“Designers have a responsibility”

At IKEA we believe that equality works best every day, and International Women’s Day is a day to honour the uniqueness of every individual. We talked Akanksha Deo, designer at IKEA, about her work to increase female empowerment, about social entrepreneurs, and what it means to her to end up on the annual list of India’s brightest young stars.

You have a place on this year’s “Forbes India 30 under 30”. What does that mean to you?

“I am extremely honoured and humbled to be listed on this year’s Forbes India 30 under 30. It is one of the most coveted and sought after lists that one can think of and it feels inspiring to be part of this diverse community of young Indian change-makers and shapeshifters. It gives me a lot of energy and confidence to continue doing the work that I do.

In what way can you as a designer contribute to developing female empowerment in India?

“More than ever before, as designers in current times, we have an active responsibility to work towards adding value to the community through design. I have been very fortunate to have worked with the craftswomen in Bikaner in the northwest of India—in collaboration with the social enterprise Rangsutra—to design a set of two handmade cushion covers which tells the beautiful story of craft and these women. By means of such projects we are able to empower these women, enhance their skills and make them financially independent.”

Soon the handmade cushion covers MOAKAJSA and KLARAFINA will be in stores. What did you learn from the skilled Indian artisans you worked together with? 

“I am so excited about this! They all come from different backgrounds and age groups and yet everyone is so open and willing to try new things. They taught me to be more compassionate. We had a very intimate partnership where I learnt what their strengths are and made me understand how design doesn’t work in isolation and that it has to be a patient and evolving process.”

In what way can you combine Indian textile history and handicraft with Scandinavian design to reach the best synergy?

“With MOAKAJSA and KLARAFINA we collaborated with the women artisans in Bikaner. It was a lot about combining my textile knowledge with their artisanal skills into two cushion covers — Scandinavian design in its essence while showcasing the Indian roots where it’s made. It tells the story of the people, the craft in India while being celebrated and enjoyed by the global market. Craft helps in emphasizing the importance of human connection.”

What are you working on right now?

“I am really excited about a new collaboration on a collection that also involves utilizing and empowering local clusters in Jordan, Thailand and India. Along with this I am very much looking forward to a lighting project which combines textiles.”

The social enterprise Rangsutra is one of the social entrepreneurs IKEA collaborates with — providing jobs for 5 600 artisans, where 85% are women. Products like KLARAFINA and MOAKAJSA creates jobs for marginalized groups in vulnerable communities – reaching those who have the biggest difficulties getting into the labour market.