Erica Bartle was a conscientious student whose focus on journaling parlayed itself into a career in magazine journalism. “I went freelance when I married my now husband, James, taught at the Queensland University of Technology in the Fashion and Journalism departments, and started my own blog, Girl With a Satchel,” says Bartle, “which allowed me the flexibility to produce content that encompassed all my interest areas, from economics to culture.”
Now, she is the Communications Director at Outland Denim, which is dedicated to changing the lives of women who have fallen victim to the human trafficking industry by giving them employment, stability and safety, offering superior, sustainable and gorgeous jeans, with an impactful purpose. “As a brand, we are not purely fashion-focused, so my research, writing and strategizing as Communications Director has also encompassed international development, women’s empowerment, social justice and sustainability. I am never bored.”
We chatted with Bartle this week.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever envision yourself as a Communications Director for a clothing line?
EB: I remember very distinctly my first trip to a David Jones store (one of Australia’s premiere department stores) in Brisbane. I was with my grandmother and had a small budget from money I’d earned performing as an extra with the Australian Ballet. I bought a tartan skirt, opaque tights and a top. I remember being very determined to get that exact outfit combination. My love of fashion and clothes persisted. But I was also a very thoughtful, introverted little girl, and I spent a lot of time in the school library. So the words and the fashion have come together along with a strong sense of wanting to influence the world for good, especially for women and children; to make a contribution; and to help better the lives of people who aren’t as privileged as I have been. I imagined at university that I would do something very serious, like becoming a foreign correspondent, but, in a way, I have done that with Outland.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have two young daughters, aged two and six, so my days tend to revolve around them and their needs: from making lunches and ironing school uniforms, to the school drop-off and afternoon play dates and reading. I have tried to prioritize them as best I can, as I’m all too aware how fast these early years pass by, and how children need stability, nurture and care at home. During work hours, I may be involved in research, writing briefing papers, strategic meetings, formulating policy, proofing copy and/or speaking engagements. I have had to take a definite step back from my professional life to be the mother I have wanted to be, but I have been privileged to still be able to work in the business that James and I created, and to spend time together as a family in Cambodia and include the girls in our work there also.
Can you share any stories of women who have benefited as a result of Outland’s anti-human trafficking initiative? Why is this issue so important to the company?
Absolutely. This is our whole reason for being. We were recently able to take a girl in her late teens into our training program. She had been trafficked for labour into Malaysia without documentation and was picked up there by an NGO, and now has the safety and security of being home in her own country while earning a good wage and acquiring skills to put her in good stead for the future.
Our business started off the back of our introduction to the issue of human trafficking, but we have widened our scope to be inclusive of women from varying backgrounds of vulnerability, from those with disabilities to those who have experienced harsh conditions in garment factories.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
Probably the most major challenge has been my desire to be the absolute best mother I can be to my girls, and to find balance with the business as it has grown and continues to grow. I have experienced major burnout and mental and emotional anguish over the push-pull of the juggle. Little people are incredibly needful of their mummies, particularly if their daddies are often away overseas, as with my husband, James, so to maintain the emotional equilibrium, order and peace in our home has been a challenge, but I have been supported by our family, friends and wonderful community.
Worst career advice you’ve received? Best career advice?
The worst: “Bite off more than you can chew and chew it.” We all have our limits, and I think it takes wisdom and great courage to know where your boundaries lie and then to stay true to them. You’re no good to anyone if you’re running on empty. The best career advice: “Go for it, girl” – my dad. He has always believed I could do whatever I set my mind to. That kind of support from a parent is priceless.
What do you love most about your work at Outland?
When I get to visit our sewing facility in Cambodia, walking in and seeing the women’s beautiful smiling faces and their amazing admiration for my husband, well, that is wonderful. I also love that this is the first business that James and I have been able to work on together, to grow together in a professional sense, and make decisions together that we think are in the best interests of the company and the women we strive to help. I am a very proud wife!
What is your absolute fave Outland item to wear?
Undoubtedly my 2017 edition “Lucy in True Blue” jeans: beautiful mid-blue wash, straight, slightly tapered leg, classic fit, mid-rise, incredibly comfortable, and works well with brogues, heels and boots! Mine have faded out to the most beautiful colour. I hope to have them FOREVER!