The SOARÉ placemat is so popular it nearly disappeared. Why? Sales were approaching the impossible when it comes to delivering quality, handmade, natural fibre products. The team responsible for SOARÉ was preparing to replace it with a machine-made alternative. But before they did, they took a trip that changed everything.
The Vietnamese waterway Mekong is teeming with water hyacinth, the vibrantly green plant SOARÉ is made from. It grows incredibly fast, making it a valuable renewable resource, but also a potential hazard that can clog the river. People living by the river, mainly women, harvest water hyacinth and weave the stalks together. This keeps the river passable, preserves the tradition and earns them extra money.
Lillemor Franzén and her colleagues found themselves sitting in the homes of these weavers, listening to stories about how SOARÉ has made a positive impact. “One woman told us that thanks to SOARÉ her daughter is now training to become a teacher,” she says. Usually, two or three weavers gather in one of their homes to work together. They chat, laugh, keep an eye on the farms and look after the children who are too young for school. “I feel so proud working at IKEA when I see this,” says Lillemor, “It gets to your heart, really.”
The team decided the solution to meeting growing customer demands for natural fiber placemats is to introduce more of them, but machine-made. Customers get a wider selection to choose from and sales pressure is taken off SOARÉ. Machine-made placemats can be produced in higher quantities than handmade, and SOARÉ production can continue as it is. “We always have the intention here to do good business, and we are,” says Lillemor. “And on my trip to Vietnam I found that SOARÉ has a purpose greater than business.”