By  on February 27, 2008

SYDNEY — Four weeks after Switzerland's Maus Frères SA acquired a 95.6 percent stake in Gant, the Swedish sportswear company will today reveal its first commitment campaign ambassador from Australia, and its first-ever black spokeswoman: Aboriginal Australian athlete Cathy Freeman.

The Olympic gold medalist and her Catherine Freeman Foundation, which benefits underprivileged children in indigenous communities, are the latest inductees into Gant's "Our commitments reflect our passion" campaign.

Freeman will feature in Gant's spring 2008 catalogue, point-of-sale and online material, imagery for which was shot in December in Hawaii and is due to be unveiled in more than 70 markets, beginning in March in the Northern Hemisphere.

Gant Australia will launch the campaign at the beginning of August, to coincide with the Beijing Olympics and the introduction of the brand's collection for the Australian summer.

Freeman, 35, retired from competitive running in July 2003, three years after winning the women's 400 meters gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. She joins previous Gant commitment ambassadors such as environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Those collaborations each lasted one season, as will Freeman's Northern Hemisphere campaign. However, the Gant-Freeman collaboration may have longer legs in Australia, according to Gant Australia's managing director Michael Mansour.

"We haven't put a time frame on it — there's no start and no finish to it," said Mansour, adding that Gant had already made an undisclosed contribution to the Catherine Freeman Foundation. "I think it will give us fantastic brand awareness. I think she's a great Australian and I think it also gives us, as a company in Australia, an opportunity to support a very good foundation."

Gant's five-year-old women's collection currently accounts for 25 percent of the company's sales, which totaled 800 million euros, or $1.17 billion at current exchange, in 2007. Women's sales are growing at 15-20 percent a year, according to Mansour. Although since eclipsed by Italy, Australia was Gant's number one women's wear market in the launch year of the collection, said Mansour, who launched Gant in Australia in 1987. Gant operates five stores in Australia, a combination of standalones and shop-in-shops at the David Jones department store, with an additional 80 wholesale accounts.Although the Freeman collaboration has been in the pipeline for "six to eight months," according to Mansour, Gant's tie-up with her comes exactly two weeks after Australia's newly elected prime minister Kevin Rudd made a historic formal apology to Aborigines for the policies of previous governments regarding indigenous issues, most notably the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families in the so-called Stolen Generation. Aborigines make up approximately two percent of Australia's population of 21 million and remain the country's most disadvantaged group, with markedly lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than the Australian average.

The inaugural Catherine Freeman Foundation project is to assist children on Palm Island, which is located off the coast of Queensland and is the birthplace of Freeman's mother, Cecilia Barber, a member of the Stolen Generation.

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