A Tamborine Mountain couple whose company Outland Denim took the world by storm after the Duchess of Sussex wore a pair of their ethically-made jeans have revealed how a welding business in Beaudesert financed their foray into ethical fashion.
James and Erica Bartle saw a 1000 per cent increase in jeans sales in the 48 hours after Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was first spotted in Outland Denim as she touched down in the regional town of Dubbo with husband Prince Harry.
It was a defining moment for Outland Denim, which is still headquartered on Tamborine Mountain and ethically employs young women in Cambodia who have been victims of human slavery and sexual abuse.
The story went viral across the globe, giving Outland Denim priceless worldwide media exposure and putting them in a position to employ up to 30 more seamstresses in their Cambodian production house.
The boost takes the Bartles’ workforce to about 100 people locally and abroad, including what will now be 75 staff at Outland Denim Cambodia, 20 at Outland Denim Australia and 5 at their Beaudesert-based metal fabrication business Synergy Steel.
Their global success story is a stretch from tight beginnings, when the young family sacrificed mornings and nights together so James could put in long hours at Synergy Steel to earn enough to get the project off the ground.
Invest Scenic Rim spoke with founder James Bartle about how it all started and what the ‘Meghan Effect’ has meant for business.
ISR: Tell us briefly about the Scenic Rim connection.
James: We started Synergy Steel (still operating out of Enterprise Drive, Beaudesert) as a way of funding the majority of the development of the project. I would weld and powder coat for half the day before heading into the office on Main Street, Tamborine Mountain, to work on the Outland Denim project and then return to the workshop to weld some more at night. It was a challenging time of our lives and really took its toll on my family. I am a Tamborine Mountain local and love the Scenic Rim, so keeping our international HQ here is what we hope to do.
ISR: How does a business operating its HQ out of a relatively small town like Tamborine Mountain achieve ‘The Meghan Effect?’
James: Well, our uniqueness is that we have a proven social impact that offers powerful results to our staff; I think that totally aligns with the Duchess and her values. She’s someone who has been quite vocal about social justice issues in the past, and now that she reports to Kensington Palace, she can use her influence in subtle but dignified ways to communicate what she’s passionate about, such as wearing our jeans to support our mission, which is ultimately to give more opportunities to underprivileged young women. In terms of ‘The Meghan Effect’, we were just as surprised as anyone else that she decided to wear our brand and give it the attention that she draws. She has helped to launch our brand on a really global scale.
ISR: What has the ‘Meghan Effect’ meant for Outland Denim, from a marketing and business growth perspective?
James: It has been huge! We had a 1000 per cent increase in sales for the 48 hours following the Duchess being spotted in our jeans the first time. We had an overall increase in website traffic of 3000 per cent and the media exposure went viral across the globe. You can’t put a price on that level of exposure. The immediate impact of this on the ground was an initial opening for 15 more women to gain employment with Outland Denim, and the high possibility that we will be able to take on a further 15.
ISR: Owning a small business locally (Synergy Steel) and then having built on that foundation to establish a global, ethically-driven business (Outland Denim), what tips do you have for small businesses who want to scale up and make a difference, but don’t know where to start?
James: I think it’s important to understand that growing a successful business, regardless of size, will take 100 per cent commitment, it will be difficult at times and it will mean other parts of your life have to be sacrificed. When I’m feeling like giving up, I picture the women who work for us and what might wait them if this wasn’t an option for them. That’s pretty good motivation to keep pushing.
Find out more about Outland Denim: www.outlanddenim.com.au
*Image by Dean Lewins, Getty Images.