At home in India with Akanksha

She is one of many millennials in Delhi, but the only IKEA designer based in India. Meet Akanksha and learn how Sweden gave her access to India and what art, textile clusters and her own generation taught her.

IKEA designer Akanksha Deo just moved out from her old apartment and spends a couple of days at her parents’ house in Delhi before moving into her new place in the south of the city. Here at home with her parents is where a lot of her creativity comes from. They are a hard-working middleclass family. Her mother is a school teacher and her father a mechanical engineer.

“Both my parents have had a creative hand, but they didn’t work with it professionally. They treated it as a hobby.”

Akanksha joined IKEA two years ago. First as an intern in Sweden and now as the only in-house designer based in India. You may have felt her wool rug BRÖNDEN under your feet – handwoven at organized weaving centers in India. You have probably seen her very first design at IKEA – the monochrome textile collection SVÄRTAN. At that time, she was still a fashion student in India and asked to join a collaboration with IKEA and designer Martin Bergström.

Before she entered the world of design she focused on numbers and figures. It took a year of college studying commerce and mathematics before she realized that something else would make her a lot happier. So, she quit. Her love of design brought her to National Institute of Fashion Technology, NIFT, in New Delhi. Art, movies, photography and literature were important parts of her creative process and her road toward becoming a fashion designer.

“I was watching a lot of international movies by filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch. It was a different yet fascinating  kind of storytelling from what I grew up with.”

During her time at NIFT she was introduced to textile clusters in the Kutch district in western India, and from them she learned a lot about traditional handicraft. She explored and worked extensively with natural indigo dyeing, block printing techniques along with experimenting with embroidery and weaving techniques.

“India has been shifting very fast when it comes to fashion and design. There is a lot of experimental work and more and more designers understand the importance of handcraft and to give value to the talented weavers, craftsmen we have. The clusters in Kutch really taught me to go back to the process of creating something with your own hands and to be humble and aware of the people who spend generations mastering a particular skill.”

What is your relationship to indigo?

“It is a colour with a lot of cultural importance in India. I worked with Indian label 11.11 by CellDSGN, and we went to the textile clusters where they have been indigo dyeing for generations. My graduation work was an exploratory work on natural indigo dyeing and block printing on knitwear.”

Draftprint for coming collection TÄNKVÄRD.
Draftprint for coming collection TÄNKVÄRD.

With the collection TÄNKVÄRD she wanted to create an emotional connection with the customers with textiles that are harmonius, tactile and accepting.

“I wanted to play around with different yarn compositions, printing and weaving techniques in an efficient manner. Textiles that you would love to touch and keep it with you for years. I also wanted to put my knowledge of studying and working with craftsmen in India and interpret the same on a global scale for IKEA.”

 What can you tell me about the materials in TÄNKVÄRD?

“We’ve experimented with different type of surface techniques and fabric constructions – from cotton linen jacquard to roller printing on top of quilting and blends of linen waffle.”

Hands of Sakur, blockprinter in Ajrakhpur, Kutch.
Hands of Sakur, blockprinter in Ajrakhpur, Kutch.
“I wanted to put my knowledge of studying and working with craftsmen in India and interpret the same on a global scale for IKEA.”
“I wanted to put my knowledge of studying and working with craftsmen in India and interpret the same on a global scale for IKEA.”

She is now working on a full textile collection scheduled for the premiere of the very first IKEA store in India.

“The collection ÄNGLATÅRAR is a tribute to India. I have done a contemporary version targeting a younger crowd and a fluid lifestyle. We are looking at how the younger generation lives and how India is facing having millennials.”

She is a millennial herself, and compares her generation’s ideals and goals to those of her parents’ generation. Even though a lot of young Indians still stay with the parents during college – sometimes even until they get married – there is a shift now. Akanksha describes her own generation in India as more fluid and with different dreams than their parents. They are people who enjoy living on their own or in shared a space with others, starting to live on their own terms.

“We don’t dream about a buying a house or a car like our parents did. We are treating the whole world as our home and exploring places outside our comfort zone.” And that goes with the rest of the millennials all over the world.

What do you dream of?

“IKEA is really a dream for me. Sweden and IKEA gave me access to knowing more about my Indian history, traditions, dynamic living situations and what holds families together in India.”

One of the benefits of working in India when designing for a bigger scale production is being closer to the suppliers. Akanksha travels a lot to local artisans and suppliers all over India. Lately she has been scouting for natural fibers in Vietnam and China.

“We are looking at beautiful sustainable material that could be interesting for the customers. Natural fibers like sea grass, bamboo, willow, water hyacinth and banana fibers. We have been looking at the supplier’s capacities and we revitalizing the use of natural fibers at IKEA.”

While she stays with her parents in Delhi, most of her belongings are in storage. Soon she will unpack in her new place in the south part of the city. It’s the kind of place where the landlord lives on the first floor, and she describes the neighborhood as a green oasis with a lot of co-sharing spaces. Some of her dearest belongings didn’t go into storage with the rest, though.

“I am a very emotional person, so I brought five little boxes to my parents’ house. My camera, a big piece of artwork of a flying lizard that was given to me, books, perfumes, my art, and also my mother saris which I sometimes wear.”

She won’t spend too long in her new place, though, before it’s time to pack her bags and head out to Sweden again, to meet up with the team.

Pattern ideas for TÄNKVÄRD.
Pattern ideas for TÄNKVÄRD.
"It was a lot about painting wide strokes and then fine tuning it repeatedly to the smallest detail till the very end."

TÄNKVÄRD will be in stores April 2019.