Created by sisters Laura May and Hannah Gibbs, Nagnata is a vibrantly coloured, exquisite to the touch movement wear collection that is as good at heart as it is good looking. Laura May spoke with Chris Lorimer in Sydney about the concept of nakedness means getting dressed, influencing self-esteem and when caring equals business success.
How and why did you and Hannah decide to start a label together?
I began working on ideas for the brand in 2013 when I left my job as a womenswear designer at Insight and was travelling around Mexico and Guatemala for a year. During these travels, I was able to spend time thinking about the concept, ethos and purpose behind Nagnata. It was important to me to create a platform that would enable us to work not only on creative projects we were passionate about, but pursue philanthropic initiatives surrounding the fashion industry. Sustainability and ethics were at the core of the brand from the very beginning. Allowing myself a year studying yoga, meditation and tantra and to disconnect from the fashion system was so integral to developing the philosophy, and to think about how to do things differently. Hannah joined two years later when momentum began to build with the launch of the movement-knitwear collection. She had graduated from art school and was working as a screen printer and textile designer and is a talented photographer. In the way only sisters can, we balance each other with our skills, strengths and personalities. We are both very creative but more importantly growing older we shared a vision for building a business with a positive purpose and message.
What is Nagnata’s fashion ethos?
We are driven by design and textile innovation and believe style does not need to be sacrificed in the pursuit of sustainably produced fashion. We don't follow fashion trends and design in “movements” rather than follow strict fashion seasons. Each collection is an evolution of the previous one made to be complementary and styled together. We don't believe our designs will date or go ‘out of fashion’ and to support this messaging we avoid end of season sales. We focus on creating directional yet timeless designs which women like ourselves want to wear every day because they're stylish and comfortable. You can wear our organic cotton technical-knitwear collection for all occasions from yoga practice or exercise to the beach or styled back with your fashion wardrobe. The Nagnata woman tends to invest slowly in pieces to build up her wardrobe, and get lots of wear for the investment.
And what does your brand stand for?
Nagnata aims to redefine value and challenge the rampant consumerism engendered by fast fashion. Our philosophy when approaching each collection is one of sustainably minded design. It’s a continuous negotiation between what is the most environmentally conscious option that will still enable us to make a high-quality garment that doesn't compromise our design integrity. At the core of our brand is a spiritual messaging, as the label name is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘nagnatA’, which translates loosely as nakedness. The concept of nakedness alludes to being raw, exposed and in one’s natural state. This relates to the practice of yoga as a pathway intended to reveal one’s internal resistance and return to a more natural and authentic state of being. This concept of nakedness speaks to the purity of our design philosophy with the organic and natural fibres we choose to work with, and the zero yarn waste approach to the fashion knitwear collections. We want to inspire women to feel empowered and beautiful in their natural bodies and feel confident and expressive in the clothes that we're designing. Our technical knitwear is designed to support and shape the body but not restrict your breath in practice, unlike the majority of tight, lycra activewear on the market. We use lots of vibrant colour as it carries an uplifting energy and the collections are presented in a way to celebrate the movement and vitality of the human body.
What differentiates Nagnata from other labels in the knitwear and activewear space?
We sit in between contemporary fashion, lifestyle and active and offer an unconventional concept to these markets. Our innovative approach towards sustainable textile development and an identifiable design aesthetic merges contemporary fashion with retro-sports and a nod to 90's styling. We use 85% certified organic cotton and plated the 15% spandex or nylon, so the organic cotton fibre is what predominantly touches your skin. The idea for the knitted textiles was originally inspired by retro knitted swimsuits from the ‘20s that I was sourcing from the Rose Bowl markets in LA. In my personal yoga practice, I tended to wear vintage knitwear; cotton or luxurious Italian knit bras, as I didn't like the restriction of lycra activewear or high synthetic content against my skin. Our skin is our biggest organ and absorbs the toxins and chemicals from the textiles we wear on our bodies. Synthetic fabrics are mainly derived from petroleum and these petrochemicals are not something you want your skin absorbing, especially in yoga and breath focused practices when your pores are so open. This was the starting point for our textile development and design concept. It took two years of development and various fashion factories to reach the final collection. I think a lot of brands don't bother to go to this level of experimentation because it takes so long, and prefer to buy existing fabrics. I've always been more interested in creating all aspects of a garment, starting with fabric so we can control the hand feel, weight, performance and pattern. Also, I couldn't find what I wanted on the market so we had to make it.
What are the high points of Nagnata’s journey right now?
