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  • Liandra Gaykamangu is an Indigenous fashion designer. (Supplied)
An Indigenous fashion designer is using recycled ocean plastic to make bathing costumes that also celebrate her heritage. Entrepreneur Liandra Gaykamangu says it’s an innovative way to engage with Aboriginal Australian culture and protect the environment.
By
Sandra Fulloon

22 Jan - 10:39 AM 

Backstage at a recent fashion show, Liandra Gaykamangu adjusts the high cut legs of her one-piece bathing suit on a model. The vibrant blue fabric is bisected by white lines against a swirling, dot pattern.

“I would definitely describe this collection as being quite sexy,” she said.

It’s also environmentally friendly.

“The fabrics are made from regenerated plastic bottles. And the packaging is made from cassava or tapioca which is 100 per cent bio-degradable in water and eco-friendly because it’s from a plant.”  

“A lot of the designs are also very unique and I wanted them to stand out on the shelves.”

Liandra Gaykamangu is a Yolngu woman from North-East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and her swimwear celebrates outback colours and symbols.

Holding up a brown bikini, she explains in detail.

“The brown represents Aboriginal Australia, and then the circles represent watering holes.

“And the dots represent both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people enjoying watering holes as Australians are well known for doing.”

As the only Indigenous Australian designer, Liandra Swim recently opened the prestigious Pacific Runway show which showcased designers from around the Pacific including Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Samoa. It was a huge honour for the 28-year-old, who began designing only two years ago.

“It was the first real bucket list thing for my business that I was able to tick off,” she said in her Wollongong studio.

“People were tagging me and messaging to say how much they loved the collection, and I had an influx of sales. So it was great to be able to generate a buzz for new styles and shed a light on what I’ve been doing.”

The former school teacher designs her own swimming costumes. Her website says they are made in Bali under ethical working conditions.

“For me, that’s really important because if I am going to represent [Indigenous] culture and people, I want to ensure the product I produce is sustainable and top quality.”

And she wants to take her Indigenous range into the mainstream.

“I still remember my first trade show, when someone turned to me and said ‘oh you want to be in a tourism shop?’ And I thought no! I am a swim fashion label and because I infuse Aboriginal culture doesn’t mean I should be put into a shoebox.

“I am actively trying to break that stereotype.”

Ms Gaykamangu represented Australia and the World Indigenous Business Forum in Vancouver Canada last year.

“I felt incredibly proud to bring Indigenous Australia to an international audience, and to be able to discuss the fantastic things we are doing here in Australia,” she explained.

“Liandra did a stunning job, and she got up and owned the stage she really did,” said Indigenous Business Australia’s (IBA) Niel Barry.

“Later, Liandra was approached by people from various online and marketing companies in North America to help develop her business,” the Senior Business Development Officer explained.

By working from home, Ms Gaykamangu is able to keep costs low while raising her young family.

“At this stage, we are on track for 2020 to meet our targets and to make a profit and that’s a good feeling because I have learned a lot to get there,” she said.

 

Indigenous Business Australia also invited Liandra Gaykamangu to join its Futures Forum in 2019. The inaugural event connected 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants under 30 to discuss the future of Indigenous business.

"One of the things IBA strives to do is create economic independence for Indigenous people," he said.

"It's difficult to start a business no matter where you are. But what Liandra has is a real tenacity to make it work."

"I would like to see Liandra Swim in major department stores across Australia and hey, why not the world?"

For more information about IBA's Futures Forum, visit www.iba.gov.au