NAGNATA designers share the story behind the brand with Rosie Dalton from Well Made Clothes, Australia's leading platform supporting the sustainable and ethical fashion movement.
NAGNATA is a directional fashion-meets-sportswear brand that is based between Sydney, LA and Byron Bay and run by sisters Laura May and Hannah Gibbs. These inspiring designers have perfected the balance between form, function and planet friendliness.
Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us a bit about Nagnata’s beginnings and why you decided to launch your own brand?
NAGNATA: I [Laura May] began NAGNATA as an upcycled textiles project working from India, reworking the traditional dress of Indian tribes women into bespoke yoga mat bags and a fashion range. Alongside this project, I was developing the NAGNATA movement technical-knitwear collection made from organic cotton. It took about two years and numerous knitwear mills to perfect these constructions. It was a new concept for fashion manufacturers and working with organic cotton had a lot of limitations, because most brands were using synthetic fibres for performance.
Founding a lifestyle brand was a natural progression from my career working for other designers and brands. It allowed me to build a platform integrating my interests across fashion, art, yoga, sustainably minded design and philanthropic work. My sister Hannah joined NAGNATA a few years in, for the launch of our knitwear range and has brought to the brand her background in fine arts and photography – so there's a really nice balance between us.
Owning your own brand is a powerful way to make a difference in the world – for better or worse. I worked with fashion brands for 13 years and saw the harm that fashion can cause the environment. I knew there were better ways of doing things. What you stand for as a brand is important, because you’re essentially building a platform from which to use your voice and have the opportunity to communicate with a global audience.
Rosie: Why is activewear so unique as a clothing category?
NAGNATA: We don’t view NAGNATA as typical activewear and we hadn’t even heard of that phrase when we began developing our technical knitwear concept. If we had known the activewear market was going to blow up like this, we may even have been deterred and taken another direction!
NAGNATA offers an unconventional approach to the fashion and activewear markets. Our design approach is merging high-end fashion constructions with sportswear appeal. We develop all of our own knit fabrications and test different yarn blends and constructions until we reach a textile that we want to wear against our skin. We refer to our collections as 'movements' or 'movement wear' for studio to street style. We’re more focussed on designing transitional fashion styles with longevity and sustainability that women can get a lot of wear out of.
Rosie: What were you inspired by when crafting this latest collection in particular?
NAGNATA: Most importantly we wanted to produce the collection as sustainably as possible. So we chose to use organic cotton and made fully-fashioned knitwear, which means the garments are knitted to shape and then linked at the seams so there is zero yarn waste. When developing the knit constructions, we were inspired by knitted-retro swimsuits from the 1920s and onwards, which we sourced from the flea markets. Our aesthetic has a nod to 90s styling, which is reflective of our personal style.
Rosie: Sustainability is one of those terms that people often use quite loosely today. What does sustainability mean to you personally and how do you approach this through the brand?
NAGNATA: We agree that many fashion brands do use the term 'sustainable' way too loosely to jump on a trend and try selling their clothes. Just because you use a 'natural’ fibre fabric doesn't mean it is sustainable. It's really hard to tick every box and some brands that we see throwing this term around barely tick one. This is why we respect Well Made Clothes and your Values System – you really look closely at each brand’s efforts in different areas of sustainability.
There are so many aspects to sustainability and we are far from perfect – there is endless room for improvement and we're always discussing the next step forward. Making clothes – like the majority of commercial products – isn’t really sustainable, so we tend to use the term ‘sustainably minded design’ when thinking about our processes.
As we approach the design of a new product, we are thinking about the most sustainable options [available to us]. We focussed on organic cottons for the MOVEMENT 001, 002 collections and we don't waste any yarn in the production process. It is also a NAGNATA rule that we visit all of our knit factories in China and Hong Kong, so we can work directly with the teams and know where our product is being made.
Our dyes are all toxin-free, but unfortunately we couldn't use completely natural dyed yarns for the specific knit machines we needed to make the fabrics, as they're not colour-fast. This is our next step! Our artisanal collections focus on upcycling old embroidered fabrics and dresses, to transform them into new bags and clothing, while supporting the indigenous communities where we source the textiles. So there is a completely different process and considerations between collections.
Rosie: And why do you feel that this is such an important thing for us to consider in the context of our own wardrobes?
NAGNATA: As designers, and as a company, we have a social responsibility to address all of the ethical and sustainability considerations that come with manufacturing a product. At the end of the day we – and all companies – are trying to make a profit, but if this is at the expense of people or the environment, then I believe your brand loses integrity and ultimately won't succeed in the longterm.
As consumers, we need to hold this same level of integrity in the products we consume and the brands we support. There is power in where you choose to place your money. Fashion is a very wasteful and fast moving industry, so we feel we need to change our attitudes towards seasonality. We base our collections on MOVEMENTS rather than strict seasonal collections, [which means] we only produce and update styles as we need.
This model is really being tested at the moment, since we have moved into international sales and showroom representation, and demand from major stores is increasing. Stores essentially expect a new collection every three months. So we are working on ways of introducing newness without overproducing and working very closely with our partners. We are grateful to have supportive partnerships early on who are helping us establish the brand globally while working in a capacity that aligns with our ethos and capabilities.