If you were to spot a Liandra Swim bikini on the beach, you’d likely be struck by the dotted designs. But the designer Liandra Gaykamangu is careful to make sure that her swimsuits are more than just pretty compliment-bait. Through her collections, she combines her indigenous background with her love of beach attire. “The whole purpose was to use swimwear as a vessel to share stories about indigenous Australia, and also share positive narratives around indigenous Australian women,” she says.
Gaykamangu has fond memories of growing up around her Yolngu culture in the Northern Territory of Australia. She is from Australia’s Arnhem Land, and was exposed to her culture’s traditional teachings from a young age. “It’s a very different life [there],” says Gaykamangu, who is now based just outside of Sydney. “It’s still very much traditional. Cultural practices are still in place, and the language is spoken every day.” She spent her childhood going to the beach, and her ongoing love of swimming eventually forayed into launching her own swimwear brand in January 2018.Photo: Courtesy of Liandra Swim
Before she launched her brand, she was a high school teacher and taught herself how to make clothes. She finds joy in fusing her culture’s traditional elements with a more unexpected design aesthetic. One of those traditions is sustainability; Gaykamangu says she was always taught to respect the earth. Pieces in her latest collection, called “241: The Contrast,” are made from Repreve, a recycled fiber made from plastic bottles. (The packaging is also 100% compostable.) Most of the designs are reversible as well, encouraging her customers to buy less, re-wear more.
“It’s definitely contemporary,” she says of the brand. A signature motif of Liandra Swim’s one- and two-pieces are their graphic prints, which Gaykamangu creates digitally herself. Her “dotted prints” are a twist on dot art, a popular form of painting that originates from indigenous tribes in Australia. Many of the prints have a deeper meaning behind them that acknowledge her tribe’s history. “That [style] really represents the changes to indigenous Australia post-colonialism,” she says. “The blue represents the water, because it was via our water and our oceans that those changes came.” During the design process, Gaykamangu says she also focuses on incorporating colors and prints that will complement a variety of skin tones. “I’m always thinking about my canvas, which is women,” she says.Photo: Courtesy of Liandra Swim
Each bathing suit style is named after an indigenous woman Gaykamangu finds particularly inspiring, including doctors, painters, and actors. The Jirra top and bottom, for example, is named after the Yorta Yorta-Wiradjuri woman Jirra Lulla Harvey. “She runs her own communications business,” says Gaykamangu. “She is somebody that I think is a positive role model—not just for indigenous girls, but for [everyone].” When customers purchase a piece, they receive a card informing them of the women who inspired it. “There is some really groundbreaking work that indigenous women are doing, not just in remote communities, but in our inner cities,” she says. “I didn’t think that there was enough light being shed on that.”
While her line sheds light on her indigenous culture, Gaykamangu simply hopes that customers will find something special in her designs and ideally, that they also learn something new. “I wanted to be able to showcase how versatile indigenous Australia is,” Gaykamangu says. “We are oftentimes expected to stay in a particular field where we can be celebrated, whether that be tourism or in an art gallery. Our culture can be celebrated in so many different ways.”Photo: Courtesy of Liandra SwimPhoto: Courtesy of Liandra Swim