First Nations Social Enterprise Clothing the Gaps is Changing Australia One T-Shirt at a Time

Laura Thompson (left) and Sarah Sheridan

This First Nations-led social enterprise is changing the face of Australia, one T-shirt at a time.

Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson isn’t afraid to walk away from a deal. “We’ve stepped away from some great opportunities,” says the CEO of ethical apparel brand Clothing The Gaps. “They usually fall down on one simple thing: values.” Co-founder Sarah Sheridan agrees. “Buying a T-shirt is just the beginning,” she says of the social enterprise’s designs, emblazoned with slogans such as “Aboriginal Land, Tread Lightly” and “Always Was, Always Will Be”. “It’s always been important to us to back that up with education, to enable allies to have those hard discussions and reduce the burden on mob.”

Originally created as a merch line to support the pair’s health promotion work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the label (its profits are channelled into the Clothing The Gaps Foundation’s mission to add years to First Nation peoples’ lives) officially launched in March 2020. The meteoric rise of the B-corp certified brand that’s now a mainstay in progressive closets around the country is due entirely to organic growth and not a single external investment. “When we launched we had three employees, including Laura and me,” explains Sheridan. “Today we have 77 employees, with 92 per cent of them Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.”

A recent collaboration with youth homelessness non-profit HoMie saw excess clothing stock from both organisations cut in half and remade for a limited line. And as well as a commitment to hyperlocal production – three-quarters of its procurement spend is within an 80-kilometre radius of two bricks-and-mortar stores in Naarm (Melbourne) – Thompson and Sheridan aim to reduce the label’s environmental footprint further, with all offcuts and factory waste upcycled and used in furnishings by textile recycler UPPAREL.

“We spend a lot of time on thoughtful design and quality,” says Thompson. “Hopefully, people hold onto our products forever because they mean something to them.”

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