Unleashing the Value of Australian Creativity

Supply chain disruption and restricted travel have led the Australian design community to look inwards, unearthing the value of creativity that’s on our doorstep.

Design Show Australia talks to industry tastemakers about how nurturing homegrown talent and educating audiences in the value of Australian creativity will build a more evolved, robust industry for us all.

As the global design community gets back on its feet after the peak of COVID-19’s impact, searching for retrospective silver linings might be a bitter task. As an island nation, being cut off from international trade fairs and supply chains threw businesses into uncharted and often unwelcome waters.

However for some, the shakeup surfaced new opportunities created by looking inwards, to Australia’s thriving design community and manufacturing specialists who can offer quality that matches overseas practitioners, with reduced lead times, fewer carbon miles and fresh perspectives.

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Cult, Showroom and Head Office, Sydney
Nau / Fiona Susanto / cult / design show australia
Cult X nau, Sydney, Photographed by: Fiona Susanto

Founder of iconic furniture business Cult Design and Australian furniture design brand nau, Richard Munao, has been championing Australian design alongside European heavyweights long before the impact of the pandemic. As he begins to step back from day-to-day operations and into a focused leadership role within both businesses and externally, he could be just the figurehead needed to cement Australian design firmly on the international map.

Munao’s lifelong passion for design combined with his savvy business nous gives him an uncanny ability to see the bigger, future-focussed picture amongst the fog of disrupted timelines and import challenges.

“Suddenly on the supply chain side, specifiers and clients needed to guarantee getting a project finished and so they had to begin looking more locally. Many of them were quite surprised at the quality of what we have here—something they would not have considered so deeply had it not been for COVID-19,” Munao explains.

nua / Maxwell Finch / Design Show Australia
nau X Mawxwell Finch, 2021
AG Cult colab / AG / Cult / Design Show Australia
Cult X AG, 2016

One of the most internationally recognised projects to be brought to life during this time period has been Sydney’s Ace Hotel. Spearheaded by Flack Studio, the Australian outpost features a who’s who of homegrown creative talent in the form of textiles, objects and artworks that tell a unique story through a culturally rich sense of place.

Value of Australian Creativity - Flack Studios - Ace Hotel Sydney
Flack Studios, Ace Hotel Sydney
Value of Australian Creativity - David Flack - Ace Hotel Sydney
David Flack, Founder of Flack Studio, Photographed by: Anson Smart

Multidisciplinary practice Decus uses art to give spaces a narrative beyond structural design, with founder Alexandra Donohoe Church working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous gallerists and artists to source pieces that deliver holistically resolved concepts for residential projects, such as the firm’s recent Bellevue Hill project.

When asked to define Australian design, many practitioners highlighted the legacy of colonialism and identified the industry’s tendency to look to Italian design history instead of Indigenous practices as the predecessor to current voices. 

Profit-for-purpose Design Show Australia exhibitor Winya prioritises Indigenous ownership and employment, working together with artists to transform their work into fabrics and furniture for workspaces. The company is recognised by the United Nations as one of Australia’s only businesses that leads in sustainable development practices by authentically supporting Indigenous artists while also supporting the economy.

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Artist: Tammy Kanat, Photographer: Anson Smart
anson smart / design show australia / alexander mckenzie
Artist: Alexander Mckenzie, Photographer: Anson Smart

Like all emerging markets, Australian design faces challenges of risk. Adam Goodrum, a well-loved and lauded name within industrial design, believes that government support to de-risk the sector would accelerate the onshore manufacturing foundations needed to propel the industry:

“The often massive investment required to be competitive is carried by local manufacturers who are left to troubleshoot and carry the burden of research and development in order to compete with imported products,” comments Goodrum.

In addition to financial support, improvements in legal and legislative support to protect designers’ intellectual property and income hampered by copies is needed. The Authentic Design Alliance (of which Cult is a member) brings together designers, manufacturers and events bodies to combat the erosion of value taking place under the label of replicas.

Goodrum and Munao have long since seen eye-to-eye on the ecosystem needed to grow local industry—a carefully balanced blend of government support, consumer education, international promotion and local unity—by changing society’s view of design as something that we understand, value and are proud to own.

Munao is stepping back from his two businesses to focus on a broader view of Australian design that speaks to a global platform, something that Donohoe Church describes generally as a mirror that will allow us to recognise our own value.

“Using local competition as something that makes us all strive to do better, instead of having tall poppy syndrome, will propel the industry by keeping us on our toes,” says Munao.

“Advancement happens when we respect what each other contributes and embrace the whole of the design community, instead of individual brands or businesses trying to own it.”

Of course, shopping local means less tax on the environment, with fast furniture being likened to fast fashion by designers and craftspeople (Sydney alone discards 50,000 tonnes of furniture as hard rubbish each year).

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Wave Sofa, Designed by: Daniel Boddam

Furniture and lighting designer Daniel Boddam welcomes the comparison and calls for a revival of a “buy once, buy well” mentality that will protect the environment as our shared home and a rich source of inspiration for his next series of tables, lighting and sofas, inspired by local travel.

Proof that Australian-designed, Australian-made spaces can be elevated is key to the storytelling for future generations and for overseas design communities. Design Show Australia is supporting this vision by awarding Australia’s Next Top Designer, judged by Stephen Todd, Creative Director for Sydney Design Week and Design Editor for Australian Financial Review. Applicants can be studying or operating in industry for up to five years and the winner will receive promotion and publicity as part of the show.

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Four Pillars Gin Lab by YSG, Sydney

Homegrown talent outside of design disciplines can also be found at the central Lincoln Lounge at Design Show Australia, designed by Cult in collaboration with Four Pillars Gin.

Envisioned as an ‘anti-VIP’ space to bring the industry together, practitioners are welcome to use the space throughout the fair, discussing Australia’s creative future over a native cocktail.

This article was provided by Design Show Australia’s content partner, Trout Creative Thinking. Trout is Australia’s only living brands agency—a creative agency dedicated to servicing businesses within the homemaker, renovation, build and construction sectors, to shape how we live and work.

Clare Acheson from Trout is speaking as part of Design Show Australia’s program.