Launching our initial collection with Net-A-Porter was a dream come true, the first major partner to back Nagnata before we had any official showroom representation. Their buyer believed in what we were doing and that gave us the confidence to keep pursuing our ideas. We began showing in New York and Paris officially the following season. We were recently awarded runner-up in the Lane Crawford Creative Callout in Sydney and will be stocked exclusively in their department stores in Hong Kong & China for one year. We've also launched in London with Selfridges, in New York, Miami and LA with KITH and online with Carbon 38, Moda Operandi, GOOP and Stylerunner. To receive such incredible support internationally in our first few seasons as a young emerging brand is an honour and motivation to keep on our journey. Seeing our friends and Australian customers wearing our pieces is a high point in itself. We're immensely grateful for the support we receive back home.
What do you think the role of a fashion designer is right now?
The new generation of designers needs to think beyond glamour and profit to social responsibility and the impact they can make as a brand. Owning a brand, or any kind of company, you have the opportunity to use your voice. You can potentially play an important part in influencing the industry, consumer behaviours and women's self-esteem. We are conscious of the message we are communicating with our audience. We try to work as sustainably as we can, be transparent with our production methods, successes and struggles and also promote an attainable healthy lifestyle. We recognise that sustainable practices surrounding design and business are a complex world of interconnected challenges, but as emerging designers we believe we need to commit to make the most environmentally conscious choices and drive innovation in the industry.
And why does our world need what you design at this moment?
The world doesn't need Nagnata, but the world does need to support conscious independent brands and companies. If a woman feels like she needs a new piece of clothing for yoga, fashion or life, (which let's be honest we all do sometimes!) then I'd hope she sees the value in investing in one of our pieces over something from a brand that is working in a disposable fast fashion model. We support the slow fashion movement and offer all women a better choice over the sustainability attributes of their wardrobe, and the power of their purchasing to make an authentic change.
Beyond putting your work out there to be bought and sold, do you think it’s important to contribute to society as a whole?
Most definitely, as designers and business owners it's our responsibility to contribute positively to society and consider the sustainability attributes when making a product. We all know too much about the harm fashion causes the environment, not to acknowledge this and take action. Consumers are also waking up and becoming more conscious of the brands they support. So even for those companies that don't care about the environment, if you want a successful long-term business then you need to start caring. Our intention for Nagnata is to encourage a culture of conscious consumerism with our customers by designing premium products that offer versatility, longevity and sustainably minded design. We want to work on this for years to come so creating a fashion brand based on trends that will inevitably date, or a design aesthetic that can't evolve and grow as we do with age and experience doesn't interest us.
Do you have any mentors or role models, within and outside of the fashion industry?
Most of the brands or designers I've worked with have taught, influenced and helped shape me as a designer, stylist and creative director. From my high school art teacher to designing for Leona Edmiston at 19 years old, to George Gorrow who gave me my opportunity at Insight/Ksubi and the team of artists I worked with there for four years to Alice McCall who is wonderfully free and creative. Outside of fashion, I have spiritual teachers who have helped me with personal growth that balanced out the often-fickle fashion business when I was struggling with personal issues or my purpose in life. Our dad is a writer and ran his own advertising company so Hannah and I have grown up with him as a mentor and a strong influence on how to work independently too. Women I don't know, but hugely admire, are Patti Smith and Jane Goodall.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
We grew up with our parents always encouraging us to focus on what we loved doing creatively and build a career around that. To question everything, follow your intuition and don't be afraid to not conform. It's not so much a single piece of advice but an attitude towards life that has given us the confidence to pursue our ideas and dreams, without the fear of failure.
What’s next for Nagnata? What’s coming up?
We have worked on an exciting merino wool seamless knitwear collection, in collaboration with The Woolmark Company. It’s launching to media and the public during New York Fashion Week in February. We've made a fashion film and will be hosting events throughout New York, LA, London, Berlin and Sydney too. We're really excited to share this project as it was a year of work and we're so proud of the result. We've experienced a lot of growth really quickly this last year, so we want to focus on nurturing all of our new store relationships and growing our brand awareness internationally. All of February and March will be spent travelling for showings and events. Our next few collections are expanding more into lifestyle and fashion as we launch new textile developments and product categories. Our long-term dream is to open a sustainably built flagship Nagnata studio and holistic space. Right now though we're focused on the year ahead and have our hands really full!
Shop Nagnata now!
Photography: Scott Lowe at Debut
Fashion and Interview: Chris Lorimer
Make-up and Hair: Annette Mckenzie at Union for Nars at Mecca Cosmetica
Model: Charlotte Mullan at Chadwick Models