Life-Changing Ethical Denim

These jeans change lives.

Photography by  Jesse Tamayo

Photography by Jesse Tamayo

It starts with a girl. A young girl, no more than thirteen, standing on a street corner. Shivering, but not because of the temperature. She is about to be sold for her body. 

A visitor to the country observes this transaction, horrified, as his guide tells him that nothing can be done. And the idea of a brand is born.

James Bartle had no experience in fashion or business before his trip to Cambodia, but what he saw there would change the course of his life. After learning that lifting at-risk women out of the poverty cycle could secure them a safer future, James left his old career in Motocross behind to pursue a solution. 

This is how Outland Denim began. 


Fast forward six years of self-funded development and intensive trial and error, and Outland Denim is now a fully-fledged ethical brand, known for their craftsmanship of men's and women's jeans and their incredible story of hope. They employ about forty Cambodian women, either at risk of poverty or past victims of trafficking, in their bright, eco-conscious factory. The women are trained, paid a living wage, offered English classes and other practical education, and empowered to become experts in all areas of crafting denim. When they move on to other jobs, they are highly sought after for their skill set and quality of work. A personal message from the women is sewn inside each of the jeans on a label.

On top of all this, Outland Denim is also a certified B Corporation and one of the only denim brands that has received an A+ rating in the Baptist World Aid fashion transparency index for their excellence in both ethical practices and sustainable manufacturing.

I have never been more moved by or excited to work with a clothing company as I have Outland. Human trafficking is a crisis close to my heart, in the same way that the treatment of garment workers is. So, a brand that blends both a practical approach to helping prevent and move on from sexual exploitation and providing seamstresses with a living wage is one I couldn’t be more thrilled to support.

Your purchase of these jeans gives vulnerable women the opportunity to grow and dream, to chase a better future for themselves and their families. They are not slaves to the gruelling hours of a factory under abusive managers, with hardly any pay to show for it. Given practical education and life skills training, some of them have developed aspirations to start their own businesses when they move on from Outland. 

"Now I work for Outland Denim, I can take my children to school before work and I have time to spend with my family. Outland Denim has helped me a lot. When people buy jeans, it helps us and gives us more work, and when they say good things about our work, it makes us happy," says the message written by Leakena sewn inside my jeans. 


Beyond their inspiring story, however, the jeans themselves are absolutely stunning. It’s easy to promote a good brand because of the what happens behind the garments, but there also needs to be real quality there. And quality is something that Outland Denim has a lock on. The material doesn’t bag or wrinkle, the waist is sturdy and doesn’t stretch, and the shape is flattering. It feels like real, vintage jean material. If thin, stretchy jeans are more your thing, you may want to look elsewhere – this is denim the way it was meant to be. The material is organic and sourced as ethically and environmentally sound as possible.

My husband and I had the pleasure of each receiving and testing our own pair. Kevin, who’s pretty picky about his jeans, was totally sold. And I was instantly in love. 

I used to believe jeans were the most prosaic, the most casual of garments. Saved for a day spent romping in the countryside or playfully imitating the Western vibes of Stampede season, but certainly not worn regularly. Once, lifetimes ago, I sat next to my best friend in her room, chatting away about the important topic of our personal styles. I had just graduated from mom-chosen Walmart clothes, and was slowly starting to explore the exciting new realm of mall clothing. My friend glanced at her wardrobe and mentioned she probably had a dozen pairs of jeans, because her mom kept buying them for her. I remember feeling utter shock. I only had a single pair amidst piles of tights and corduroys; how could someone wear jeans almost exclusively? A smile finds its way across my face now, as I reflect on this strange era of my youth. 

What I'm getting at is that even just a year ago, my closet still only had one pair of black skinny jeans to boast of. Skirts, wide legs, and cigarette pants were my bottoms of choice (partly due to my library job's 'no jeans' policy, but still). Somehow I hadn't come to the realization that they were as versatile as everyone claimed. 

And then I picked up the book How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are, and fell in love with it, and then fell in love with Parisian fashion, and naturally fell in love with their penchant for denim. I saw sharp blazers paired with jeans, elegant heels paired with jeans, crisp blouses and trench coats and the like. It was a denim awakening, and I haven't looked back. As James intuited when deciding what sort of garments to produce, jeans truly are a staple.

And Kevin? He's always worn jeans, because he's always had a sense of style. My fashion sense didn't really materialize until about three years ago. Hah. At least I can say he liked me before I knew how to put a good outfit together. 


These Outland Denim jeans were the perfect addition to our wardrobe. Neither of us have a particularly large collection of clothing, and medium blue jeans were definitely a wardrobe gap. We both decided to go with  the classic wash for its versatility. They come with just the right amount of pre-fading for a subtle, worn look. 

My favourite way to wear blue denim is high waisted (the higher the better, am I right?) with a pair of kitten heels and a white tee. Minimal effort, a subtle blend of elegance and casual. Almost never with sneakers -- I'd sooner wear those with a dress. I like a bit of juxtaposition. 

Kevin's summer uniform is a casual tee, jeans, and boots, but he also enjoys wearing denim with a button-down and runners. 

