Smart, inventive and savvy, these Australian innovators are making a tangible difference to our everyday lives.
Smart, inventive and savvy, these Australian innovators are making a tangible difference to our lives.
It’s a magical time for innovation, as most of us would agree. The theme of the 2016 Geneva World Economic Forum was the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, with forum chairman Klaus Schwab stating that the “speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent”.
The world we live in is one of infinite change, and it’s a time where it’s not only applauded but also deemed cool to be a disrupter, feather ruffler, re-shaper, problem-solver or tinkerer. And as with all bold movements, which often feel divorced from our daily lives, there is a trickle-down effect, one that does impact upon the way we live.
You don’t have to look far to see examples of this right now: seamless swimsuits that melt into curves, skin balms that streamline beauty regimens and apps that monitor everything from the way medicine is administered to fertility windows. Thinkers and inventors who question the how, what and when of everything we do are all around us.
To follow, a new force of wonder-women innovators who are transforming our everyday.
Creator of Respia and 2016 global runner-up in the James Dyson Award For some, the ability to generate ideas must be ingrained at a cellular level. At just 22, Katherine Kawecki has already conquered what many industrial designers hope to achieve in an entire career by having her resourceful design, Respia, recognised both nationally and on the international stage.
What started out as a university project evolved into a marketable product: an asthma management system combining a Bluetooth-enabled inhaler with a wearable patch that tracks users’ respiratory health and streamlines the way medication is administered. “It’s designed to help people my age, young adults, to better understand and engage with their asthma,” says the Sydney-based industrial design graduate, who is an asthmatic herself.
Last year, Kawecki was honoured as one of two runners-up in the 2016 James Dyson Award for her invention, an apt outcome given a previous winner of the award had motivated her to pursue her field of study in the first place. “I went to the Powerhouse Museum and saw one of that year’s winners speaking and it inspired me to consider it [industrial design] as a degree,” she remembers.
Just five years on from that time and Kawecki would be receiving the nod of approval from Dyson himself, who remains one of her greatest influences. “The way he designs something – a hair dryer, a vacuum cleaner – it completely disrupts and revolutionises the market,” she says.
Positive female role models, among them architect Zaha Hadid and some of her university lecturers and tutors, have also helped pave her way. “The design process is really dependent on the user experience and empathy – being able to empathise with the user and not to design what you would like but what the user would find really useful. I think that’s really important,” she says. Designers and co-founders, Ward Whillas “We kind of geek out on new technology and intelligent construction,” says Alicia Whillas, one half of US-based technical swim brand Ward Whillas. With her co-founder Rosie Ward Densen, the Australian duo borrowed innovations seen in the activewear and sneaker market for swimwear construction.
“We found that swimwear was a very stagnant area in fashion, where little had changed since the 70s,” says Ward Densen. “We would be looking at sneakers or the construction of shapewear and wonder why no-one was utilising these techniques in swim.”
Marrying form and function, Ward Whillas deploys cutting-edge techniques such as ultrasonic welding (using high frequency sound – yes, sound – to bond two layers of fabric so they’re seamlessly reversible) and high-performance Italian compression fabrics that are UV-resistant, quick-drying and flattering. Simple innovations, says Whillas, that were underutilised when it came to swimwear construction. “I think it is important to approach fashion like any other form of design. Fundamentally, it should address a need and we should constantly strive to improve upon what already exists. Innovation is often the key to facilitating this.”
But beyond advancement for innovation’s sake, above all Ward Whillas strives to make getting into a bikini come summertime a simple task.
“A woman is rarely more publicly exposed and self-conscious as when she is in swimwear – ourselves included,” says Whillas. “Innovation has allowed us to design swimwear that helps a woman feel confident and empowered.”
Founder and CEO of Lano and Lanolips One could never accuse the beauty industry of lacking innovation. Yet sometimes it’s the simplest products that are the most pioneering. Just ask Kirsten Carriol, founder of Australian cult beauty brand Lano. Growing up on a sheep farm, Carriol applied lanolin as an everyday salve and saw first-hand its benefits. But convincing the beauty industry that the wax-like paste derived from wool was the wonder product she knew it to be wasn’t without its challenges. “I walked away from the biggest labs in the world because they just didn’t get it,” says Carriol, who had a career in beauty PR before turning her hand to product development. “For everything I’ve formulated, I pick one, sometimes two ingredients in the product that really work.”
Now the rest of the world agrees that her magical ingredient gets results. Lano retails in 20 countries globally and this year its range of lips balms, hand creams and everyday ointments will be available in the US at ULTA Beauty, Free People, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Anthropologie and Violet Grey – a make-or-break market for beauty brands. “With anyone who’s innovating, you’re doing something that no-one has done before, so you need to have a bit of Dutch courage; blind faith in your own product.”
“SWIMWEAR WAS A VERY STAGNANT AREA IN FASHION WHERE LITTLE HAD CHANGED”
Katherine Kawecki wears a Céline dress. Georg Jensen bracelet. Saint Laurent shoes, from Cosmopolitan Shoes.