Jenni Carbins: In Conversation

London-based Aussie ex-pat Jenni Carbins gives insight into taking Australian design to the world in this interview with Ben Morgan

09 Feb 2012

After working within the arts for a number of years – in various marketing roles for music, film, theatre, literature and dance – Jenni Carbins picked up sticks and moved to London, landing a role as Director of Marketing at the renowned Southbank Centre, but there was a passion lying dormant.

“I’d always loved design and I can’t avoid the fact that I’m Australian. I started thinking ‘Why is there no Australian design in this country?’,” Carbins recalls. “So I went to perhaps the most iconic Australian design brand, Dinosaur Designs. They had 25 years in Australia, a shop in New York and distribution throughout North America, but I asked ‘Why aren’t they in the UK?’. That was the beginning of Matilda.”

Working with the London Design Festival in 2010 Carbins launched the Australian design brand, Matilda. In this pilot program 2 reasons became apparent for the lack of Australian design in the UK. The first was price:  “For high-end Australian design, because it’s on the other side of the world, getting it here becomes prohibitively expensive,” she says. “The other reason is that no one has ever really concentrated on it for long enough. No one understood what Australian design was. Over here it’s either ‘Does Australia have design?’ or they think it’s cork hats and didgeridoos.”

So while the new Matilda was championing Australia design, it was clear price would remain an obstacle to import. The answer was local manufacturing.

“So the whole concept now is ‘designed in Australia, made in Britain’,” Carbins explains. “Which is working very effectively and because it’s a fresh approach. As opposed to everyone in the UK looking around for the next big thing, we can bring the best emerging and established talent from the other side of the world.”

Aside from Matilda making solid inroads into the UK, Carbins believes that projects such as the Broached Commissions have the potential to really cement our design identity. “I think the Broached Commissions taps into the things that are uniquely Australian: its history, its culture and its craft. The hope is that the philosophy behind these limited edition pieces will begin to influence other designers’ production pieces.”

“Australian design is fresh because remoteness is a strength. There’s a level of innovation that comes from this that defines Australian design.”