Nice Rack! In the Swim with First Nations Designer Liandra Gaykamangu

At the risk of stating the obvious, the clothes we wear matter. And not just in the sense of sartorial splendour and self-expression, but for those across the supply chain and beyond working towards a more sustainable fashion future. To celebrate these creatives putting people and planet first, we’ve introduced a new digital series called Nice Rack! (…get it) so we can go behind the seams with some of our favourite sustainable brands, together. 

This week, as the weather begins to heat up Down Under, we’re splashing into the world of swimwear with Yolngu designer Liandra Gaykamangu. Her eponymous brand’s fun, funky and functional swimwear fuses modern fashion, cultural heritage and eco-conscious creation. Liandra’s signature hand-drawn prints are inspired by the beauty of nature, Aboriginal culture and powerful and prominent First Nations women like Cathy Freeman, Ash Barty and Samantha Harris. 

Part of the 2021 IFP Pathways Program – a collaboration between Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s Indigenous Fashion Projects and David Jones – Liandra Swim’s participation saw her showcasing her line at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week and in a pop-up at David Jones’ flagship stores. Applications are now open to be part of the IFP Pathways Program 2023 so head to the link here to find out further information before applications close on 19 September!

above LIANDRA GAYKAMANGU deep sea campaign photos below SIMON UPTON model SHAKIRA COOPER

Tell us about yourself…

I am the founder and creative director of Liandra Swim, a label that fuses First Nations culture with fashion to create unique, reversible swimwear with hand-drawn prints. I am also a high school English and history teacher and have taught in schools for seven years in New South Wales and in the Northern Territory. I am a mum of three, a sister, an aunty and a partner. My favourite thing to do is hang by the pool or at the beach with my family. I am a Yolngu woman, from East Arnhem Land and love being home and spending time with my family in Milingimbi.

What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

Sustainable fashion means always be better and do better. It is about making sure brands are educated and understand the cycle a product goes through and where there might be flaws. Then when flaws are identified, it’s working to understand how that could be fixed – maybe not today or tomorrow, but as something that is constantly being monitored and refined so that we are educated on new technologies and possibilities. Sustainable fashion doesn’t mean being “100% sustainable”, but it does mean always working towards it.

When did you know you wanted to get into fashion?

I have always loved fashion and have always had a genuine love for how clothes help me communicate to the world and how it makes me feel. I think joining the fashion industry was a natural progression, as it allows me so much creative control to share stories and educate around different perspectives and experiences that I am passionate about. I don’t think there was ever a moment that I actively decided that I wanted to get into fashion, it was a natural progression through the different decisions I made, which I am so grateful for.

READ MORE: Nice Rack! Tara Whalley Wears Her Art on Her Sleeve

Why were you inspired to start your label and what continues to inspire you as a designer?

Liandra Swim was originally created as a way to merge all the things I love and am passionate about – my culture and people, the ocean, sustainability, swimming and surfing. There are so many layers to what Liandra Swim does and why we do it. For me it made sense to channel that passion into swimwear and create an engaging way to connect, showcase and celebrate First Nations peoples.

My inspiration comes from different places, like the plane ride from Darwin to Milingimbi where I fly above beautiful rivers that snake inland. I am inspired by experiencing everyday life and I always look for those moments and lock them away for future ideas and inspiration.

Every part of the swimwear, from the fabric to the swing tags, has been thought about.

How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices within your brand?

Being as sustainably minded as we can in the way we do and create is incredibly important to us. Every part of the swimwear, from the fabric to the swing tags, has been thought about. We use specialised fabrics made from PET bottles, and our fabric dyes are as eco-friendly as possible. Our packaging is a plant-based plastic alternative made from cassava plants. Our swing tags are made from recycled paper.

Tell us about any standout moments in your career…

There have been a few pinch-me moments over the last few years. Some that have really made me proud include: showcasing Liandra Swim at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week in 2021 with Indigenous Fashion Projects; seeing steady growth year-to-year; and, more recently, our amazing collaboration with Simon Upton, where we shot our SS22 Deep Sea Collection campaign in Milingimbi, my home in Arnhem Land and a small island, with a beautiful Yolngu model.

READ MORE: Nice Rack! Inside Anna Cordell’s Splendid World Of Silk, Suits and Singers

What are your favourite pieces to wear?

Some of my favourite pieces are the Billie-Jean Top and the Samantha Bottoms. It is such a comfortable combination and I love a pair of high-waisted bikini bottoms.

Who are a few of your favourite local designers?

I love Kirrikin, especially their new collection, their dresses are beautiful, and I can’t wait to get my hands on everything! I also really love Aje, who are designing some incredible pieces.

What do you think needs to change in the Australian fashion landscape?

I would love to see First Nations designers and creatives seamlessly included in the mainstream industry – where we aren’t a separate component but valued for our design and creativity. I think we are on the path to this, and I can’t wait to see where First Nations design is in the next five years.