Liandra Gaykamangu is the force behind Liandra Swim, a swimsuit brand that combines modern design, traditional patterns and a sustainability-centred ethos to create empowering pieces.
Ms Gaykamangu, a proud Yolngu woman from north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, speaks fondly of her upbringing travelling between Arnhem Land and her mother’s home by the beach.
“My stepdad is a really big surfer, and a lot of our holidays were with our mum, who lived across a soccer field from the beach,” she said.
“We’d often paddle down the creek next to our house on our surfboards to the beach as a family, that was a big part of my upbringing.
“As well as being with my family back home we live on a small island, swimming with my cousins … the ocean is a big part of who I am.”
A mother of three, Ms Gaykamangu, pictured left, said she started designing pieces three years ago as she began maternity leave.
Before launching Liandra Swim, she was a high school teacher.
“I knew I was going to take some time off, and I loved to teach and think education is incredibly important, so I wanted to be able to teach and share in a creative way,” she said.
“I wanted to create something with a purpose, so I decided to incorporate my cultural identity into the label.
“I decided to use a contemporary version of traditional Aboriginal prints.”
The self-taught designer says she bases her practices on the fusion of contemporary self-expression and traditional elements of her culture, including sustainability.
“As an Aboriginal woman, how I was raised morally, those things are important, to look after the world around me,” Ms Gaykamangu said.
“Advocating my culture and uplifting my people, positively sharing that is important tome. I don’t want to do that off the back of somebody else’s culture or misfortune.”
Each bathing suit style is named after an Indigenous woman who Ms Gaykamangu finds inspiring — including doctors, painters and actors.
When customers buy a piece, they also receive a card with information about the woman who inspired it.
“When I was deciding what to name the pieces, I wanted to continue taking the opportunity to educate in every sense of the word,” she said.
“I hoped to start a dialogue around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and how phenomenal we are in what we are creating, achieving and doing.”
“Not just in Australia, but around the world.”
Ms Gaykamangu said when she chooses a third party, a lot of research goes into the ethics of who she might be working with and if they align with the brand.
“It takes time to research the ethical side of things, to source fabrics and the right packaging and labels or mailers,” she said.
“I would say I’m eco-conscious, I don’t think anyone can say they’re 100 percent sustainable because there are limitations to what a brand can afford or have access to. At the moment the nylon I use is made of recycled water bottles, the mailers and stickers I use are home-compostable, the packaging the pieces come in is plant-based.
“I try to make things as sustainable as possible.”
The Yolngu designer has been working hard on a new collection and sourcing new sustainable fabric — a conscious and slow process.
“In every stage I can, I try to incorporate sustainable practices,” she said.
“It’s important that while I’m creating and adding something to the world that I make sure I don’t damage the world in the process.”
Another contribution to the world, every Tuesday evening Ms Gaykamangu hosts Yapa Yarns via Instagram — a weekly informal chat where she speaks to different First Nations women.
Ms Gaykamangu wanted to provide an opportunity for those who may not buy swimwear pieces but want to educate themselves more about the expansive and multifaceted abilities of First Nations women.
“I’ve reached out to some incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from around the country to sit down and have a chat,” she said.
“I decided to call it Yapa Yarns — yapa means sister in my language.
“I thought it would be a fun, informal way to bring that conversation and exchange for people to access.
“If people aren’t able to buy swimwear, this is a way we can still educate and share our stories.”
By Darby Ingram