable employment to these girls. That's why we exist," Bartle said.
While 'caring is cool' now, without a genuinely good product there's only so much a brand can do, even with the best intentions. Lucky for Outland Denim, their fashion is honestly awesome. You'd expect to pay around $190-$210 for quality jeans anyway, so why not help stop human trafficking at the same time? It's a (very stylish) no-brainer.
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