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Clothing the Gaps is entering a new era with its fashion week debut

IMAGE VIA CLOTHING THE GAPS

WORDS BY Kat Chrisoulis

“Our pieces aim to take people on a journey of learning, unlearning and deepening their understanding and responsibility of what it means to live on sovereign unceded land.”

Fashion Journal is proud to continue an ongoing partnership with First Nations Fashion and Design aimed at highlighting and amplifying First Nations voices, talent, culture and stories across the industry. Fashion Journal acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first Australians and traditional custodians of the lands on which we live, learn and work. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Since 2018, Victorian Aboriginal-led social enterprise Clothing The Gaps has been creating clothing that celebrates Indigenous people and culture. Named Business of the Year at the 2020 Dreamtime Awards, the label’s thoughtfully-made collection of apparel and accessories encourages wearers to ‘wear their values on their tee’.

Nationally-recognised leaders in the seminal Free the Flag campaign, the Naarm-based brand made headlines after the Aboriginal flag’s owner agreed to transfer copyright to the Commonwealth in 2022 following years of public negotiation.

For Clothing The Gaps Creative Directors Laura Thompson and Sianna Catullo, this step in flag equality is only the beginning. This year, the brand is back again presenting its new collection, Honouring Country, in another history-making show at Afterpay Australia Fashion Week. Ahead of the May runway presentation, Sianna and Laura speak on a new era of Clothing The Gaps.

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

 

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We’re Laura Thompson (Gunditjmara) and Sianna Catullo (Narungga). We’re the Creative Directors at Aboriginal social enterprise Clothing The Gaps; based on Wurundjeri Country. Being health promotion practitioners at heart, we’re new to the fashion space, and this is the first-ever collection we’ve produced for a runway.

Tell us about your collection and what we can expect to see at the FNFD show.

This collection is titled Honouring Country and includes both Ally Friendly and Mob Only pieces. The designs include a map of the Aboriginal language groups; paying respect to the Traditional Custodians of Country. This collection recognises the diversity of Aboriginal Australia and the importance of treading lightly and caring for Country.

The Mob Only pieces feature the word ‘sovereign’, recognising the ancestral tie between the land and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Sovereignty fundamentally challenges Terra Nullius, as sovereignty was never ceded on this land.

The colours of the Aboriginal flag (red, black and yellow) have been representative of the Aboriginal Community – and it comes as no surprise that they are also our signature brand colours at Clothing The Gaps. We were inspired in this new collection to take some risks, play it bold and extend this traditional colour palette to include the use of fresh neon highlights and pastels. Look out for some street-stopping comfy clothes!

Other points of inspiration include the Aboriginal flag (now that we can proudly include our flag back into our designs) and bold lettering, which is influenced by handwritten historic protest signage.

Clothing the Gaps has grown from strength to strength these past few years. What has it been like to be at the forefront of this?

 

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We’re grateful for our community of supporters at Clothing The Gaps, who not only wear their values on their tee but live them every day. As a social enterprise, we’ve been able to influence social change and public policy through creating merch with a message. We understand the power of a tee to spark important national conversations. This outcome of this was evident with the campaign to #FreeTheFlag from the exclusive license agreements that inhibited people from using this national flag without payment or permission.

Clothing The Gaps was instrumental in raising awareness of the Aboriginal Flag copyright issue and drove the campaign to Free The Flag. This came to fruition on January 24, 2022, when the Federal Government announced that all Australians have a public license to use the Aboriginal flag without restriction.

We’re driven at Clothing The Gaps to excel as a business in all areas. Not only are we an Aboriginal business, but we are a registered social enterprise with Social Traders, hold Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation, and most recently became a B-Corp based on our wide-ranging ethical business practices.

Talk us through the process of creating this particular collection?

Our designs are influenced and inspired by the important conversations happening in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities about sovereignty, respecting Country and meaningfully acknowledging traditional custodians.

Our pieces aim to take people on a journey of learning, unlearning and deepening their understanding and responsibility of what it means to live on sovereign unceded land.

The newest edition to our Mob Only range centres on the message ‘sovereign’; providing an opportunity for mob to express their sovereignty on this land.

What does this particular collection mean to you?

 

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We can’t wait to wear the new designs and see them out in the world! We’re excited about the conversations this collection will spark. We hope to prive an opportunity for people to move from Acknowledging Country to Honouring Country; understanding what sovereignty means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

What were the significant points of inspiration for your collection?

As Aboriginal women and designers, our cultural heritage and values are central and core to the design. Our Aboriginality is not separate from anything we create at Clothing The Gaps. First and foremost, we want mob to love our clothes. We make our clothes with mob in our hearts and everyone in mind.

When we see non-Indigenous people wearing our designs, we feel proud that they’re repping Indigenous fashion our merch and culture. This increased visibility of First Nation fashions means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not invisible in the landscape. It’s great to have a wider community of Australians appreciating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, art and causes.

What does it mean to be involved in the First Nations runway at Australian Fashion Week?

This is our very first runway and it feels much like professional and personal development for our team. We have already learned so much about the fashion industry from being involved in this opportunity with First Nations Fashion and Designs (FNFD).

To be included alongside other First Nations brands and designers as part of Australian Fashion Week makes this experience even better. Our brand really came alive throughout COVID. We’ve connected with so many amazing designers and people over the years and still haven’t been able to meet everyone IRL. We’re excited to all be under the same roof and able to celebrate together – finally!

We’re supporters of First Nations businesses and buying Blak, so we can’t wait to share the space with all the other designers on the runway. The opportunity to decolonise your wardrobe and fill it with just Blak brands is now a reality.

What part does sustainability play in your design practice? And other ethical considerations?

 

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We’re proud to be the first known Aboriginal business registered and certified by Ethical Clothing Australia. We applied soon after we started the label. It’s important to us that our workforce – who manufacture our clothes on Wurundjeri Country – are being paid appropriately, receiving all their legal entitlements and working in safe conditions. We use our platform to educate our community about how our clothes are made.

When we drop new designs, we’re conscious that we also share educational content and resources. Wearing our tees is a great starting point, but we want to equip people with educational content as well. When our customers go out in the world wearing their values, it’s important to have these conversations in their circles of influence to support social change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Who do you think is most exciting in First Nations fashion right now?

Most exciting in the First Nations fashion space right now is the growing emergence of First Nation designers and brands that are taking up more space and leading. We are also excited about initiatives like Mob in Fashion by Nathan McGuire (Whadjuk, Ballardong, Yuet and Noongar) which exists to elevate First Nations voices and representation ‘behind the scenes’ in the fashion industry.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

 

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It’s important that intentional spaces are created in the Australian Fashion Industry to elevate First Nation fashion – like the opportunities FNFD provide to Indigenous designers and brands.

Consumers also need to educate themselves about with whom they are spending their money and ensure that they are supporting Aboriginal Businesses. We are increasingly seeing non-Indigenous businesses profiting from Aboriginal art and culture. Aboriginal people can practice self-determination through economic participation when [the] community use their cash consciously and buy directly from Blak businesses.

What’s next for you and the team?

We’re looking forward to launching our first collection with FNFD on the runway; the new colours we’ll see in-store and the conversations these pieces will spark.

As a social enterprise, we’re profit for purpose, so we continue to grow our impact through the Clothing The Gaps Foundation. You’ll also soon be able to purchase our clothes through The Iconic!

Head here to learn more about the Clothing The Gaps collection.

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