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Putting everyone in the spotlight

The Western Bulldogs Pride guernsey was one of the best designs we’ve seen this year. Mary Konstantopoulos talks to designer Natalie Gills about its story.

Ellie Blackburn in the 2021 Western Bulldogs Pride Guernsey. Image: Megan Brewer
Ellie Blackburn in the Western Bulldogs 2021 Pride guernsey. Image: Megan Brewer

Natalie Gills is a senior graphic designer at the Western Bulldogs. 

Gills has been working at the club for six years and was one of the people behind the creation of the club’s iconic 2021 AFLW Pride guernsey which featured the integration of all the different LGBTIQA+ flag colour representations in the form of Bulldogs hoops.

As footy fans, we are very used to seeing themed rounds as our game works to be more and more celebratory and actively inclusive. In the AFLW, the Western Bulldogs v Carlton Pride Game has become a regular fixture, with 2021 being the first year the initiative was shared across a whole round for all clubs to participate in. 

Given the importance of these highly visible and impactful events, particularly for the communities that they represent, for Gills it is crucial that the guernsey design is a meaningful process.

“Time needs to be put into the meaning of the guernsey design and really showing what the design means to either the person that has designed it or the community that the guernsey is about,” said Gills.

“That’s where we stepped it up to the next level with our design this year. Rather than focusing on it being an eye-catching design, we wanted to hone in on those communities and those identities.”

This certainly meant that Gills had to do some learning of their own.

“A lot of the identities represented on the guernsey were identifies I had never heard of before,” said Gills.

“I didn’t know what a lot of them meant or represented, so I was so fortunate to be given the opportunity to do some research and spend time on getting the design right.”

Fortunately, Gills had plenty of support along the way, particularly from the Bulldogs Pride Group. 

“They would point out little things that needed to be included and helped make sure that the details were correct.

“There is a lot of significance in the colours of the pride flags, what they represent and why certain colours are used. 

“It’s mind-blowing how deep some of this stuff goes and it was hard to put it all into a guernsey.”

But for Gills, her hope is that even though the guernsey may have only scratched the surface, it not only helped some communities feel more welcome in the AFLW and footy more broadly,  but also that the guernsey could be a conversation starter for people to start talking about the significance of pride in sport.

Related—Designing Pride

For Gills, the AFLW has certainly been a game changer, particularly for the Western Bulldogs to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. Given how genuine and authentic many of the women competing in the AFLW are, there is increased opportunity to talk about topics like pride and ensure that everyone is made to feel welcome as part of the AFLW family.

“As I did more research into preparing the design, I realised there were so many reasons for me to design this guernsey, not just for my club but for the AFLW community,” said Gills.

“There are so many people that don’t feel like they have had any spotlight and that no one understands who they are.

“Everyone should be made to feel like they are an important part of the AFLW and the AFL family.”

We are at a point in society where increasingly important conversations are being had about race, gender and sexuality. Gills recognises that sometimes conversations in this space can be really challenging. People often stay silent due to fear of getting something wrong.

But through the design of this guernsey, Gills has learnt about the importance of listening and learning and additionally, approaching people for help when you need it.

“Sometimes you have to take the leap and ask for help and sometimes you find that the person you are asking for help is still learning too,” said Gills.

She found this with the Bulldogs Pride Group.

“They told me that they as a group were still learning every day,” said Gills.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t quite feel like they fit in the world and there is so much more that we can all learn.

“I think it is important to jump out of your comfort zone, reach out to someone and hope that those people will be welcoming and understanding. The response may be, ‘thank you for asking the question’.”

Gills has been at the Bulldogs for six years now and while she recognises, just like many other clubs, that the Bulldogs still have a lot of work to do in the diversity space, she has always been proud to work at a club that tries to be a leader and in particular, be a community club. 

“At the Bulldogs we always want to make sure that we are leading in this space and continuing to learn, change and grow,” said Gills.

“I think that’s why I have stayed at the club for so long.

“The AFL can be quite fast paced and it can burn you out, but feeling like the club is trying to make a difference is a big reason as to why I’ve stuck around for so long.”

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