Taking on the world one swimsuit at a time

Current swimwear is more than just an eco label. For co-founders, fashion photographer Damien Nikora and New Zealand model Chanelle Taylor, it is about being in the flow, taking people on an educational sustainability journey while showcasing the work of artists from around the world.

Watching documentary The True Cost was a career defining moment for fashion photographer Damien Nikora and model Chanelle Taylor, even though they watched it a year apart. As business partners of new eco swimwear brand Current, they are on a mission to promote ethical and sustainable practices globally. 

Nikora, 42, has enjoyed a successful career as a photographer in Australia and New Zealand, shooting for international fashion labels including Victoria’s Secret. “Watching The True Cost snapped me out of shooting for the big guys. I was shooting some pretty big campaigns. The True Cost shocked me, so I went through my client list, researched them all and found out who didn’t have any good ethical practices and just dumped them,” Nikora says. “I realised my photography was helping to perpetuate that cycle of fast fashion. When I realised that, it was just an easy decision.”

It also brought an opening for an idea Nikora (a former concept artist for film and television) had drawn up many years earlier but never had time to pursue. Drawings of a 12-piece range of swimwear that he had designed. What he now needed was to find the right person to be the face of the brand.

He realised after shooting model Taylor for the first time, that he had found the right person for the job. The pair were introduced by Taylor’s model agent, Rose Packard-Dube of RPD Models. Taylor was very nervous about their first shoot and felt very self-conscious because she “didn’t fit the strict international model standard measurements”. However, Nikora assured her she was great. He agrees Taylor, 22, is unlike typical fashion models. She is fit, sporty and curvy with “booty”, with a great attitude, too.

Prior to joining forces with Nikora, Taylor was working a nine to five retail job at Farmers and admits she didn’t have much of a clue about fast fashion. And up until that point the only sustainable fashion she had seen was “old, frumpy and really expensive”. Stuff she wouldn’t wear. 

“When I met Damien and we watched The True Cost together I was shocked by what I saw and cried. He told me he wanted to do a sustainable swimwear line. I also didn’t realise how much rubbish was out in the world,” says Taylor. “It’s cool to be able to make a change, even if it’s making swimwear out of regenerated plastic.” 

The 12-piece range includes “sexy cuts” as well as “safe cuts”. Each piece is white, to be treated as a blank canvas for the work of artists that Current will collaborate with. World-renowned doodle artist Lei Melendres from the Philippines is the first artist who they have collaborated with, and the roll out of these first designs will be 2020. “We’re going to keep the same cuts. The only thing that changes is the artwork. We are not limited to season or style, unlike most fashion lines that have to create something new every few weeks,” Nikora says.

Artwork by Lei Melendres

Current swimwear also has a slogan – community, art, respect. Community being who they engage with, art being the creatives who they collaborate with, and respect being that artists are paid upfront for their work and receive royalties on top of that. The name, Current, relates to what is current with the brand and artists they collaborate with, as well as water flow, and going with the flow, too. 

So why talk about Current now, when you can’t buy it yet? Nikora wants to lead with the brand first and get people learning and talking – following the journey of Taylor, a small town girl from Tuakau, as she learns about sustainability and the production cycle of their swimwear, which the pair are documenting via social media.

For the past few months the pair have been travelling through New Zealand, the Philippines and China taking photographs along the way of Taylor wearing the swimwear. And, wherever they are they seek out local sustainable and ethically led fashion designers to tell their stories also, with Taylor modelling their designs. They also plan to help these designers by promoting their work on an online marketplace. 

Nikora and Taylor are currently back in the Philippines, and a trip to Italy is also in the pipeline to document where their swimwear fabric, Econyl (regenerated nylon from ocean waste), is manufactured.

Since hitting the road, Taylor has grown her social media following on Instagram to more than 10,000. She is also ecstatic that she is able to fulfil her dream of modelling full time. “I love the places you can go with it. It’s way better than a normal job I think, it’s just fun for me and I like being in front of the camera. And, with Damien I’m just able to be me and I love that.”

She is also inspired by people doing good things on her travels. “You get so pumped you just want to find more,” she says.

And while they have a clear vision for the brand, when they’re on the road, plans are “vague”. “We never know what’s going to happen in-between. We jump on a train and go to a place we have never heard of. We go with the current. We decide what is current and get to have that say,” says Nikora. 

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