Liandra Swim at 2024 Australian Fashion Week

'It shouldn't stop us': The rise of Liandra Gaykamangu's swimwear label as it makes its solo runway debut at Australian Fashion Week

The Yolŋu woman speaks about carving out her fashion career when "being a woman, being a brown woman, being young and also having a young family" can so easily – and unfairly – put you on the back foot.

Australian Fashion Week (AFW) is no foreign concept for designer Liandra Gaykamangu, whose label Liandra Swim has shown at the annual event for the past three years. But 2024 is different. On Tuesday, Liandra Swim had its first solo show – a celebratory moment for the business that has previously been part of group shows that feature multiple designers.

“I think it's a really nice, natural progression of where we should be, how we should be engaging and growing with who we are as well,” Gaykamangu tells Missing Perspectives of her solo debut. 

The Yolŋu woman from North-East Arnhem Land started her brand in 2018. Of course, being part of collective shows in the last few years has been pivotal in helping her “learn and understand” how the competitive industry works. After all, the stakes are often higher for many First Nations women in the Aussie fashion biz, due to various factors from financial to structural and geographical aspects.

With Sydney hosting the style event for designers to showcase collections to potential buyers and fashion’s elite, Darwin-based Gaykamangu has been making regular trips across the country in the lead up to AFW. Being “physically present” over the last four to five weeks has been crucial, but it can cost you in terms of time and money. In Gaykamangu's case, she’s looking at “$1,200 return with accommodation, flights and Ubers”. 

“It is an added barrier on top of [the fact] it’s a brand built out of my own sweat, tears and hard work,” she says. “I don't have the access and networks at my fingertips that maybe other labels may have just by who their parents are or who they went to school with. I think whilst it is an unfair advantage, it shouldn't stop us though.”

Liandra Gaykamangu at 2024 Australian Fashion Week

Designer Liandra Gaykamangu at her Liandra Swim show at Australian Fashion Week 2024. Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images for AFW

Explaining that “being a woman, being a brown woman, being young and also having a young family” can also make the experience more challenging, she says she tries to view these as “powerful weapons and parts of my toolkit”. 

Gaykamangu is particularly passionate about ensuring photographers, stylists, models and hair and makeup artists from various geographical regions are recruited to be part of her projects, but also wider-industry events including fashion week.

“We don't just live in those urban centres of Australia… we are in regional and remote parts of the country and we should still be able to access opportunity as well,” she says. 

In line with this philosophy, diverse representation was front and centre at the Liandra Swim AFW 2024 show, where the Essence collection featuring three key prints was on display at Sydney’s Carriageworks. From skin shades to hair types and sizing, the label strives to be as ‘diverse’ as possible – but Gaykamangu notes she isn’t a fan of the “buzzword” that’s arguably being overused in many industries in recent years.  

“I’m actually really proud of the lineup… We offer size six to 20 and have been growing our size range to match in our ready-to-wear,” she reflects.

“Showcasing that is so important to me because I hand draw our prints. So when I do draw the prints, yes, I'm embodying, capturing and thinking about the theme and the story that I'm trying to portray. But I'm also thinking about the different skin tones and eye colours and how that will accentuate, highlight and compliment all the different types of women. So, to capture that as well on the runway – I think it’s not easy, but I’m really excited.” 

In terms of the reversible swimwear designs themselves, three key prints were showcased on the runway, with bold block colours that were complementary of the prints, but also “clash” in Gaykamangu’s eyes – in a purposely positive way. 

“They [the prints] are quite bright and loud, and the block colours bring that down a bit,” she says. 

Liandra Swim at 2024 Australian Fashion Week

With the theme of the collection being ‘Essence’, Gaykamangu leans into the sweetness of the honeybee.

“I use the native honeybee as a metaphor – so culturally, the native honeybee is a very important songline for me and my clan,” she explains. “I wanted to do that but in a very contemporary way. So, I don't really lean in too deep into that part of me, but for me, I can feel it and see it when I look at it and understand it. Then in a broader sense you know, bees, in so many ways are the essence of all life.”

“They are so busy and they move and they create this beautiful sweetness to their existence and this honey…. when I look at that, I see that reflected in how we as a humanity also move. Our lives are often so busy and chaotic and we're gifted these sweet moments in life.” 

Of course, every collection Gaykamangu works on is very personal in one way or another, but ultimately, she wants her creations to speak to consumers in a way that forges a personal connection for them. 

“I want everybody to have their own personal relationship with the garment or with the print and be able to kind of see that embodied in their own way of life.”