It’s been a challenging year for the Indigenous-Australian community. 2020 started with the ecological devastation of their beloved land. Then, in part due to Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, local issues of racial discrimination that have long been ignored were brought to mainstream attention; including the high rate at which Indigenous Australians die in custody and the huge disparity in life expectancy.
But awareness is the first step toward making real actionable changes. So it’s important that we continue to shed light on those out there trying to make a difference. We decided to catch up with Sianna Catullo, the Chief Creative Officer of Clothing the Gap – a play on ‘closing the gap’ (referring to life expectancy) – about the challenges they have faced while creating a movement that aims to raise awareness and funds for Aboriginal causes.
Sianna believes clothes are a talking point, and a great way to shed light on causes.
How’d Clothing The Gap come about?
“So Clothing The Gap is an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise. 100% of our profits support health promotion programs that we run. So, we originally started as a health promotion business, which is called Spark Health. We always ran health promotion programs for Aboriginal people and as incentives, my boss would design singlets. If people came to six out of the eight programs they would receive this free singlet and she saw how popular that was and how that actually brought people into the program.”
“And so the main aim was for it to self-determine. Be able to self-fund our own programs and not have to rely on government funding. And it’s grown massively. We never thought or expected it to grow like this, or for us to be in the position that we’re in now. We’ve got over 60,000 followers now and we run virtual events. It’s come a long way.”
Why do you think clothing has such an impact?
S: “It’s an educational tool. Donations are great, but I think education is even more important. If we do want to change the world or we want to see a change in the world, knowledge is power. So we use clothing as our tool to educate people and to encourage people to learn about it, and encourage people to take that information and then wear it proudly, and then go and educate more people. Our slogan is, ‘It’s more than a tee, it’s a conversation starter.’”
And it’s been a really big year for Indigenous causes and initiatives.
S: “Yeah. I think there has been a huge influx in support in Aboriginal not-for-profit organizations or businesses or brands. It’s great to see the support, but at the same time, it’s so frustrating because we’ve been doing this for a while. Other organizations and donation places have been doing this for ages. These issues aren’t new. And I think it’s really sad and upsetting that it has to take a death in the U.S to realize what’s happening in people’s own backyards. It’s a lot of mixed emotions this year for us.”
“And making sure as well, it’s not just a tick in the box thing. Our brand was an easy thing to grab onto is like, “Look, I’m doing something. I’m buying a tee-shirt.” And we want to make it really clear to people that buying a tee-shirt isn’t enough and that’s with donations as well, one donation isn’t enough. There are still deaths in custody still happening now. When you look at ‘Raise The Age’, kids as young as 10 are being put into jail. 70% of them are Aboriginal kids. We have a long way to go, but hopefully, this is a positive start.”
It’s okay to jump on the bandwagon and wear one of our items to protest now, but we also want to see you at the next one.
For brands too, it should be a year-round thing, right?
S: “We are by no means marketing people, designers or fashion people. This is completely new to us. Everything we do, we do because “This feels right, so we’re going to do it.” But something we’ve learned is to have transparency behind our brand. Who we are and why we do it. That transparency has brought on so many loyal and devoted followers that really care about the causes. Since then, I’ve really encouraged other brands to be more transparent. There needs to be more long term investment. It’s okay to jump on the bandwagon and wear one of our items to protest now, but we also want to see you at the next one.”
You guys aren’t single-minded in your causes, there’s a lot of Aboriginal Australian issues you raise awareness about, what will the future look like? Will it be tackling one issue after the other?
S: “Yeah. Clothing The Gap is a play on words of Closing The Gap, and the Closing The Gap health initiative exists because our mortality rates are a lot higher. Our life expectancy is a lot lower. Education is different. Imprisonment. The statistics are just way off. So Clothing The Gap exists to help close any and all gaps. We won’t stop talking about causes and issues until we actually do see some systemic change. There’s going to be a lot more campaigns happening in the future.”
As long as a gap exists, you’ll be there closing it?
S: ”Yeah. Exactly. There’s a lot of things that Clothing The Gap will continue to do. I think we’ll be around for a while.”
I noticed you guys have started selling masks now, how has the pandemic affected your strategy?
S: “Being such a small team I think we’re very, very agile and we listened to demand. When the pandemic started all gyms closed down. Sports stopped. We wanted to keep people active, so we started running virtual events.”
“Masks are the latest. We’ve got a really good relationship with our manufacturers and they’re local. We can turn around the products super, super fast. So that’s what we’re doing with the masks.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to spark a movement on social, specifically smaller Linktree users?
S: “Know your why and your purpose behind what you’re doing. If you want to start an initiative, does it align with your values? These initiatives aren’t easy. A lot of the time you do have to go back and look at your reasons for starting it. Keep working and pushing. It’s incredibly rewarding, but it also requires a lot of emotional labor.”
When people hit us up now and ask us to do a collab or something with them, we ask them straight away, what's your why behind your business?
What would you say is the best way for a brand to authentically get involved with causes they care about without sort of stomping all over it?
S: “Your relationship with your brand or the cause has to be genuine. It has to align with your values. When people hit us up now and ask us to do a collab or something with them, we ask them straight away, what’s your why behind your business? What are your values? If we can align with that then yes, maybe we’ve got something that we can do together, but if not, why do it? For Black Lives Matter, the silence was real for a lot of people, but I would actually prefer people to be silent than pretend to actually care about something that they don’t give a shit about.”
Something I was particularly shocked about when I was looking through your website is that the Aboriginal flag is copyrighted. Can you tell me a little bit more about the ‘free the flag’ movement?
S: “Yes. So the Aboriginal flag has been copyrighted by the owner of the flag. He recently licensed it to a non-indigenous company. They were taken to court for $4.3 million worth of damage for exploiting Aboriginal culture and exporting fake Aboriginal art. The same businesses have complete control and licensing rights. In July last year, we were hit with a cease and desist because we obviously sold flag products and were told that we were no longer able to sell them. It was then that we became aware of who is in charge of the licensing rights and what they’re trying to do.”
“Last year we started the Free The Flag movement and the whole purpose was to lobby it to free the licensing rights for the Aboriginal flag and free it for all people to use freely. We started a petition that got over 84,000 signatures. It’s still a working battle. We won’t stop until it is free or something’s done about it.”
We’d love to hear about how you got onto Linktree and how you’re using it.
S: “Yeah. I think there are lots of resources out there for people to read, donate to, support. So we’re using Linktree to not only link to our shop and our website, but to all those resources that other people are making. I’ve recently learned that you can embed videos in there, which is super cool. So we’ve had a lot of videos. We just had a NAIDOC video made called Spirit Of The March, which was a really beautiful poem that we got a lot of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people to read out and we videoed that for our Linktree.”
Clothing the Gap’s Linktree
Clothing the Gap’s Linktree features beautiful Aboriginal-Australian art in it’s background. And as Sianna mentioned, it’s used to house all of Clothing the Gap’s online presence, and to signal-boost other causes, initiatives and resources. Including the Spirit of The March poem video. Make sure you check them out, and if you’d like to support Aboriginal Australian causes, even if you weren’t aware of them before, pick up an item from Clothing The Gap and start having those conversations today.