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The Sisters Behind Nagnata Share Their Philosophy On Sustainable Design

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

NAGNATA is a directional fashion-meets-sportswear brand label that is based in Sydney and run by sisters Laura May and Hannah Gibbs. After studying at Central Saint Martins and working with a number of other brands, Laura May launched NAGNATA with the mission to focus on sustainably minded design. Hannah joined her sister a little later on, bringing her experience in textile design and photography – she has worked with the likes of Australian textile artist Linda Jackson, for example.

NAGNATA is incredibly unique though, because not only are the seventies-inspired silhouettes a refreshing alternative to all-black spandex in the activewear department, but they are also crafted from organic cotton– which is incredibly unique for performance wear. This is a domain that's traditionally dominated by synthetic fibres, but by using innovative knitting techniques, these inspiring designers have perfected the balance between form, function and planet friendliness. Here, designers Laura May and Hannah share their story. 

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us a bit about Nagnata’s beginnings and why you decided to launch your own brand?
Laura May and Hannah: 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 knew the harm that fashion can cause the environment, [so I realised] that 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 communicate with a global audience. 

Rosie: Why is activewear so unique as a clothing category?
Laura May and Hannah: 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 have taken another direction.

At NAGNATA, 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. NAGNATA offers an unconventional approach to the fashion and activewear markets. Our design approach is merging high-end fashion constructions with sportswear appeal. So we’re more focussed on designing transitional fashion styles with longevity and sustainability, which women can get a lot of wear out of – this is our studio-to-street concept.

Rosie: What were you inspired by when crafting this latest collection in particular?
Laura May and Hannah: 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 is 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?
Laura May and Hannah: 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.

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 collection 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 there and know where each piece 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. This is our next step! Our artisanal collections focusses 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.

Rosie: And why do you feel that this is such an important thing for us to consider in the context of our own wardrobes?
Laura May and Hannah: As designers and as a company we have a social responsibility to address all of the ethical and sustainability considerations that come with producing 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's a lot of 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 begun moving into international representation and demand from major stores is increasing – essentially people now expect a new collection every three months. So we are working on our own ways of introducing newness without overproducing or over-designing.


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