23 Jan 2015


Introducing the gorgeous and talented ladies from PANDANAH, Cara Mancini & Nicole Monks

SDA had the pleasure of interviewing these ladies from Pandanah regarding their recent achievements and can I just say it is SPECTACULAR.

 1.  Tell us a little about yourself.

CARA: Originally from Maui, Hawaii I moved to Australia to pursue work opportunities, travel and study. Ive called the eastern suburbs of Sydney home since 2004. My work is inspired by nature, our environments, sustainability, travel and culture, the sea. Having completed a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences (University of Colorado, Boulder), Masters of Art (CoFA; UNSW), Graphic Design cert IV (Billy Blue College of Design, NSW) and most recently, Rachel Taylors’ ABSPD my work has evolved to cover a broad spectrum of Oil Painting, Illustration, Digital and Mixed Medias, Surface and Textile Design.


NICOLE: My heritage is Yamatji Wajarri, English & Dutch, with over a decade of trans- disciplinary industry experience (artist & designer). I aim to empower Aboriginal culture through art and design by embedding philosophies of sustainability, innovation and collaboration into my practice. I received a scholarship to study Interior design (KVB College), Cert 4 Fine Arts (Great Lakes TAFE), Design Anthropology (Swinburne) & looking forward to Residency at CoFA; UNSW in 2015.

2. How did the Pandanah Collaborative come together?

CARA: Over the years, Nicole and I have shared studio spaces, adventures up and down the East Coast, exhibitions and have pushed each other creatively. Pandanah was bound to happen. It just took 10 years of friendship and a couple of wines over a New Years Eve bonfire to get things started.

NICOLE: My company Black and White Creative creates opportunities for cultural collaboration and more specifically, aims to raise awareness around the significance of our indigenous past, its relevance to our present and to ensure it has a place in our future. It is the thread that brings these opportunities together and weaves them into our Australian culture. Pandanah is an extension of this. We wanted Pandanah to be a place where we could tell our stories of global culture, seek creative collaborations, bring together our skills and experiences through art and design.

 3. How did the gum nut collection evolve?

NICOLE: During a trip back to country last year, I was fascinated with the flora in particular the large gum nuts. I went about collecting these and found so much inspiration from the shape and form. I spoke with Cara and she reminisced of growing up with Eucalyptus in Hawaii and so our first collection had a theme. We have both developed skills in numerous creative disciplines within our art and design practices...Pandanah was a great way to explore mutual inspirations collectively. We started out with a range of dilly bags, experimenting with various eco friendly materials and a range of illustrations...

CARA: Early this year, we were selected from a national call out to showcase our range at the first ever Australian Indigenous Fashion Week. We put our heads down and dove into the experience  head first and our little line of bags grew into a complete range of lifestyle fashion garments for the runway (we also participated in the AIFW trade show). We both felt strongly in using sustainable materials like kangaroo leather, hemp, organic cottons and silk, linen.
We wanted our prints to bring these two beautiful cultures together... quintessential Australian bush crossed with bright Pacific themes.



4. What is your design process when creating a new range?

NICOLE: I enjoy collaborating with people and bouncing around ideas. Once we had decided on the Gum nut as our theme, I went about photographing the numerous collected varieties to use within our prints. Then I thought about the philosophy and lifestyle of Aboriginal people and Pacific islanders and expressed this in our collection through the use of natural fabrics, story telling and simplistic designs.

CARA: We both love researching an idea, collecting samples from nature, taking photos, drawing from life... That initial process is really important to us both. My illustrations are hand drawn in the studio, brought into Photoshop and Illustrator to create vector artworks for digital print. While drawing and composition always come first, colour is a huge part in my creative process. It is what brings an entire collection together...what brings it to life.

5. Can you explain your manufacturing process?

NICOLE: We have been digitally printing and manufacturing here in Sydney. We initially spent a few visits with the friendly Think Positive team choosing fabrics and matching colours. Our fabrics are digitally printed using eco friendly processes on natural fibres of Hemp, Linen and Silk.

