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Contemporary designer: Lenore Dembski

In the Area of study: Design, you will investigate the factors that determine the success or failure of designers. This tutorial focuses on the contemporary Aboriginal designer Lenore Dembski.

This material addresses aspects of the following syllabus outcome:

H6.1 The student analyses the influence of historical, cultural and contemporary developments on textiles.

Extract from Stage 6 Textiles and Design Syllabus © Board of Studies NSW 2007.

Lenore Dembski has been designing and manufacturing clothing for men, women and children for over 30 years.

Lenore's three clothing labels are:paperbark icon

Activity 1

To gain an understanding of the clothes designed by Lenore Dembski (external website) visit the Powerhouse Museum web site. Choose one day and one formal wear garment.
Briefly describe each garment, include information on design features and fabric design.

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Factors that determine the success or failure of designers

Lenore Dembski has taken many years to build up her business. Throughout this time many factors have influenced her business. Those factors not under her control are called external factors. These include economic, political, social, ecological and technological factors.
Internal factors are aspects she has control over or the ability to change or influence. These include expertise, finance and facilities.

External factors

External Factor 1: Economic

The state of a country's economy will influence the success of a designer. In Australia the current value of the Australian dollar affects imports and exports.A low value of the Australian dollar is a benefit to Lenore Dembski's business. Many of her customers are touristsfrom overseas keen to buy authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles. A low value of our dollar means prices are low compared to the cost overseas.

A low value of the Australian dollar is also an advantage as Lenore is now exporting her clothing overseas. Overseas buyers gain a financial advantage with a currency that performs well against a low Australian dollar.

External Factor 2: Political

The political climate of the world or a particular country can affect the success of a designer. Governments can assist designers by establishing incentive grants and imposing tariffs on imported goods.

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Activity 2

The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Strategic Investment Program (TCF SIP) is an Australian Government Initiative. To find out more about this program visit the AusIndustry (external website) web site. Type in TCF SIP Fact Sheet into the search facility. Now select the fact sheet. Referring to the fact

  1. What does the program do?
  2. What grants are available?


The TCF 2000 Development package was an earlier project, however its impact on the industry was valuable. Click here to find out what businesses learned from their involvement.

Activity 3

  1. Define tariff (external website).
  2. What are the current tariffs for textile, clothing and footwear?
  3. How will these tariffs change after 2005?
  4. What measures have been put in place to help the industry adjust to the new tariffs?


Lenore Dembski's business has been helped by government initiatives. She has used TradeStart to expand her business overseas.

Paperbark Womenswear has participated in The Australian Designer Showcase. (external website) This is a project of the TCF Resource Centre of WA and will promote Australian designers at national and international showcase events over the next two years. It is supported by the Department of Industry, Tourism & Resources under the TCF Market Development Program in conjunction with the Belmont Business Enterprise Centre Inc., Western Australia. TCF Resource Centre of WA and Belmont Business Enterprise Centre are non-profit community organisations, which assist people to start a new business,

In 2001 Lenore's business was a National Finalist in the Small Business Category of the Prime Minister’s Community and Business Partnerships Awards. For more specific information on Lenore Dembski, click on http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/hsc/paperbark/ (external website)

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External Factor 3: Social

Textile products reflect the trends within society. Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers are expressing their culture in a range of mediums including textiles and fashion. The energy and imagination of Aboriginaldesign (external website) reveals a culture with a continuity that remains through the fickle changes of fashion.

External Factor 4: Ecological

Consumers realise there is a need to make environmentally friendly choices when buying products. Designers where possible should use environmentally friendly materials and processes.

Lenore Dembski uses fabrics designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to produce her clothing. She uses mainly natural fibres, cotton and silk. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers use traditional methods of surface decoration including batik and screen-printing.

To learn more about the techniques of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles visit:
http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/hsc/paperbark/contemporary.htm (external website)
http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/hsc/paperbark/fabric_decoration.htm (external website)

Activity 4

Select one fabric produced by Lenore Dembski, such as a screen-printed woven cotton and conduct a life-cycle assessment. See the tutorial on Sustainable textiles for further information.

External Factor 5: Technological

Designers must be aware of technological developments if they are to succeed in the 21st century. There have been many developments in fibre, yarn, fabric and finishing techniques. Designers no longer just design with pen and paper. Computer-aided design is an important part of the industry. The Internet has allowed designers to showcase their work to the world. Although part of the appeal of Aboriginal designs is the absence of high-end technology

Activity 5

  • Define innovation
  • Outline some of the innovative changes that have occurred in the textile industry since the 1950s.
  • Answer

    A recent study found five key drivers of innovation in the textiles, clothing, footwear and leather industries. They are:

    retail: where the needs of retailers and customers lead to changes in the production and servicing processes

    intellectual property and design: where the marketing, licensing and other requirements of a brand dictate design and manufacturing processes and where designers' choice of cut, textiles, blends and fibres may require changes in production methods

    machine tools and equipment: where different uses of existing technology and new technology open up new opportunities

    materials suppliers: where the development of new materials drive changes to production, design and products

    regulation, deregulation and globalisation: where changes in policy settings locally, nationally and internationally require new practices to survive and grow.

    Adapted from Textile, Clothing and Footwear 2000, http://www.isr.gov.au/industry/tcf/cs2000/innovation.html (web site no longer available).

    Lenore Dembski's designs are promoted and sold online through this web site (external website). This increases the market for her designs as anyone in the world can go to her web site and shop on line for garments and

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    Internal factors

    Internal Factor 1: Expertise

    1. All designers have different skills or expertise. Their ability to develop their skills or work in a team with other people will determine if the designer is successful in achieving their goals.

    Activity 6

    Using the following web site outline how Lenore Dembski developed expertise to design clothing and run a successful business:
    http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/hsc/paperbark/ (external website)

    Internal Factor 2: Finance

    All business requires a sound financial backing if they are to succeed. All designers must have a good understanding of a product's life cycle to ensure they produce the correct quantity of an item and sell it at a price consumers are prepared to pay. By outsourcing or sub-contracting sewing Lenore keeps prices competitive and maintains appropriate stock levels.

    Internal Factor 3: Facilities

    The facilities available to designers will vary from one-room operations using basic equipment to large organisations outsourcing parts of the production process.

    Lenore started her textile business in 1979. She manufactured children's clothing, women's sportswear, lingerie and curtains for several different outlets. She also created bridal and after-five wear for individuals and costumes for concerts.

    In 1996, to coincide with the Aboriginal Development Unit's project to help promote Aboriginal fabrics to designers and the general public, Lenore started to produce resort wear and evening and glamour wear using Aboriginal fabrics.

    The clothing she produces now is made using fabric designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She has a pool of about twenty fabric designers that she uses. She sews some of the clothing herself but as the business has grown she now sub-contracts the sewing to several local clothing manufacturers and individuals.

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    The designer's influence on current trends

    Lenore Dembski's success is a source of inspiration for many designers. Her success allows new designers to realise they can also succeed with lots of time and hard work.

    Lenore's use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs has inspired non-indigenous designers to experiment with these fabrics and incorporate them into their own collections.

    Activity 7

    Describe how one of the following designers has incorporated indigenous fabric designs (external website) into their collection:

    HSC examination

    The information on the factors that determine the success or failure of designers is examined in the written paper of the Textiles and Design HSC examination. In past papers questions have appeared in all three parts of the examination paper:
    Part A: multiple-choice questions
    Part B: short response questions
    Part C: extended response questions.

    Activity 10

    Using past HSC examination papers (external website) answer questions on contemporary designers. For example, question 14 in the 2001 paper.

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