Sarah Jenyns (1865–1952) a mother of eight and more than competent seamstress and trained surgical maker first established a business with her husband, Ebenezer, in 1907 in Elizabeth Street Brisbane. This followed years of grinding poverty and the loss of a son to drowning in a waterhole in New South Wales as the family travelled by horse-drawn wagon to allow Ebenezer to pursue his calling as an itinerant preacher.
Within two years, her business later to become ‘Jenyns Patent Corset Pty Ltd’ was so successful larger premises were acquired in George Street where, from 1911, Sarah began to conduct her own business making surgical hernia instruments and corsets. Soon after the business moved into even larger George Street premises where, at its height, over 200 machinists were employed.
Her personal experience with pain from wearing foundation garments designed to produce an hour glass figure, inspired her to revolutionise corset design and produce garments that delivered pain relief and fashion outcomes. By working with one of Australia’s leading surgeons she brought a scientific approach to her designs which were to win her support from medical professions in Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and from manufacturers.
Having received Australian patents for her designs in 1910 and worldwide patents by 1912 she showed her audacity by taking the entrepreneurial risk of travelling abroad to expand her business, licensing the manufacture of her products and receiving widespread acclaim. Leading international hospitals proclaimed her corset products to be the finest the world had seen.
Control of the business eventually passed to her son Herbert and later to her grandchildren. When demand for corsets plateaued, Herbert diversified the business into surgical production and bra manufacturing. Grandson Ken and his wife, Pat, subsequently acquired the surgical production business while grandchildren Ron and Margaret obtained control of the bra manufacturing operations which, in an eventual partnership with Triumph International, became Australia’s largest bra manufacturer, employing around 1,100 staff at its peak.
The early hardships she had experienced forged an independent spirit with a can-do attitude making her one of the few significant business women of the early 20th century. She created a business involving four generations that lasted nearly 100 years and a product that continues to be produced in Brisbane today in line with her original patent. Sarah Jenyns will always be remembered as a courageous, astute and creative business leader.