One challenge with buying ethical fashion -- and jeans especially -- is that it can be hard to guess sizes when ordering online. The good news is, Outland Denim recently launched their collection in a couple Canadian retailers: Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen. Now you can try them on in person! If either of those are in your area, be sure to ask a sales associate where to find Outland. That being said,  we found that the jeans fit true to size, so ordering online shouldn't be too tricky. Keep scrolling for more details about size and fit. 


About the Jeans

WHAT WE'RE WEARING: I'm wearing the Lucy True Blue (straight leg high-rise), and Kevin wears the Ranger in Bondi Blue (relaxed slim tapered). 

SIZE: Finding the right size of jeans can be a pain, especially when ordering online. But finding our perfect sizes was surprisingly easy with Outland! I'm usually between a 26 and 28 with jeans, depending on the brand -- most often a 27. And as it turns out, the 27 Lucy fits perfectly on me. Kevin is wearing a size 31, also his normal size. As I mentioned earlier though, Outland does sell in some brick-and-mortar locations, so if you want to be safe, you can try them on in person. 

PRICE: The styles we chose are both $235 CAD. Which is incredible, considering that the quality is comparable to your favourite high-end jeans, but these ones literally save lives, are sustainably crafted with organic materials, and will last years. How many denim brands can even claim to know the names of each of their seamstresses? I'd infinitely prefer to put my money towards these than $400 brand name jeans or $20 fast fashion jeans, neither of which are accomplishing much (except pollution and exploitation). Forty women are hard at work carefully creating each pair, and they have a brighter future to look forward to because people like you and me are choosing to buy denim from them instead of elsewhere. 

COMFORT: Despite not being 'stretchy' jeans, I find them very comfortable -- enough to wear all day (we even danced and jumped around lots during this photoshoot). The denim is refreshingly sturdy, with just the right amount of flexibility for movement. I don't know about you, but I'm over having jeans bag and stretch out of shape. I'm so impressed by the fact that my Lucy's conform to my body throughout the day without bunching and sagging. The waist is strong and not elasticky, so you don't have to worry about it getting too big in a month (I'm looking at you, all the other jeans I've ever owned). 

CARE: I clean these how I would most of my garments: machine wash cold, delicate cycle, hang to dry. I find turning them inside out also helps jeans preserve their colour. I also like to wash brand-new jeans by themselves the first time around so that any extra dye doesn't bleed on to my other clothes. 

STYLE: I decided to go with the medium blue straight-leg look for a couple reasons: I already own two pairs of skinny jeans, one black and one light wash, so this was a unique addition. Also, my workplace now allows jeans on the weekend, but I still like to keep things classy, so the timeless straight-leg was a no-brainer. They look elegant paired with heels or casual-chic when cuffed and worn with flats. Kevin also chose to go with a mid-blue since he already has light wash jeans. He tends to prefer a more relaxed-tapered fit over a very slim look, so these were perfect. I think they look pretty darn good on him ;) Outland offers a great variety of styles, including ripped jeans and a variety of fits and washes, so be sure to check out their entire shop. 

OUTFIT DETAILS: Besides the jeans, I'm wearing the rose suede Editor Heels from Everlane, a Levi's tee, a necklace from APSE Adorn, and a watch from Berg + Betts. Kevin's wearing a tee from Kotn. Keep scrolling to shop our looks. 


Outland Denim Facts

ABOUT THE BRAND: Outland Denim is a quality denim brand founded by James Bartle several years ago and is based in Australia. After a trip to Cambodia where he saw the horrors of the sex trade with his own eyes, James set out to start a brand that would provide employment opportunities to help rescued women secure a better future and prevent at-risk women from falling into poverty. Their clean, bright factory is located in Cambodia and employs forty women. Beyond paying them liveable wages, the women are also provided education with classes like tailoring and English.

SOCIAL IMPACT: Outland Denim is a certified B Corp and received an A+ rating from the Baptist World Aid fashion transparency index. A typical garment factory demands long, gruelling hours of their employees and low wages, the possibility of financial, physical, and emotional abuse, and endless repetition of the same job with little opportunity for growth or development. In stark contrast, Outland pays living wages, meaning the women don't have to work long hours to meet targets and can send money back to their family. The women are protected and empowered to grow, and given the opportunity to become proficient in all aspects of making a jean instead of just one. The seamstresses have a sense of pride in their work and are motivated to strive for excellence. Many of them have developed aspirations to achieve other dreams when they move on from Outland, like starting their own business. to

SUSTAINABILITY: Fully aware that manufacturing denim can be incredibly destructive to the environment, Outland is working to leave as minimal an environmental footprint as possible. They source only the highest quality organic denim from a Turkish mill called Bossa, which has been actively involved in both sustainability and ethical issues since it first started. It has done incredible work to ensure better sustainability in all areas of the process and is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). 

Outland Denim has lots more to say about their process. Read more about them here.


I hope you found this review helpful! If you've been looking for a new pair of jeans with maximum social impact, look no further.


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DISCLOSURE: This post was produced in partnership with Outland Denim, but as always, all opinions are my own. There is also an affiliate link for a different brand, and I may make a small commission if you purchase through it. Thanks for supporting the brands that support Ally C Tran!

Photography by Jesse Tamayo

Alena TranComment