Clothing The Gap has gained plenty of well-deserved attention for their streetwear emblazoned with statements that celebrate Aboriginal people and culture, their Free The Flag movement, and powerful social media campaigns.
But what’s now a well-known entity in Australian streetwear actually began as an Aboriginal owned and led Aboriginal Health Promotion social enterprise called Spark Health. Founded by Gunditjmara woman, Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan, Clothing The Gap has evolved and now exists cohesively – to support our not for profit Clothing The Gap foundation after a restructure earlier this year. While there’s been a lot of change behind the scenes, the central mission has remained: to add years to the lives of Aboriginal people.
First came Spark Health, which they founded in order to provide “holistic health, fitness and wellbeing programs to the Aboriginal Community” Sarah explains. “We started making Spark Merch as a little sub-brand because we were already producing merch as incentives for Community members to participate and retain them in our programs. The idea was to sell merch as a way to self-fund the community work. We knew our programs had impact and we wanted to run them independently of government funding. But Spark Merch was hard for people to grasp; it made a whole lot more sense to relaunch this sub brand as Clothing the Gap.” Currently in the process of becoming an official, certified social enterprise, Clothing The Gap proudly re-invests in creating social change that promotes equity so that Aboriginal people feel seen and heard.
While they make it sound fairly straightforward, Sarah and Laura took (and continue to take) risks along the way. As Laura explains, a lot of safeguarding – both professionally and personally – makes taking those chances possible. From infringement battles over using the Aboriginal Flag to a cease and desist from American apparel monolith GAP, protecting themselves legally has been essential. “
Even with David and Goliath legal arguments and various other hurdles to overcome as a small business, Laura and Sarah say that there’s no other way they’d want their endeavours to exist. “Clothing The Gap works… because as small business you’re not a part of the system that oppresses you,” Laura explains. “If we were a part of a big company or an organisation, the Board of Directors might silence us... we have been able to use our voices loud and proudly and continue to push the boundaries in what we want to see change socially.”
While Sarah and Laura are acutely aware that they will continue to face challenges, they are increasingly more resilient, experienced and capable of succeeding now. “We’ve spent a really long time restructuring and building a really solid, strong and protected foundation that we can really grow the business so we are around for a really long time” Sarah says.
The duo recently promoted Sianna Catullo (their first-ever hire) to Head of Marketing and Brand. “It’s been incredible to have someone come into the business and for them to treat it like it is their own, with so much care and affection for the brand,” Laura says. “That’s why she is Head of Marketing and Brand – the way that she protects it, her decisions and her advocacy.”
Sianna’s experience reflects that of Clothing The Gap and Spark Health, she too ended up taking a different direction than planned. After studying Health Science at university, she volunteered and then started working with Spark Health as a Health Promotion Officer before stepping up into her role at Clothing The Gap “ “We talk about adding years to Aboriginal peoples lives. You don’t have to work specifically in the health field to do that; there are other ways. I think education, celebration and advocacy is another way of improving Aboriginal people’s lives and I use our brand and platform to do this.”