Jane Harbison, creator, Dreaming Big for Little Girls

Be thoughtful – in the whole sense of the word ...

The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and if Brisbane designer Jane Harbison has anything to do it, what strong, confident and capable leaders they will be. After launching a string of products aimed at nurturing and building confidence within young girls aged between five and 15 years, Jane has now successfully crowd-funded a new project made by girls, for girls. As the final touches go into the collaborative cookbook Dreaming Big for Little Girls before it goes to print next month, The Weekend Edition caught up with Jane to chat cooking, confidence and creativity.

Why did your design company choose to focus on girls, specifically?
Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in a number of organisations associated with supporting girls and women, from being on a girls’ school council whose motto is All She Can Be to enhancing and promoting the leadership capacity of women in rural Australia. Girls and women can significantly influence the wellbeing of all societies and I think they naturally do this collaboratively – establishing ground swells and momentum. This often requires resilience and an ‘anything is possible’ attitude – this is where confidence resides. Our big long-term picture is to be able to be significant supporters of programs around the world that contribute to the wellbeing of girls and women. To do that effectively, we need our thoughtful products to be found in homes around the world.

What do you hope the company’s legacy will be?
I guess I’d like people to pick up their much-hugged cushion or scribbled-in notebook or frayed cookbook years down the track and reflect on how it made them feel. Our little character, who appears on most of our products, evokes joy, freedom and comfort in her own skin – maybe have a little bit of that rub off …

Congratulations on the success of the crowd-funding campaign for your upcoming cookbook, Dreaming Big for Little Girls. What can you tell us about the project?
This year we wanted to create something lasting and tangible that involved the girls we normally design for. After bouncing ideas around, we decided on a mini cookbook. Girls under the age of 15 contributed their favourite recipe as part of a competition we ran earlier in the year. Now that the successful recipes have been announced, we’ve begun illustrating and have also been asking the girls to contribute to the design in other ways. It would be great for the girls to be involved in a best-seller – in Australia that means 5000 copies. We successfully crowd-funded the project, so we’ve already had a great start with around 150 copies already sold.

What were some of your favourite recipes that girls around Brisbane contributed?
We genuinely like them all – we think the combination we have in the cookbook is fun, simple and tasty. They include recipes like Lulu’s Favourite Way to Eat Celery by Lulu Fitzgerald, Watermelon and Strawberry Iceblocks by Emma Fahy, plus some that are a little more challenging like Prosciutto Mozzarella Pizza, which we know Georgie McDowall loves to make and eat – we’ve seen the photos! There’s something for everyone – from five to 15 year olds, and maybe even mums and dads stuck for something to make for lunch.

What’s the next step and when do you think the project will come to fruition?
We’re in the design phase and we would ideally like a single premium sponsor that has synergies with what we’re doing; we’re working on this at the moment. We’ll have the book going to print here in Australia in late June/early July and available in July 2015. If anyone wants to put their name down for a copy of the cookbook, they can register here.

You’ve created many interesting projects and products for young girls – how do you hope these will encourage creativity and boost confidence?
We value quiet confidence in young girls because this supports resilience and an ‘anything is possible’ attitude. Confidence we feel is gained, in large part, by ‘doing’ things. So all our products are designed around encouraging ‘doing’. Because cooking is creative and about sharing with family and friends, the mini cookbook concept works with what we’re about. We gave thought to this question last year and asked our customers about it when redesigning how people search for things in our online store. This is why people can now search by ‘doing’ words such as Caring, Creating, Celebrating, Dreaming, Learning, Sharing as well as the more traditional search terms like product, age, occasion and price point. There’s so much inspiration around us for new product ideas, but we have to stop and think twice before designing something to make sure it’s the right fit. We also consider the lasting nature of our products. Besides our desire not to contribute to landfill, we have a hope that what we create are things that will hang on a wall, lie on a bed or reside on a bookcase for a long time. Our cookbook is no different. We have friends who still have childhood books 20, 30, 40 years later that they’re now passing down to the next generation.

Can you give us any hints about future projects on your to-do list?
At the end of last year, we did a trial run of some baking products for girls – aprons, tea towels, mittens and potholders. They sold out in four hours, so I’m currently talking to my suppliers about launching a limited range of aprons and tea towels around August this year. So together with our cookbook, they make a great little gift pack. We’ve just had our little apron feature in a wonderful kids’ cooking photo shoot in the April edition of Kid Magazine.

What do you believe is worth fighting for?
I truly believe a lot of the world’s problems can be solved with as simple a concept as ‘kindness’. I’d love to see a world that isn’t afraid to take time to be considered and reflective in its thoughts, words and deeds, so to affect minimal harm on other people, animals and plants – the earth in general.

What are your essentials for happiness?
Really knowing my personal values and living by them as best I can. Testing them and re-examining them. It gives an incredible confidence, when I know what I value and why. This is particularly true when presented with dilemmas, such as choosing between two bad options. From that, other good things come, like lasting friendships.

You’re a Brisbane resident; which other local creative folk have you got your eye on?
Sharon Fuller from Pod Art. She does bold, colourful artworks, which she’s now applying to homewares such as cushions and tablecloths. I think it has a distinctly fresh, Australian feel and believe overseas would love it! Also Caylie Jeffrey, author of Bedtime Stories for Busy Mothers. She made me cry in the first chapter of her book … and the second. She ‘s a clever storyteller and I think more people should hear from her. She has written the book with someone like me in mind, whom at the end of the day can only manage three to four pages before I’m out for the count. She’s done some really interesting things in her life and has skilfully woven them into this book. Finally, Ben Burns and Darcy Kean, the founders of My Point One. They’re based on the Gold Coast and just launched a really interesting new crowd-funding model for sustainable products – one to watch.

What do you love about living in Brisbane?
I like the weather and I love our home and friends; I find it’s easy to meet new people and make new friends in Brisbane. We have access to the incredible outdoors with the river, parks and walks. The city and suburbs have also gained a pretty vibrant food and fibre culture over the last 10 years or so. I can’t keep up with what’s opening up around the city – guess I’m lucky I read The Weekend Edition!

What’s your favourite suburb, and why?
I currently live in New Farm and really like it here. Our home is a bit of a haven for me – I work from home. We have good neighbours and we have most things we need not far away. My other all-time favourite ‘suburb’ is Texas, about three-and-a-half hours southwest of Brisbane. It’s where I grew up and where my family still reside. It’s my second home.

What are your words of wisdom?
Be thoughtful – in the whole sense of the word.

Only a Brisbane local would know that … the best fish and chips – definitely the chips, can be found at Fish’s Seafood Market, Teneriffe.

Perk up …
Samson & Sophie in Teneriffe, with a coffee made by Igor or Anna in the morning.
Relax … Mudjimba Beach. I was recently taken across town to Wild Canary at Brookfield Garden Centre – beautiful surroundings and good, fresh food.
Dine … we like to entertain at home, but anywhere near the water – and in Brisbane there’s a lot to choose from!
Catch-up … can I say Samson & Sophie again? (Will that get me a free coffee?!) Actually, taking in the river from one of the bars at Brisbane Powerhouse in New Farm.
Be inspired … on our family property with my nieces and nephews in Texas, Queensland.


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