Clothing the Gaps
Clothing the Gap began in 2018, co-founded by Laura Thompson (R) and Sarah Sheridan (L), who had worked together at Victorian Aboriginal Health Services. In just 3 short years since then, their social enterprise has become Australia’s largest Aboriginal-owned and operated clothing label.
The name, of course, is a fun play on ‘Closing The Gap’. That of the Australian Government health initiative aiming to close the health and life-expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-indigenous people. The business had morphed from the merchandise arm of Spark Health, an Aboriginal-owned health promotion consultancy that used products as an incentive for people to participate and complete their health and well-being programmes.
It’s currently in the process of rebranding into Clothing the Gaps, following a copyright challenge by international clothing giant Gap.
The founders attribute its rapid growth to the purpose and values behind their brand, which has always been about social change more than fashion. Clothing the Gaps’ streetwear and merchandise are thought of as helpful conversation starters that can positively influence opinions and bring about that change. As Laura puts it: “Clothes are made with mob in our hearts, but everyone in mind.”
“Clothes are made with mob in our hearts, but everyone in mind.”-Laura Thompson
They started marketing and selling to the wider community, encouraging them through social media to have meaningful conversations starting with the messaging on what they were wearing, within their own social circles, outside of the Aboriginal community.
“It’s a movement,” says Laura, “based on an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise, reinvesting back into our community. At its heart it’s about influencing social change that promotes equity so that Aboriginal people feel seen and heard. Our drive is to add years to Aboriginal people’s lives.” The profits from Clothing The Gaps are reinvested into health and employment programs and campaigns run by the Clothing The Gaps Foundation.
“Our drive is to add years to Aboriginal people’s lives.”-Laura Thompson
“At clothing the Gap we have four values: Elevate, Educate, Advocate and Celebrate. Everything we do as a brand and business reflects on these values”-Laura Thompson
The brand uses uses “Ally friendly” and “Mob only” tags on their merchandise to identify suitability for indigenous or non-indigenous people. They’ve hit the right note with how products are received. Laura explains:
“As we grew, so did our DM’s. One question that we were asked A LOT is “can I wear that?” As a small business and team, we found ourselves struggling to get back to everyone fast enough. As an educational platform, we believed it was our responsibility to educate people on cultural appropriation as opposed to appreciation and why we wanted our supporters to wear our stuff, no matter what nationality or background. We want people feeling confident about their purchases.”
“We make everything with mob in our heart. Our community are the people who inspire and influence our designs, campaigns, the way we do business. It’s important to us, as a brand that we can make clothes for mob. We are excited about having mob only pieces. We want everyone to come on this journey of education and support but it is important to us to have a piece solely for our Community as well.”
We asked Laura how she measures their success.
“All we have to do is walk down the streets of Brunswick and see our stuff everywhere to feel like we’re succeeding! Not because we are selling stuff, but each t-shirt, beanie, or pair of socks even is a potential conversation starter that can and does impact the way people think and act. And it makes Aboriginal people feel safe.
When we get messages from First Nations people thanking us and sharing a story when our clothes made them feel good, that’s success.
When we get messages of people sharing a conversation they had, that’s a success.
We are extremely grateful for the community we have built and the fact that people feel comfortable sharing their stories with us.”
Continue to Part 2 here.
More stories about Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander designed Fashion:
Lyn-Al Young – Fasheaming
Celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Owned Fashion Businesses
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Fashion Designers
Ella Noah Bancroft
Cairns Indigenous Fashion Showcase
Yatu Widders Hunt on Indigenous Fashion
Maara Collective’s Julie Shaw Wins National Indigenous Fashion Design Award
Indigenous Fashion Showcases in 2021
Aboriginal Fashion Showcase PFF