A Deep-Dive Into Darwin With Indigenous Fashion Designer Liandra Gaykamangu

There’s uplifting swimwear and then there’s Liandra swimwear – a celebration of sun, surf and Aboriginal culture. We take a tour of Darwin with the label’s founder and creative director, Liandra Gaykamangu

We don't know what we love most about Liandra swimwear. That it's reversible? The bold, hand-drawn prints? The fact that the label has created space for some of fashion's best photographers, hair and make-up artists, videographers and producers to work side by side with Aboriginal people from remote communities in creating work that leads to impactful and lasting opportunities in the industry?

With the brand poised to unveil a new resort wear collection - ethically made and sustainable by design - we chat poolside with founder and creative director Liandra Gaykamangu to hear about how celebrating her culture, country and people has been a guiding light since the company's 2018 launch. Plus, where to go for coffee, food and fun when visiting Darwin, the palm tree-studded tropical capital of Australia's Northern Territory.

Surf, sun and sea snails: in conversation with fashion designer Liandra Gaykamangu

Darwin, Australia
Darwin's coastline, and the River Run Collection. | Photo credit (L): Tourism Australia

Where did you grow up?

I grew up between a few different places but when I was nine, my mum remarried and we landed in Wollongong, about an hour south of Sydney, right on the coast. I'd travel back home to the Northern Territory to visit family. I'm so grateful - I've got three amazing parents in my life that all did something differently to shape who I became.

Have you always been a water baby?

Definitely. My stepdad is a big surfer and my mum rides a longboard. Surfing is a family activity. Birthdays and Christmases, before opening presents, we were down at the beach, hoping to catch a wave together.

How did your indigenous heritage influence your career in design?

The label is truly an extension of who I am and how I was brought up, both from a cultural perspective and because of my family being from a small island in East Arnhem [Northern Territory]. I love fashion, I love clothes, but I thought, how do I keep it authentic to who I am? That's really why I started in swimwear, with a focus on using high-quality materials and celebrating indigenous culture.

The sunset is one of the most magnificent things in Darwin – the Northern Territory is famous for them

Your swim fabrics are made from regenerated plastics and recycled elastane, your shipping materials are home-decomposable and your plant-based packaging is made from cassava root starch… How have attitudes towards sustainability changed since you started out?

When I started, which was only six years ago, there wasn't as great a consumer interest in sustainability and ethics. It does make me feel good that this was always my priority. But what's really great is that it's the consumer driving the change. Circularity as a whole is becoming a lot bigger as a movement. If you go back 10 years, I don't think anyone batted an eyelid over fast fashion. Everything was in single-use plastics; everything was imported. Now people are thinking about doing it right - doing it homegrown - and making changes in all facets of their lives in ways that are manageable. It's a million micro changes. In our house, for the longest time we used jam jars as glasses. Why buy new all the time?

We're in Darwin… Where should we go for a coffee?

If I'm meeting with friends, I love to go to Eva's Café at the Darwin Botanical Gardens. It's also great for a work lunch - somewhere that doesn't feel like an office or overly structured. It's hot here and it can be hard to find a happy medium where you're outside but not sweating and melting away while you're trying to have a coffee. Eva's has this beautiful big deck surrounded by greenery and mature trees and it's like sitting in an urban jungle for a minute. I always order the C.B.L.A.T. - a chicken, bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich. It's huge! And a house-made passionfruit soda. Then I get a little brownie or something. They do make good coffee, too, but it's the all-round vibe that I most enjoy.

Parap Village Market | Photo credit: Tourism Australia

What about a date-night spot?

I haven't done this yet, but top of my list of things to do is to go on a Sail Darwin sunset cruise. I've heard good things and it looks totally amazing. They have lunchtime sails and high tea cruises, too. I've looked at all the options because I've been talking about doing this for 12 months. On the sunset cruise, you go out for three hours. The sunset is one of the most magnificent things in Darwin - the Northern Territory is famous for them. So I think, how could I enjoy that any more than by being on some beautiful boat with some champagne, watching the sun go down? It feels a little bit old-school. My parents are coming to visit, so maybe they'll babysit and my partner and I can steal away to try it out.

Any foods we shouldn't leave without trying?

Darwin is quite famous for its laksa - we have a whole festival dedicated to it - but my favourite place to eat is Parap Village Markets. I only go there for the food - hot, tropical dishes infused with Southeast Asian flavours. Coming from a little island in East Arnhem, I love my shellfish. I was in Paris last year and everyone was like, oh, we'll get snails, and I was like, well, I have pretty high standards, having grown up eating sea snails. But, you know, they were expensive, and I ate them. But my absolute favourite thing in the world is the mud crab from home. I don't have it all the time - it's a delicacy, and you've got to put in a bunch of work, figuring out when the tides are right, when you're going to have a supply… We go together, the whole family. It's a beautiful thing.

What are you excited about for 2024?

I've just put the finishing touches to our new collection of ready-to-wear pieces: light, flowy kaftans and linen separates. We'll have everyday pieces mixed in with some that can take you from beach to brunch to the evening. Everything is designed to be easy to wear - resort wear that you can dress up or dress down. Now that I've approved everything and the fabric has been ordered, I'm just so excited. I can't wait to wear it. I'll wear nothing else!

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