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Honour for corset fashion legend Sarah Jenyns

Sarah Jenyns corset advert Photo: Contributed
Sarah Jenyns corset advert Photo: Contributed Contributed

 

Sarah Jenyns corsetry. Photo: Contributed
Sarah Jenyns corsetry. Photo: Contributed Contributed

CORSET revolutionary Sarah Jenyns had seven children to feed and her husband's preaching was not paying the bills.

After feeling the sharp pain in her side while lifting a heavy pail she made it her mission to design a corset that would support women's spines and ease their back pain.

Using knowledge from her time as a nurse and her husband's role as a surgical instrument maker, Mrs Jenyns pioneered a pain-free surgical corset.

From a humble workshop in Brisbane in 1909, orthopaedic surgeons abroad praised it as "the best corset the world has seen" three years later.

She had 15 sewing machinists in 1916 but the House of Jenyns had expanded to 1100 machinists and seven factories by 1964.

The factories came together at Ipswich by 1970 and were creating 45,000 garments a day.

The Ipswich factory shut in the early 1990s when the once exceptionally popular corsets became obsolete.

Mrs Jenyns had trouble securing suitable staff in Brisbane but Ipswich was a fertile place to recruit qualified workers.

As the QT reported at the time, former workers had a reunion at the Ipswich RSL Services Club on June 28, two days shy of the 20th anniversary of the closure of the factory - now being used as a motorbike showroom.

But Sarah Jenyns' underwear empire is a Queensland fashion success story that lasted close to a century despite monumental changes to women's fashion.

Last night Mrs Jenyns' entrepreneurship was celebrated when she was inducted into the 2014 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

Ron Jenyns said his grandmother's designs were a major breakthrough in corsets that resulted in her travelling the world.

He said traditionally corsets were based on shaped waists and a laced back which meant women needed help to get them on.

"My grandmother Jenyns developed a new style of lacing which meant the person could put on the corset themselves," he said.

"They could hook and eye down one side of the garment and take hold of the belts that would pull the laces tight.

Sarah Jenyns designed corsetry for all women.
Sarah Jenyns designed corsetry for all women. Contributed

Mr Jenyns, who would take the company to even greater heights after Sarah died in 1952, said he believed his grandmother's success stemmed from recognising women had so many different shapes.

"She created a product that had 12 different figure types. Whether women were short, tall or had a big abdomen, she had a corset deign for your figure," he said.

"Before then there was one shape. She eventually patented these designs and the lacing principal and took them out to the world."

Mr Jenyns said her grandmother came through tremendous hardships in her early days to lead the family to business success.

"She had quite a unique personality," he said.

"She would have been one of the first women who really stood up in business and said she could do it.

"The struggle of feeding your family when your husband just wants to get out on a street corner to preach; I think it was that desperate need that drove her.

"She was the beginning of three generations of business."

QUT deputy vice-chancellor Peter Little said Mrs Jenyns was an astute business woman who overcame several obstacles - including a male-dominated business environment - to reach success.

"Sarah Jenyns' tenacity and determination to help people saw her build a Queensland fashion empire with an enduring legacy," he said.

"She was in an era where there were few women who owned large successful businesses and where women were mainly confined to rearing the children and looking after the home.

"She was determined, she had a vision together with a very strong will and determination."

HIGH PRAISE: Sarah Jenyns’ corsetry was praised by orthopaedic surgeons.
HIGH PRAISE: Sarah Jenyns’ corsetry was praised by orthopaedic surgeons. Contributed

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