Think – designer jewellery and homewares with a Jurassic Park resin twist, and you'll have nailed Liane Rossler's recent past. Best known as one of three designing owners of the jewellery and homewares label Dinosaur Designs, Liane co-founded the company with Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy, straight from studying at COFA (College of Fine Arts) in the 1980s. Two years ago in 2010 after 25 years, she left Dinosaur to pursue her own art, design and environment projects.
“I think we do things to meet a need. Now, so many things are so plentiful. Back in the 1980s I couldn’t find the clothes I wanted to wear so I designed and made my own,” says Liane explaining the process that drives her creativity.
“When you want things that don’t exist, you have to be resourceful and often make them yourself. Dinosaur began as clothing and jewellery. When I moved out of home and needed a set of salad servers, homewares became an obvious extension,” she continues.
New things sometimes baffle people. We often need to be given suggestions, parameters around which to view them if we are to engage. Liane remembers a particular star-shaped dish she’d designed, and a customer coming into the shop saying he’d been given it as a wedding present but had no idea what to do with it: “It had hundreds of uses: you could put salt in it or olives... you just had to use your imagination. Then there were customers who turned pieces into door handles... I loved the creativity of that. The challenge – which is actually an opportunity – is getting people to engage with the new and join in with the process.\"
Inspiring others to start a conversation and join in might appear simple – and a very modest summation of Liane’s 25-year career success with the groundbreaking concept store and business ¬– but it takes courage of conviction to build and maintain an idea.
It's a warm, late winter afternoon. Liane has a meeting with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), so we decide to meet within ear-shot of Hany Armanious’ sculpture on the balcony of the coffee shop in the MCA’s new Mordant wing designed by Liane’s architect husband, Sam Marshall.
A glass of water later, her very full ‘dance card’ of engagements – a whirlwind of self-started, other-initiated and invited-to-be-part-of creative advisory projects and collaborations – leaves me feeling a slouch in the time utilization stakes.
“For the past two years I’ve been doing all sorts of different things, working across creative industries, doing my own personal things in design and art and working in the capacity of a creative advisor in different fields,” says Liane, who believes pinning down what she does using a formal title based on existing ideas about workplace traditions no longer makes good business sense.
“Sometimes I use the term ‘seed planter’, but the terms don’t really exist yet to describe – let alone provide a title for roles such as mine where you’re working with people about possibilities, ideas, things in the future that are undefined,” says Liane.
“We used to saying you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a librarian or whatever, and those formal definitions come with certain definitions attached, but now roles are shifting and crossing over, and how and what we do changes so constantly, that those professional category names and ways of thinking no longer capture or explain the scope of all that we do. The one thing that is inevitable is change. If you fail to move in a flexible, nimble way to accommodate change, you’re in trouble,” believes Liane.
Underpinning these values and beliefs business, and personally, are messages around sustainability. Liane’s role as an ambassador for the online climate change website, 1 Million Women, is high on her priority list. She met the site’s founder, and one of our former Rubys, Natalie Isaacs, taking part in becoming a Climate Leader with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in Melbourne in 2007. Liane believes her ability to plug into the design and arts communities and take the message about sustainability to them in a way that resonates sealed her a spot at the ex US Vice President’s travelling climate change road show.
“I think applying the cradle-to-cradle concept to an idea, or a thing, can be a really useful way of determining its worth. We invent and manufacture things mostly for good reasons, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate the process now and in the future. It’s important to think about the whole picture – origin, use and final resting place – and be prepared to rethink and change when a process or idea is not working, or its costs outweigh its benefits, or it’s just wasteful or, very importantly, if the primary resources are finite and you need to find other ways and methods to remain sustainable,” says Liane, who also admits things often only become obvious in time.
Disposable plastic, for example, Liane points out, made the cover of Life magazine in the 50s, hailed as the invention that was going to change and free up housewives’ lives.
“Over time though, we’ve come to see the accumulated waste and understand the wider effects of this reliance on and belief in disposable plastics, and we now realize on so many levels how wrong we were,” says Liane, her normally smiling face contracting down to a frown as she ponders some of our more wasteful and thoughtless practices.
The manufacture of aluminium foil, for example, is something that to be considered. The story begins with sourcing the ingredients from 6 or 7 countries. Super freighters then haul the ingredients to a smelting plant to be boiled down and poured into a massive ingot. A roller then rolls the ingot over and over again, thinner and thinner, for weeks, to produce foil.
And what do we do with that foil, Liane asks? Use it once, roll it into a ball and throw it out: “It’s such a waste. All that time, all that energy and money to use something once and throw it out. Aluminium is infinitely recyclable”
On a roll, we jump to the frightening statistic that Australians waste 20% of the food they buy. (That’s equivalent to buying five bags of groceries and then promptly throwing one bag in the bin.) Liane admires campaigns by 1 Million Women such as its SAVE money, energy, earth program that hones our focus on waste and saving: on how much we throw out and how if it was business no one would put up with it.
“The government’s Clean Energy Plan includes an emissions trading (cap and trade) scheme. The idea is to get us all to use less energy, to be more thoughtful and energy efficient. It’s not about making you pay more,” believes Liane.
The 1 Million Women lifestyle change program has been set up to save money and tackle climate change at the same time, and has been running for five months. It finishes in October with tips, ideas, stats, information and advice on how, where and why to invest the dollars you’ve saved following the program. The other elements – drive, food, power, wear, shop – have each been rolled out on the website and its associated social media platforms, along with a stream of action areas, tips, video clips, stats, information and ideas for saving pollution and dollars.
Liane’s interested to see how women will use the money they’ve saved. In fact, that will be the “white paper” moment for her.
“Hand people a blank piece of paper and a pen and ask them to create something and they’ll usually want to know what the parameters are and what results you want. They want the boundaries, a way to do it. In actual fact, what you’re handing them is ultimate freedom. The point is not to have a defined outcome but to explore all sorts of seeds and ideas and see what it could be rather than rely on how it used to be.
“Women are nurturers and don’t usually just want to sit on a growing pile of money above everyone else but put it to good use. It will be interesting to see where women put the savings, what they do with them,” finishes Liane, who’s never been one for the preconceived goal driven answer, preferring to launch into the journey and see where it takes her.
(Portrait by Karl Schwerdtfeger)