Aboriginal-owned and operated business Clothing the Gap has been forced to rebrand after a two-year legal battle with US clothing giant, GAP.
The popular Australian brand announced their rebrand this week, moving from Clothing the Gap to Clothing the Gaps.
Co-founders of the brand Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan began working together during their time at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO).
From there the pair created SparkHealth, an Aboriginal-owned and led health promotion consultancy.
“We always used merch to encourage people to participate in our health and wellbeing programs and stay in them,” Sheridan told NIT.
SparkHealth’s merchandise arm, SparkMerch, merged into Clothing the Gap in 2018. And in April of that year, the business received a notice of intent to oppose their trademark from GAP.
Sianna Catullo, Narungga woman and head of branding and marketing at Clothing the Gaps, has worked with the brand since the beginning, starting as a volunteer.
“SparkHealth was activewear and it was very loud active wear,” she said.
“I asked my non-Indigenous friends if they would wear it, and they said they didn’t know. It was quite loud and they didn’t know if they were allowed to wear it.”
Catullo said that’s where the rebrand started, moving from activewear to streetwear and marketing options for non-Indigenous people.
“Community was always going to get around us because Blak people support Blak business — so it was about how we were marketing to non-Indigenous people. That’s when the OG tee was made,” she said.
“We always say that we design with mob in our hearts and others in our mind,” added Sheridan.
The 2018 rebranding to Clothing the Gap enabled an understanding of what the social enterprise did, without the need for lengthy explanations.
“When we were SparkHealth we were continually explaining to people what we did and how the social enterprise method worked but the second we rebranded to Clothing the Gap, in reference to the national strategy of Closing the Gap, people understood,” said Sheridan.
“But that’s when the two-year battle began.”
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Not long after their letter from GAP, the brand received their cease and desist letter from WAM regarding the use of the Aboriginal flag.
“It was really scary because that was when the flag stuff happened. We started the [free the] flag campaign, and we were getting bigger and bigger but we had in the back of our brain that we might not be Clothing the Gap next year,” said Catullo.
“The name was a really great catchphrase that people understood. We were concerned that in rebranding we weren’t going to be able to tell this story properly.”
Sheridan said that whilst GAP was looming over the brand, the flag was the most important issue at hand at the time.
“At the end of the day, the GAP issue is over one word, the flag is the flag,” she said.
“People had asked us why we hadn’t talked about this before now, and we didn’t want this to have focus over other campaigns like Free the Flag or campaigns we’ve walked alongside like Our Kids Belong with Family and Blak Deaths in Custody.”
“First and foremost, those causes and campaigns are really close to our heart and they are what we want to fight for before the brand,” added Catullo.
The team had pro-bono legal support for both the Free the Flag and GAP legal battles. Eventually, Clothing the Gaps was able to negotiate terms of agreement, which included the shift from Gap to Gaps.
“It’s my job to think about the story and how to I visually make that a thing, so I was so stressed about rebranding. When I heard we just had to put an ‘s’ on it — I was relieved!” Catullo said.
“People sometimes thinks it makes more sense because there isn’t one gap there are multiple, so it makes more sense.”
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“Where we are stuck is when Clothing the Gap is put into the fabric,” said Sheridan.
The team is in the process of moving their brand across, selling off original stock and transferring emails, domain names and everything in-between.
Whilst rebranding, the team is also working on launching their Heal Country NAIDOC virtual run which will operate through the Clothing the Gaps Foundation and a new campaign set to drop in early May.
“It’s been really exciting to release the Clothing the Gaps Foundation, to have a home for all of our impact work that is funded by the sale of tees,” said Sheridan.
“The Clothing the Gaps Foundation will run the Heal Country virtual run which goes on sale this week.”
“We saw the impact of our virtual runs last year and the community engagement so we’re keeping that up with Heal Country,” added Catullo.
“And of course, our Shades of Deadly has been a two-year work in progress, and is coming out very very soon!”
By Rachael Knowles