“To come from the situation they were in previously to a situation where they are making jeans fit for a princess — that’s a big deal,” says Outland founder James Bartle

By Monique Jessen
January 24, 2019 05:15 PM

Meghan Markle is ushering in a new era of royal fashion — with a powerful message.

By choosing sustainable and ethical labels, the Duchess of Sussex, 37, has had a life-changing impact on a number of brands. Among them: Outland Denim, which Meghan wore the on tour Down Under last fall. After stepping out in their black skinny jeans ($195), sales increased by a whopping 640%. The massive increase enabled founder James Bartle to hire 46 seamstresses in his Cambodian factory – many of whom are either victims of sex trafficking or forced labor.

“The core of our business is about giving opportunity to vulnerable women, and for Meghan to align so closely with that and to expose us to the world, it’s been huge,” Bartle tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

Meghan Markle (with Prince Harry) in Outland skinny jeans in Australia in October.
Samir Hussein/WireImage

Bartle launched the brand in 2011 after an encounter with the reality of human trafficking on the streets of Thailand. His aim was to start a company where victims of such abuse could learn a new skill set, start afresh and support their families without fear.

“As we came to learn more about the issues, it was very obvious that we needed to combat the root cause, which was poverty,” says Bartle, who not only offers employment to his staff but also personal development initiatives such as teaching English, infant health and self-defense.

A seamstress at Outland Denim.
Outland Denim

“For these individual women who had this opportunity as a result [of Meghan], it’s a really hard thing to be able to explain,” the CEO and founder says from his head office in Tamborine Mountain on the outskirts of Brisbane. “It’s not just that one woman who has been impacted, it’s her entire family. You really can’t put a value on that: The fact that their dignity is restored by their own hard work, not by anyone else.”

After initially announcing on Instagram that he would be hiring 15-30 new seamstresses as a result of increased sales, that figure has continued to grow. Now, three months since the royal tour (where Meghan wore their Harriet high-rise skinny jeans no less than six times!), 46 families have a brighter future.

“To come from the situation they were in previously to a situation where they are making jeans fit for a princess – that’s a big deal,” says the founder, whose wife, Erica Bartle, also works for the company.

The jeans not only help change lives for the better, but they also help the planet. Using organic cotton, natural vegetable dyes as well as zips made from recycled materials, the company is in the process of developing their own state-of-the-art wash house, reducing their environmental footprint further.

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“We have a lot in the pipeline — we are moving into the U.K. this year and slowly moving into the U.S market,” says Bartle.

As for the jeans, they are still on pre-order, with delivery not expected until April. “Some people have waited six months or longer for these jeans,” he says. “I had one lady call up and she was buying everything Meghan had worn!”

Seamstresses at Outland Denim in Cambodia.
Outland Denim

And despite the numerous re-wears, Bartle insists that Meghan only has one pair of their jeans. “We spent a long time focusing on fabric composition — they have incredible recovery, so they don’t go baggy on the knees. They keep their shape and we hope that showed!”

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While Bartle is yet to be in touch with Meghan directly (the jeans were supplied through a third-party), he says he hopes she is aware of the difference she is making to brands like his: “She is absolutely making a conscious decision with the products she is wearing. I want nothing more than to give her a hug and say thank you, not just from the women here today but for the women of the future.”

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