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IKEA and India

WRITER: INA SIMONSEN

Say Indian design and most people think of rich colours and golden décor. So it’s hardly a surprise that SVÄRTAN collection, all in black, white and shades of grey, gives away nothing of its origin at first glance. However, at a closer look it all makes sense.

Close-up of mouth-blown glass bottles with an angular look.

When Swedish textile Designer, Martin Bergström, and 25 students at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, went looking for contemporary India the results were well over 2 000 drawings – all inspired by the urban landscape, textures and patterns that are usually overlooked, be it dangling cables hanging over a street or the intricate shadow play on a wall.

“When I came to India, the first thing I noticed was the light. But then I started seeing other things. I saw the beauty beyond the obvious: the amazing patina of surfaces, the textures of walls, patterns created by the monsoon rains,” says Martin.

The outcome of the workshop is visualised in the final collection appropriately named SVÄRTAN, the Swedish word for “blackness”. Here the 2 000 drawings have been transformed into 15 patterns in black, white and shades of grey.

Martin Bergström, designer of the SVÄRTAN collection.

"I saw the beauty beyond the obvious: The amazing patina of surfaces, the textures of walls, patterns created by the monsoon rains."

A black round tray table with three mouth-blown glass bottles on top. Shown together with a black bowl with an etched surface.

While the textiles, paper items, glassware, ceramics and metal objects that make up SVÄRTAN look beyond traditional Indian aesthetics, they still lean firmly on traditional handicraft. That doesn’t make it any less modern. Among the young generation of Indian designers, part of the country’s rapidly growing design industry, there is an increasing will to experiment and look to the future, while still taking pride in, and being inspired by, Indian traditions and culture. And, there’s a lot to be inspired by.

“In Europe we’re longing for authenticity, for being in contact with ourselves and nature. In India you’re already there, respecting nature while making wise use of it, like making a basket of banana leaves or a matrass out of coconut fibre instead of throwing it away,” says Juvencio Maeztu, Country Manager for IKEA India.

An Indian female fashion student making patterns on a piece of paper.

SVÄRTAN collection is an attempt to blend the Indian heritage with the Scandinavian, and can as such be an illustration for the IKEA endeavour in India as a whole. And as the opening of the first IKEA store, in Hyderabad in 2017, draws near, there’s a question that needs to be asked: How can IKEA, with its roots deep in Scandinavian aesthetics, expect to be successful in a country as diverse and complex as India?

Two Indian female fashion students holding papers with patterns.

"It’s not about being an arrogant European company coming to Asia just to do business; but connecting with people and with the society, learning as much as we can about life in India – about realities, dreams and needs."

A black round tray table with three mouth-blown glass bottles on top. Shown together with a black bowl with an etched surface.

“We can influence people to a better life at home, but we also have to let ourselves be influenced by the world. It’s not about being an arrogant European company coming to Asia just to do business; but connecting with people and with the society, learning as much as we can about life in India – about realities, dreams and needs,” says Juvencio.

With this in mind, a number of IKEA scouts were sent out to homes all over India, armed with cameras, notebooks – and a healthy dose of nosiness. Of course there’s no such thing as one single way of living at home in a country of well over one billion people. Still, as is so often the case, people tend to have more in common than that which sets them apart. It’s proven not least by a recent IKEA Life@Home report. Living in one of eight pinpointed big cities around the world, inhabitants in Mumbai have answered questions about their daily life – with an emphasis on their morning routines. It’s plainly obvious that some things are universal. How many of us don’t dream of having time to exercise before work, or catching up on the morning news? (In Mumbai it’s true for more than 80% of the respondents respectively).

Other things are undisputedly different – like the climate. In order to find out what that means for IKEA products, 24 homes in different Indian cities were furnished and revisited every other month.

“We found that humidity, water, cleaning methods and product usage would be big issues; the IKEA quality that´s good enough for big parts of the world wasn’t good enough for Asia. As a consequence we’ve decided to make massive improvements, and we’re now changing more than 1 500 items so that they will withstand humid conditions. Eventually that means that we’ll have better products for the whole world,” says Juvencio, who no longer sees challenges but only opportunities for IKEA in India.

"I am sure we can contribute to a better life for as many as possible. But it doesn’t go one way. I’m just as sure that India will make IKEA better."


"We decided from the beginning that we were not going to compromise with the IKEA fundamentals and the IKEA brand, and so not to take any shortcuts."

" In order to practice what we preach we need to connect with the society around us. For example we have committed to gender equality in India as well. For that reason we have established kindergartens for co-workers as well as social benefits packets to support the family."

Juvencio Maeztu

Facts: Welcome to IKEA India

India is the only IKEA country to have retail, sourcing, distribution, IKEA Foundation and Next Generation within its borders. Today, there are 48 IKEA suppliers in India, engaging more than 45 000 direct co-workers and approximately 400,000 co-workers in the extended supply chain. The first IKEA store is planned to open in Hyderabad in 2017, and there are already plans for stores in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi, with more to come.


"For me, Next Generation is one of the best IKEA initiatives. My daughter spent a few days in an Indian village with a Next Generation project. She met a woman who shared her life story – a harsh reality of poverty and abuse"

"At first her family didn’t want her to start working with IKEA in Next Generation, and she had a very tough time. No one talked to her for a month. Then she came home with 10 000 rupees. Today she had a new house built of bricks, her children are going to school, and her husband works alongside her. She’s a well-respected person in the village and is supporting other women to take the same step at she did. This is change for real, and it’s meaningful. Still it’s business and not charity."

Juvencio Maeztu

Facts: Next Generation in India – a new way to do business

Since 2012 IKEA India has been focusing on creating partnerships with social entrepreneurs around the world, where the business idea revolves around social issues and lasting change. In India there are currently two ongoing Next generation projects: Rangsutra, Swaayam Kala and Industree Producer Transform. These are mainly targeting women in the rural areas, providing them with resources and design to create handmade products. Since IKEA India connects directly with the women, the largest part of the profit goes to them.


"Our partners at IKEA Foundation have been supporting long-term programmes helping poor children and families in India for the past 15 years. Now, we’re taking a next step together."

"When children in poor areas get better lives and an education, they’ll grow up and need jobs. For that reason we’ve joined together with the IKEA Foundation and launched a skill-building project for young women, together with retail as a prioritised sector."

Juvencio Maeztu

Facts: IKEA Foundation

IKEA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies. The IKEA Foundation aims to improve opportunities for children and youth in some of the world’s poorest communities by focusing on four fundamental areas of a child’s life: a place to call home; a healthy start in life; a quality education; and a sustainable family income. IKEA Foundation is also helping these communities fight and cope with climate change.

And some more highlights…