Clothing The Gaps: Driving political messaging through fashion (plus: a brief history of Aboriginal Australia)
Clothing The Gaps is a unique fashion label that celebrates Aboriginal people and culture. “What’s different about Clothing The Gaps is that it’s opened up our clothes for non-Indigenous people to step into and show their support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander causes,” says Laura Thompson, co-founder & CEO of Clothing The Gaps. (01:02)
Deputy CEO & co-founder Sarah Sheridan adds, “As a non-Aboriginal person, it’s an opportunity to wear my values on my tee every single day and make a statement to the world about what I want to see change and what I support.” (01:13)
Indigenous peoples in Australia are made up of two groups: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. They are the original inhabitants of Australia before British colonization forced them off the land in the late 1700s. Over the next centuries, Aboriginal people struggled to survive – many died from starvation, disease, and battles with the colonists. In the 1900s, the Australian government forced Aboriginal people to adopt European culture, taking Aboriginal children away from their parents to be raised by white families or government institutions.
By the end of the 20th century, Australian society had begun to acknowledge its horrible treatment of Aboriginal Australians. In 1967, Aboriginal people were given the right to vote and were recognized as Australian citizens. In 2008, the Australian prime minister issued a formal apology for the past mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples.
When it comes to Clothing The Gaps, Melbourne Business School Executive MBA student Solly Fahiz says, “It’s an awesome opportunity for community members who feel strongly about issues that have probably gone on for far too long to really show their commitment to various causes and their support of issues affecting the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander community through what they wear.” (01:50)
Consulting for social impact in the Melbourne Business School Executive MBA
As students in the Melbourne Business School Executive MBA program, Suzie Bratuskins and Solly Fahiz were part of a five-member student team who were excited to work with Clothing The Gaps as part of the Strategic Consulting for Social Impact subject.
In the subject, students use their newfound consulting and strategy skills to help a social enterprise. “I was really excited about this subject,” Suzie says. “I had just moved from corporate into the not-for-profit sector and knew that values and aligning my values with my work was so important and I definitely got that out of this subject.” (00:14)
The Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School includes subjects like Leadership, Ethics and Social Responsibility, Managing People, Corporate Strategy, and of course, Strategic Consulting for Social Impact. The program is the #1 Executive MBA (EMBA) in Australia according to the Financial Times. Designed for ambitious, motivated professionals, the program lasts 18 months, consisting of 17 four-day modules and one module in Asia.
Strategizing the future
When Suzie and Solly visited Clothing The Gaps for the first time, they immediately felt a connection with the team and organization. As Suzie puts it, “They lived and breathed…the messaging through their stories and their narrative.” (01:31)
However, Suzie continues, “What we realized fairly quickly was that Clothing The Gaps was a very, very successful business and because of the success, they had not had time to prepare a strategic plan [or] business plan and cement some of that foundation work, so we felt pretty fortunate to be able to work on that and help them with that component of their business.” (02:06)
While co-founder & CEO Laura used to think strategy was a waste of time, the strategy document put together by the Melbourne Business School students turned out to be extremely valuable. “We use it and refer to it almost daily,” Laura reveals. “It’s in the back of our mind – some of those key points about where we might go to in the future. They answered questions for us that we hadn’t actually nailed ourselves, like ‘Who is our customer?’” (02:35)
As a social enterprise, Clothing The Gaps uses business to drive impact. Without a comprehensive strategic vision, the organization would not be able to continue serving and empowering Aboriginal peoples in Australia (currently, 81% of its staff members are Indigenous people). Furthermore, in March 2022, Clothing The Gaps became a certified B Corporation, cementing its position in the movement towards uniting people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) through fashion and a worthy cause.
Suzie concludes, “We were so fortunate to have Clothing The Gaps as our project and feel very proud of what they’ve achieved and what their growth is looking like at the moment. I follow them with interest and I love seeing people wearing the merch out in public.” (03:34)