Outland, a sustainable and ethically-sourced Australian denim brand, will make its US debut in Spring 2020

By Hanna Flanagan and Brittany Talarico
November 25, 2019 09:00 AM
James Bartle
Credit: courtesy James Bartle

Sustainable fashion has become a cornerstone of Meghan Markle’s wardrobe. And starting this spring, royal style watchers in the United States can get a piece of the Duchess of Sussex’s eco-friendly closet just by stepping into Nordstrom and Bloomingdales.

Sustainable Australian brand Outland Denim, one of Meghan’s favorite companies, announced Monday that it will launch in Nordstrom and Bloomingdales in Spring 2020. And aside from reducing the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, Outland is on a mission to provide stable employment to women who might otherwise be subjected to sex trafficking, another cause championed by Meghan.

Ahead of the exciting retail partnership, Outland founder James Bartle opened up to PEOPLE about getting the royal seal of approval, manufacturing sustainable clothing and what prompted his major career shift from motocross racer to denim mogul.

“I was at [motocross] show and later that same day I got a flyer from an anti-trafficking organization. What was on the flyer was what I’d already seen in the news…I was already on the journey of wanting to know more when I met them,” he explains. “They invited me to see what it was like.”

Bartle traveled to Asia with the organization, where he witnessed first-hand young boys and girls lining the streets of the red light district, which he says “changed everything.” It ignited his passion for social change: “I wanted to go in there guns blazing, get these kids out and be the hero,” he says. “But if we want to solve the problem, we’ve got to go deeper because it’s an economic problem.”

James Bartle
Credit: Amy Higg

The most effective way to help? Employing women who are most at-risk of being trafficked. And that’s exactly what he did in launching Outland.

“Our business model is about finding vulnerable people and being able to equip them with what they need for them to make the change themselves,” he says. “The more people we reach and the more jeans sold, the more good we can do in this world.”

Partnering with Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, both wide-reaching retailers that are committed to making social change and values sustainability, is a natural next step for the brand, which gained serious traction when the Duchess of Sussex stepped out in the label’s Harriet Black High-Waist style last year.

“When Meghan put our jeans on, it took the company to a whole new level,” he says. “She hopped off the plane wearing our jeans, and we sold out of that style within 24 hours. Sales were coming through, media outlets were calling — it was quite emotional to experience such an influx of attention on the brand.”

The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex
Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

Bartle received personal congratulatory messages from friends, family and customers, but he says the most rewarding part of it all was the fact that Meghan put a spotlight on Outland’s sustainable practices, which includes using organic cotton, researching in-house and employing water and energy reducing technology.

“Meghan is very into sustainable fashion and you know, she’s looking to wear companies that support women,” he explains. “Her wearing the jeans completely changed our business from being one that we hoped would make it to one that’s got a really solid foundation. People are interested in us and want to buy the product.”

Bartle admits he wasn’t very in-tune with the environmental impact of the fashion industry when he started his business but quickly realized that “no factories are completely responsible in the way that they dispose of waste,” he tells PEOPLE. “There’s still a carbon footprint as a result of producing denim, but what we get to do is try to come up with ways to reduce it.”

And while Outland is undoubtedly ahead of the curve when it comes to eco-consciousness in the fashion industry, Bartle adds that “nobody can really sit on their high horse because no one actually has the entire solution yet.”

But through teaming with retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, Bartle hopes to build a bigger network of sustainably minded companies that are all working toward a common goal.

“Nordstrom’s recent launch of its Sustainable Style arm, which supports responsibly made products and brands focused on social and environmental elements, makes Nordstrom a well-respected leader in this space – one we believe can understand our values and commitment of the future of fashion,” Bartle says of the aligning with the company. “We couldn’t do what we do without the likes of Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and their customers.”

And entering the American market in 2020 is a goal realized for everyone at the brand.

“Branching in the US has been a dream since Outland Denim’s inception,” he shares. “Our brand and our purpose have always been met with support in the US. We are embracing a new wave of consumers who are socially and environmentally responsible. With such a warm welcome and the sheer scale of the US denim market, we see potential for incredible growth and therefore incredible social impact.”