Laura Thompson co-founded Clothing the Gap, now Clothing the Gaps, with Sarah Sheridan after they worked together at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Services. It’s a social enterprise that has not only evolved into the largest Aboriginal owned and led clothing label, but has spearheaded campaigns to bring about important social change.
The Victorian lockdown was tough on everyone, not least Aboriginal communities. We spoke to Laura about Covid, campaigns and change through Clothing the Gaps.
We all want to forget 2020, but how did Clothing the Gaps fare during the lockdown?
COVID was hard. Our health programs took a massive hit. Getting moving and getting other people moving is something we are passionate about as a business. It’s integral to our health, mentally, physically and socially. We started Virtual events to motivate people to keep moving and to connect with one another. Over the 2020 year, we did 3 separate virtual events and overall got over 20,000 people moving! From 8 different countries. Our first run had 20% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation! That is massive and we were so proud given that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3% of Australia’s population.
Clothing the Gaps has been leading the #FreetheFlag campaign. Where is this at right now? What can be done before the Aboriginal flag turns 50 in July?
The flag is still not free meaning Aboriginal people can not freely use their flag without asking for permission and paying a fee to non-indigenous people.
The Aboriginal flag is one of the only nationally recognised flags in the world that is copyrighted. Harold Thomas, the designer of the Aboriginal flag holds the copyright and has licensed it to three non-indigenous companies. Free The Flag campaign aims to free the Aboriginal flag from its current licensing agreements and see Aboriginal people have equal rights and access to their flag. The flag turns 50 this year, we hope something is done by then. However it is in the hands of the Government. All we can do is keep making noise and pressuring the Government to take action.
Our campaigning and advocacy over the past two years led to a Senate Inquiry in Parliament! We often use this as an example when we talk about your tee making impact and change.
The AFL has been supportive of the Free the Flag campaign. How’d you get them behind it?
Collingwood Football Club was the first AFL club to jump on board the campaign in 2019. We had plans to release this partnership and raise awareness to wider Australia about the current issue on the Sir Douglas Nicholls Round in 2020.
However COVID got in the way and hindered our plans to release this in a big way, because at that point the AFL didn’t even know if it was going ahead. However, they worked their magic and AFL went on. Two weeks prior to the Sir Douglas Nicholls Round, Collingwood wanted to revisit the partnership and campaign. All we wanted was for people to know about the current issue and to support the campaign.
Only three days before the round, we had somehow got in contact with all eighteen clubs and within those three days all eighteen clubs were supporting the campaign for the Indigenous Round. We could not have done this without the power of people! The deadly Aboriginal people working within the clubs and all the clubs loyal, passionate supporters made the Free The Flag campaign happen in the AFL.
Clothing the Gaps is a young enterprise, yet straight out of the starting blocks it is accredited as ethical clothing. This must have been a high priority?
Caring for Country is something that is especially important to us. We want to make sure we are making our clothes as ethically and sustainably as we can.
COVID made us all aware of the importance of supporting local and the impact it has. We have an amazing relationship with our manufacturer in Thomastown. Our business helped him stay alive and get through COVID and he has helped us learn and develop the best products.
Can allies volunteer?
We relied on and thrived off volunteering last year when we grew rapidly! It was integral to survival last year! We think it’s super important. We aren’t currently taking volunteers as we were able to employ over 17 staff members when we opened our store, however we welcome anyone to enquire for the future!
What advice would you have for allies in the lead up to NAIDOC and how best they can do more to show support and take appropriate action?
NAIDOC week is a week for Aboriginal people to celebrate culture, people and achievements. We now have events that allow non-indigenous people to learn more, support and be a part of. The march is one in particular that we love seeing non-indigenous people come to.
However, be mindful that it’s a week for us. Do not expect us to want to attend your events and give too much on this week especially. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture should and can be celebrated every week.
It’s important to elevate First Nations voices and if you want us to attend your events, consider doing it the week before or after, or dare I say any other time of the year. And PAY!! Our knowledge and experiences should be compensated.
We just announced our Clothing The Gaps Foundation where our Virtual Events will roll out from. We have our first event of the year happening on NAIDOC week. A great event that allies can get involved in!
We are also very close to announcing our first mob only piece: Shades of Deadly! Shades of Deadly has been a campaign in the works for over two years now. We are excited that we can finally attach it with some merch. It’s about challenging Aboriginal stereotypes and creating a platform for culture and a safe space for Aboriginal people to embrace their identities.
It’s an opportunity to educate the wider community about the diversity in Aboriginal culture.
Head over to the Clothing the Gaps website to purchase merchandise: anything with the previous logo must be sold before 31 July 2021. Or try them on in person at 744 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, Victoria.
See more about Clothing the Gap