Is climate positive activewear the future? This Byron Bay designer says yes

Is climate positive activewear the future? This Byron Bay designer says yes

May 23, 2022

A tattoo trailing the toned biceps of Laura May Gibbs, founder of elevated Australian activewear brand Nagnata, is the only outward sign of the punk energy that crackles beneath one of her label’s signature ribbed, technical knitwear tops. With clear eyes and a relaxed approach to hair and make-up that betrays her Byron Bay affiliation, Gibbs politely assures me that a rebel spirit lurks within.

“I love designers like Vivienne Westwood. She really inspires me in the way that she merges art and activism. If I’m ever second guessing things I think of who has inspired me,” Gibbs says. “Not everyone needs to like you and agree with you as long as you can say things respectfully.”

Laura May Gibbs, founder and creative director of Nagnata, prepares for the brand’s first runway show.Credit:Edwina Pickles

There are plenty of customers who like Nagnata, the Sanskrit word for “naked”. International e-tailer Net-a-Porter stocked the brand’s nineties-infused colour-block bra tops and bold shorts, following its launch in 2015, leading to a flood of support from Luisa Via Roma, Bergdorf Goodman and the rise of their own online store. Rocky waters were only spotted in October.

Gibbs attracted criticism in the media, as well as support from model clients Jessica Hart and Jessica Gomes, for closing the store at Nagnata’s Byron Bay base in October, until vaccination restrictions on NSW shoppers were removed.

“I’ve had moments where I have definitely been criticised,” says Gibbs, a fashion veteran from behind the scenes jobs at Leona Edmiston, sass & bide and Ksubi. “I’ve definitely put myself in that position. Nagnata’s a very human brand. I’m learning to have a thick skin.”

Gibbs has deliberately opened the business up to further scrutiny by working with a certification organisation to assess Nagnata’s environmental impact. Despite using merino wool, organic cotton and implementing zero waste production techniques, greater work is required towards improved sustainability.

‘Movement 10’ from Nagnata makes its runway debut at Bangarra Dance Theatre. 

“We are going towards a climate positive plan for the business, where you give back more than you take,” Gibbs says. “This is a declaration to the industry and to hold ourselves accountable. We are hoping that by December that we can be a climate positive brand. We will be able to offset 125 per cent of our carbon output.”

This bold declaration takes place alongside Nagnata’s first runway show, being held at Bangarra Dance Theatre in Sydney, with a performance by Mer Island dancer Waangenga Blanco to highlight a Reconciliation Action Plan. The show will be attended by fashion media, model activist Nathan McGuire and collaborators including jeweller Holly Ryan.

Mer Island dancer Waangena Blanco and Nagnata founder Laura May Gibbs.Credit:Edwina Pickles

“What I’m trying to do is create what our fashion blueprints for Nagnata’s future is,” Gibbs says. “If I’m going to continue working in this industry, which does have a big negative impact on the environment, I need to take responsibility, know my impact and make steps to giving back.”

The show will reveal Nagnata’s latest collection Movement 10, outside the gruelling fashion calendar of spring/summer, autumn/winter and resort. Gibbs has peaked at releasing three ranges a year and plans to drop back to two.

“We don’t buy ready-made fabrics, we have to dye everything, knit it and test it. This core collection took a year. A three-month production cycle doesn’t work for our business and I felt that pressure but the industry is changing so much. Everyone’s drops are all over the place now.”

It also lets Gibbs step away from the competition at Australian Fashion Week which took place earlier this month. “It feels calmer and like everyone else will be calmer as well,” she says.

It will be an opportunity for the clothes in a palette of bubble gum pinks, sea greens and pale chocolate to speak for themselves but don’t expect Gibbs to be silent in the future. She wouldn’t want to disappoint Vivienne Westwood.

“There is an activism element within the brand that I enjoy that is important to me as a woman who now knows enough about the industry to feel like we have to be cultivating these conversations.”

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