Liandra Gaykamangu, founder of swimwear brand Liandra, reveals how her label uses plastic sustainably through various initiatives. 

During plastic-free July, we are encouraged to consider alternatives to plastic and find ways to live without it, but the reality is plastic-free fashion is not as clean or green as some would have us believe.

But I am an optimist at heart, and a strong believer that plastic-free is the future of fashion. 

Many brands are trying their best to incorporate a more sustainable approach to their make and design – Liandra included. It is the collective momentum and sharing of knowledge in tackling our global plastics problem, with solutions at all stages of production and life cycle of the garment, that will drive us into a cleaner, brighter future.

My connection to the environment is deeply rooted in how I have been brought up and taught to engage, respect, and listen to nature. Having grown-up on the beaches of New South Wales with a family of surfers – the majority of my summers were spent in water; in the ocean, river, creek or in our backyard pool.

I was also taught to care and respect the ocean, and its vast ecosystem, as a Yolngu woman, where my family are saltwater people who live on Milingimbi – the largest island of the archipelago known as the Crocodile Islands, in East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Spending time at home in East Arnhem Land with family instilled caretaking and the importance of the environment in my values. 

I was taught to be a caretaker, of both the land and sea, that surrounded us and was so strongly intertwined through our culture and kinship systems. 

I was taught that caring for the country was of the highest importance, as an extension of my own being.

At Liandra, we work with innovative textile scientists, fibre engineers, and responsible chemists in the creation of each collection. A mouthful of a sentence, but without this expertise, we wouldn’t be able to turn consumer-used plastics into long-wearing Lycra fabrics that become our luxurious, reversible swimwear. 

Essentially, we use technology that repurposes plastic that was already made, used and discarded. Using recycled, as opposed to virgin polyesters, produces fewer carbon emissions and gives plastic a second life that helps to keep it out of landfills and the oceans – however, this is not a one-stop solution to our global plastic problem.

One of the biggest drawbacks of using regenerated plastics, in any form, but particularly for fabrics, is microplastic pollution. The microplastic pollution that occurs when synthetic fabrics are washed and their damaging micro particles end up in our water systems, posing a threat to marine life and entering the food chain.

The ultimate solution here is to opt for natural, plastic-free materials and fabrications, so you can prevent the release of harmful microplastics into the environment in its entirety. However, there is limited technological advancement in fabric solutions that will support this on a mass scale and provide the wearer with the same benefits and durability of traditional swim fabrics, and their newer, upcycled counterparts.

For this reason, I started to research ways to mitigate the impacts of microplastic pollution, looking at solutions that support the swimwear cycle of live, wash, wear – such as Guppyfriend. It is designed to successfully hold back plastic fibres in synthetic materials released during a wash cycle - helping reduce the microplastics released into the environment. We are currently looking at exploring solutions we can also offer around microplastics as well as bringing awareness to our customers and supporters through interactive and meaningful education.

While it is true Liandra uses post-consumer plastic in our fabrics, we strive to be plastic-free in as many areas as we possibly can be through our make and design. This includes our swing tags being made from recycled papers, our packaging being made from cassava-root starch (a great plant-based plastic alternative) and our mailing solutions (including our shipping labels/stickers) being home compostable and/or recyclable. 

Our mentality is that we should take responsibility, as the creators of the product, and make the decision and actions as easy as possible for our customers to do the right thing with the waste. 

We are also constantly researching and exploring new ways to design and fabrics to utilise - we currently have our eye on an innovative plant-based Lycra-like fabric made from castor beans.

We have also begun to utilise an exciting new technology, called Quadrant, that has revolutionised our design and sampling phase. Not only has Quadrant halved our sampling timeframes and reduced costs, but it also allows us to minimise waste as we have now turned what was a physical process into a digital process, with unwavering accuracy, that provides us with a 3D avatar of our samples. 

We now have the ability to minimise the number of samples made to one, and if we chose to have something physically made or we can approve our tech packs digitally and go straight into production.

Though the technology of fashion and textile innovation is currently limited, there is an undeniable desire to find better solutions. This can be seen through the Australian Fashion Council’s recently announced National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme, a vehicle created to drive Australian clothing towards a sustainable future.

It is also exciting to see fashion enthusiasts demanding this change as this in turn sees brands needing to innovate and create sustainable solutions rather than investing in short-term trends.

At the core of the plastic-free movement, we must remember that we all play a part in making positive changes. The ultimate goal should be that our future generations will also have the chance to enjoy, love and nurture the planet and its diverse ecosystem as we do.

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