CARA: The Gum Nut collection came together pretty seamlessly and we were very lucky to be able to produce our products here in Sydney. What an amazing learning experience. Nicole and I will continue to explore production options both locally and also overseas looking into woven fabrics and heavier finishes for interiors and lager scale projects. We are in the process of getting some samples made and are looking forward to a trip to Indonesia in the new year.

6. Can you describe your experience with the 2014 Sydney Design Awards?

CARA: Design 100 is an international design award programs focusing on the value of design in local markets. Sydney featured both local and international design (50 categories) representing an annual snapshot of design talent in this marketplace. The Design Awards is a great way for design professionals and the local community to vote on their favourites and help shape our creative worlds.

NICOLE: I was actually submitting another work in the Permanent Installation category (Finalist; see Mana Ngurang, blackandwhite creative) when I noticed the Textile and Surface Design category, I called Cara and we got working on our submission straight away. We were very excited at the awards ceremony when Pandanah was announced as the winner. It goes to show if you keep your eyes peeled within your industry - you never know what opportunities might pop up.

7. Do you have any tips for someone new to the surface design industry on how to get started and/ or move forward?

CARA: Just jump in. Its not going to happen overnight so there is room to adjust as you go. Take your time. Research and seek opportunities in your industry. Half of it is getting out there and having people hear about what you do. Enter competitions, send off portfolios, reach out to professionals, you never know what doors might open. And of course make as much art as you can.

NICOLE: Be organised with your time. Make goals and stick to time lines. Make time for inspiration if you are solo, go out and get involved with like minded individuals.

8. Who are your mentors and/ or inspirations?

CARA: My oldest mentor and dear friend Avi Kiriaty is a huge inspiration…I spent most of my teen years in his studio, watching him paint the most beautiful Polynesian themed paintings. I love what he is doing with the Kahala Aloha shirt line and his block prints. I am drawn to surface designers like Marimekko and Mara Hoffman...the whimsical, painterly designs of Carrie Jardine and old Hawaiian classics like Alfred Shaheen.

NICOLE: I have so many inspirations, but nature and the environment would be my first point of call for almost everything. As an exhibiting member of Boomalli Aboriginal Arts
Co-op I continually find inspiration from other artists, in particular Bronwyn Bancroft. I also love vibrant things and Australiana. Jenny Kee is one of my favourite textile artists.

9. Whats next?

NICOLE: We have definitely learnt a lot during this year; with the attitude of never turning down a good opportunity we have seen some great success within our first year. Im very lucky to have found a great partner to work with and we very much complement each other so its just up and up from here. From our hard work and hands on experience we have decided the future direction for Pandanah is as a Surface design studio – offering services for any surface, with our experience ranging from Interiors, Art, Design & Fashion. We believe we can develop bespoke and unique design that suit any application and we are
openly looking for future collaborators. We also look forward to offering limited run lifestyle products, so stay tuned to Pandanah.

CARA: Its so exciting to be able to work along side someone who excites you and pushes you to do your best. Its been such fun. While we continue to work on our product line, we look forward to creative projects ahead. Look for us at Fernabulus (an event by Fern Events) Fashion show, a platform for multicultural emerging designers to network, connect and expand business relationships within the design industry.

A dream project would be to collaborate with a gallery or other creative space for an interiors project. We want to see our designs printed large scale, rugs and furnishings…. filling spaces and reaching different audiences. We cant wait to share it with you all.


What an amazing achievement by Cara and Nicole. We certainly applaud their goals, efforts and achievements!!!! But it does not end there. Since interviewing Pandanah they have exhibited in the Fernabulus Fashion Show. As a result Pandanah has been asked to do a cultural immersion trip (funded and paid for by government) to Fiji, NZ and Samoa! Well done ladies. 
SDA is so proud of you.

You can reach out to Pandanah via the following links: