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May 5, 2021

Clothing the Gaps: The First Nations Clothing Brand Making a Difference

This Aboriginal-owned and -led social enterprise creates clothes that start conversations and support community health.

This April, Casper Magazine has shone a spotlight on a range of sustainable fashion brands from Australia and New Zealand. However, we recognise that ethical fashion is just as important as sustainable fashion: brands need to care not only about the environment, but also the people they employ and support. We touched on this idea briefly in our article on ReCreate, a New Zealand brand providing fair employment for marginalised people in Cambodia, but this week we want to focus on an amazing clothing brand a little closer to home: Clothing the Gaps.

The name is a play on the words Closing the Gap, an Australian Government initiative aimed at combating the reduced health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to non-Indigenous Australians, such as an eight-year difference in life expectancy. The social initiative has its roots in 2018, when Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson and her friend Sarah Sheridan started the Clothing the Gaps Foundation (then known as Sparks Health), a program to encourage better fitness among Aboriginal communities. They started producing singlets and shirts with Aboriginal designs as rewards for people who participated in their events, but when the designs proved popular, Thompson and Sheridan decided to start selling them and used the profits to fund their health promotion work.

In just three years, Clothing the Gaps has expanded to sell a huge range of incredible unisex streetwear, including exercise gear, children’s clothes, beanies, and even reusable coffee cups, all while continuing to support the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Their products are available both online and at their brick-and-mortar shop on Brunswick Street, Melbourne, which opened at the end of 2020. They are the first known Aboriginal-owned and -led business to be Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) accredited, guaranteeing fair pay and safe conditions for their workers across the supply chain, and their growing staff is majority First Nations, keeping to their original vision of a self-determined social effort.

Clothing the Gaps is also working to make the issues currently affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people visible to the wider community. Many of their clothes feature designs inspired by current causes, such as the ‘Always Was Always Will Be’ slogan for land rights and the ‘Free the Flag campaign. Many non-Indigenous people are nervous about whether they are ‘allowed’ to wear Aboriginal designs, but Clothing the Gaps actively encourages this visible allyship as they believe the messaging on these clothes is a powerful way to start conversations with friends and loved ones. For this reason, they explicitly identify pieces in their collection that are ‘Ally Friendly’, and purchases come with educational resources to help you know what to say in those important conversations as well as to encourage you to reflect on how you can be an even stronger ally.

When non-Indigenous people wear our merch we feel seen, heard and supported, [but] we’re also providing lots of content to educate them so when they start the conversation – because our shirts are conversation starters – they’re equipped to do that.
– CLOTHING THE GAPS CO-FOUNDER, DESIGNER, AND MANAGING DIRECTOR LAURA THOMPSON.

Although a recent legal dispute with American clothing giant Gap Inc has meant Clothing the Gaps have recently had to change their name by adding an ‘s’ to ‘Gap’, they’ve taken the change in stride. According to the enterprise, pluralising their name only helps to emphasise that there are many ‘gaps’ that need attention to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, all of which the brand aims to address. Clothing the Gaps’ advocacy for First Nations Australians invites us all to join the efforts, and we encourage everyone to get involved.

Keep an eye out later this month for our Clothing the Gaps giveaway, where we will be sharing some of their amazing merch with you!

For more ethical Australian fashion, check out our last sustainability spotlight on local brand A.BCH. To learn more about the issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, read our exploration of the Australia Day national holiday.


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