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Melbourne Business School News Meet the Executive MBA students helping Clothing The Gaps plan for success

Meet the Executive MBA students helping Clothing The Gaps plan for success

Aboriginal fashion label Clothing The Gaps thought strategy was a waste of time – until they met a group of Melbourne Business School students.

For Executive MBA student Suzie Bratuskins, working with the Indigenous-owned and operated business was an opportunity she had been looking for.

"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," she says.

Suzie and four of her classmates were paired with the fashion label as part of the Strategic Consulting for Social Impact subject, in which students work as consultants for not-for-profit organisations to help them solve real-world strategic challenges.

"We were very fortunate to get our top selection, which was Clothing The Gaps," says classmate Solly Fahiz.

"And initially, we had a preliminary understanding of what it is that they do, you know, kind of political messaging through fashion."

Adding years to Aboriginal people’s lives

Clothing The Gaps was founded by health professionals Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan to unite people through fashion and promote social change. The brand uses its sales income to help the Clothing The Gaps Foundation move away from traditional funding models to deliver health initiatives that are adding years to Aboriginal people’s lives.

Their T-shirt range carrying the slogan 'Always Was, Always Will Be' quickly proved to be a hit in the first year of business.

"Aboriginal and political fashion? It’s not new for Aboriginal people. We're born into it. Unfortunately, we're wearing our values on our tee and making statements from birth," says Laura, a woman of the Gunditjmara people, whose traditional lands are in south-western Victoria.

"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."

Clothing The Gaps sells street wear consisting of caps, socks and everything in between on its website and in its store on Sydney Road, Brunswick, in Melbourne’s inner north, where over 90 per cent of the staff are Aboriginal.

A fantastic social enterprise to work with

"When we visited the store and met the two people that were working on that shift, that's when we really got more about Clothing The Gaps than we had from the website," says Suzie.

"They lived and breathed it, through the messaging, through their stories and their narrative. They showed us through to the warehouse at the back. They were so warm and inviting, even though we had just rocked up unannounced.

"We loved our time in the store and walked away with a buzz, and that's when we knew we had a fantastic social enterprise to work with."

Suzie’s student group, which also included Laurie Edwards, Anif Khader and David Tisdall, brought a range of experience to their work for Clothing The Gaps.

Suzie is a pharmacist and executive officer at not-for-profit organisation The Water Well Project. Laurie heads Ideation and Portfolio Management – Innovation at building products supplier Boral. David runs Brisbane IT business Enactmsp, and Anif Khader is a program manager at SAGE Automation, also in Brisbane.

That leaves management and strategy consultant Solly, who is co-founder of a sports and media management firm and former Victorian Government chief of staff, executive manager in the TAFE sector and consultant at Social Ventures Australia. He has nothing but admiration for what Clothing The Gaps was set up to achieve.

"For me, I think it’s just an awesome opportunity for community members to, you know, who feel strongly about issues that have probably gone on for far too long, to really, kind of, show their commitment to various causes and their support of issues affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through what they wear," Solly says.

A plan for future success

Together, the team created a strategic plan to help Clothing The Gaps confirm what it had done right in its first year of operation and suggest where it might turn for future success.

"What we realised fairly quickly was that Clothing The Gaps was a very, very successful business, and, because of that success, they had not had time to then prepare a strategic plan, business plan, and cement some of that foundation work," Suzie says.

"So, we felt pretty fortunate to be able to work on that and help them with that component of their business."

While proud of Clothing The Gaps’ early success, co-founder Laura is grateful for the insights provided by Suzie and the Executive MBA team in their report.

"Before I’d received the strategy document, I thought strategy was a little bit of a waste of time – until I got the document. And we use it and refer to it, you know, almost daily," she says.

"It's in the back of our minds, 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? And why is it important to know who our customer is, moving forward?"

That endorsement is music to Suzie's ears and a compliment to the hard work of the student team.

"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."

To learn more about the Strategic Consulting for Social Impact subject, visit our Executive MBA page.

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