July 19 is the day Hyderabad will step into India’s first Ikea. Here’s a preview, along with insights into the meticulous work of the diverse team
In early June, talking to us at Ikea’s headquarters in Almhult, Sweden, Mia Lundstrom, creative director Life at Home, Ikea India, said something that explained the team’s continuous learning process.
Lundstrom, along with Mia Olsson Tunér, country communication and design manager, Ikea India, and several others, had visited more than 1000 homes in different Indian cities to understand living patterns. “The first 10 people who signed up for Ikea kitchens (after consultations at Hej Home Hyderabad experience centre) chose to go all white, while we expected them to choose dark brown kitchen themes, keeping with the dust and heat conditions,” she disclosed.
Some of their product range – like kitchen counter tops — were tweaked to be compliant for Indian cooking, but they found urban Indian consumers to be open to the Scandinavian design ethos.
Synergy of styles
On Thursday, as John Achillea, managing director, Ikea Telangana walked a small team of journalists through the new store before it opens to public on July 19, it brought to fore the synergy of Indian and global design sensibilities.
The Hyderabad store, almost 4,00,000 square-feet, will house over 7,500 products that include global bestsellers like the Släkt range of furniture for children above eight, with the flexibility of being changed to suit different spaces, and the Klämmig range for newborns with safety features like wall fasteners. At the store, look out for Småland, a supervised forest-themed children’s play zone where parents can leave their children while they shop.
In its journey, Ikea has understood the need to cater to local cultures while dealing with markets like Vietnam and Africa. Understandably, there’s emphasis on local sourcing engaging with artisans from India.
Rangsutra and Industree Foundation, which work with a few thousand artisans in rural India, have been developing products for Ikea.
For instance, women artisans of Industree worked on the limited edition collection ‘Hemgjord’, which was sold at Ikea stores in the UK, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Korea and Japan beginning March 2017. This collection had hand-embroidered cushion covers, chair pads, table runners, bags, baskets, boxes, place mats, cushions and laundry bags using banana fibre. The need-to-knows
- Parking: Can accommodate 1300 cars in basement, external parking for 4000 more cars. Free shuttle services from store to external parking.
- India engagement: Ikea has been working with Indian artisans for more than 30 years. Among the many made in India collections are textile range Unsprunglig, Moshult foam mattresses from a Hyderabad-based supplier, and the vintage-y metal portable kitchen trolley called Råskog.
- Make it last: Kitchen installations have 10 year guarantee.
- Workforce: Ikea has more than 1000 employees or co-workers in Hyderabad, with 50:50 male-to-female ratio.
Another example is the Innehallsrik collection, also using banana bark fibres, developed by artisans of Rangsutra. Available in select Ikea stores worldwide since April 2018, Innehållsrik features banana fibre baskets, handwoven and hand-embroidered blankets, towels and cushion covers.
Vaishali Misra, business leader of Next Generation social entrepreneurs, free range, Ikea of Sweden AB, says partnerships like these stemmed from the management wanting more engagement with local communities with an eye on long-term livelihood programmes. “You can’t solve livelihood issues here and now; it has to be a long-term and involve more women artisans,” she affirms. Handcrafted products cannot be mass produced without a dilution of the craft and hence, limited edition collections are preferred.
During their social impact audit, the findings went beyond numbers. “For many of these women artisans, an increase in income generation not only meant better savings but they could also have a stronger voice in decision making and invest in their children’s higher education,” says Misra.
Liaising with a global retail leader also gave these artisan groups a stamp of reliability, bringing in more orders. “Industree has reached out to other brands as well and that’s the way to go. We, too, can then liaise with newer artisans,” she says.
Neelam Chhiber, co-founder of Industree Foundation, who was in Sweden for the design summit, recalls the early shaky steps before they actually partnered with Ikea, “We had a shop in Chennai and Ikea had a trading office there. Robert Max Metcalfe, who was heading Ikea India operations at that time, approached us asking if we’d like to supply for the brand. They had been buying our products for personal use. Our first collection was met with very low iWay marking since we didn’t know how to develop a line for a global brand.” Then, she and Industree co-founder Gita Ram went to Tuticorin to see how a dry flower production unit was working for Ikea. The professional approach to the craft and the facilities were an eye opener.
Industree reconnected with Ikea six years ago when the Social Entrepreneurs Next Generation programme was mooted. The organisation that works with artisans in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu began with their collections being sold in eight Ikea stores to 200 stores now.
Ikea’s global designers meet artisans in co-creation workshops to handhold local artisans design products that meet global quality and design standards. Industree is working towards its 2020 collections.
Meanwhile, Misra affirms that with Ikea’s launch in India, there will be more local sourcing and partnerships that extend beyond crafts and products to food and other services.
(The writer had attended Democratic Design Days 2018 in Sweden on invitation by Ikea)
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