Fashion industry turns to ‘woke’ denim

Fashion Updates

Global fashion search platform Lyst recorded searches for ethical fashion surging 47 per cent in 2018.

Justice Denim is addressing this shift with its range of vegan-friendly jeans which use denim produced at a Turkish mill employing sustainable practices and jeans hand-cut, designed and distressed in Melbourne.

Every pair of jeans funds four weeks of education for a young child who has been rescued from the sexual slavery and illegal labour trade.

“For us, ethical production is a commitment to a different way of doing business,” says Schultz.

The celebrity and television stylist decided to start Justice Denim after watching a documentary on child trafficking.

It took her 12 months to set up the business, find pattern makers and perfect her samples and Schultz used around $30,000 in savings to launch Justice Denim in September last year.

“I started by reaching out to ethical clothing and factories. It is a little harder in Australia because the industry has died quite a lot over the last 20 years,” she says. “Fit is very important and I am very fussy.”

Justice Denim is still a fledgling business but Schultz has sold more than  100 pairs of jeans so far and contributed money for 145 weeks of schooling.

A pair of Justice Denim jeans.

Fashion as a force for good

While big fashion brands are waking up to the demand for ethical and environmentally responsible denim it is small businesses that are leading the way.

Queensland-based Outland Denim shot to prominence last year after Meghan Markle wore the brand’s jeans several times during her visit to Australia with her husband Prince Harry.

Outland Denim works with Cambodian women who have been rescued from trafficking to teach them new skills while also paying a fair wage and offering training and employment opportunities.

The brand uses sustainable materials such as organic cotton and recycled fabric waste.

Founder James Bartle spent eight years developing  Outland Denim before launching the denim brand.
Founder James Bartle spent eight years developing Outland Denim before launching the denim brand.

Founder James Bartle spent eight years developing Outland Denim and estimates it has cost “millions of dollars” over six years to finally launch the business to market in 2016.

Bartle says there was “heaps of trial and error” and he “burned money” to develop Outland Denim’s products and business model.

I would say to brands and industry not moving to this, you will be left behind and people won’t buy your product anymore.

James Bartle

Bartle had to bring investors in who are mainly family and friends, with “a few more sophisticated investors”, but still retains just over half the business.

“I didn’t have a background in fashion and I think it has worked to my advantage as I can look at new ways of doing things,” he says. “It is about using fashion to be a force for good and the opportunities for the people we work with, the women made vulnerable in communities around the world and poverty being the main thing.”