Invite Jordan, Thailand and India into your home

Local stories, told by local designers, and made by local artisans. No surprise that the new IKEA collection will be named LOKALT. This is how a modern take on traditional handicraft in Jordan, Thailand and India is creating jobs where they are most needed.

Near the northernmost tip of Thailand, up in the limestone mountains of Doi Tung, the work with a new collection started last year. Maria O’Brian, Creative leader at IKEA, had invited four designers from Jordan, India and Thailand to a workshop together with one of the social entrepreneurs IKEA is collaborating with. This is when the designers Tania, Ploypan, Decha and Akanksha met for the first time.

LOKALT is a collection where IKEA and local designers work together with social entrepreneurs in India, Jordan and Thailand — enterprises whose business ideas are based on creating jobs in regions where they’re most needed. Maria has developed products together with artisans at social entrepreneurs before, but for LOKALT she wanted to try something new — to collaborate with local designers. She found fashion designer Tania Haddad from Amman, the design duo Ploypan Theerachai and Decha Archjananun based in Bangkok, and also asked Akanksha Deo, IKEA designer based in Delhi, to join.

“With LOKALT we want to tell stories from the places where the products are actually made. It will be a modern and expressive take on traditional handicraft, a collection full of quirky details. Ceramics with a tribute to a Thai way to serve food, home textiles with glimpses of everyday life in Amman and expressive shapes inspired by the Indian heritage,” says Maria.

Tania Haddad runs her fashion brand Tania George from the Jordanian capital Amman. She describes her work as playful and inspired by scenes from her hometown. For LOKALT she is working closely with the artisans at the social enterprise Jordan River Foundation, who IKEA partnered with to create a better life through long-term job opportunities for Syrian refugees and women I Jordan. This is not the first time Tania collaborates with refugees.

“I’ve worked with social entrepreneurs right from the start of my brand, but when you’re a small business you only reach a limited number of people. In Jordan, there are very, very many craftsy women who want to work and it’s great to bring that opportunity to them,” says Tania.

Tania Haddad.

Ploypan Theerachai and Decha Archjananun are the two co-founders of Bangkok-based THINKK design studio. Their work ranges from accessories and furniture to creating entire hotel interiors. Akanksha Deo is an inhouse IKEA designer based in Delhi, with experience from working with social enterprises in India.

During the workshop in Doi Tung they all immediately started discussing local culture and traditions and how to share those stories through embroidery, weaving and ceramics. One thing that struck them was that they all had stories about kites, and it was only natural to incorporate into the designs. You can spot a kite both in Tania’s embroidery and Ploypan and Dechas mulberry paper mobile.

“There are many differences, of course, but above all, it’s obvious that we have very much in common even if we live in different parts of the world,” says Ploypan.

Ploypan Theerachai and Decha Archjananun.

“It’s amazing how something that’s perceived as traditional in one cultural context can be considered totally modern in another. Still, the most striking thing of all is how similar we all are, despite coming from different backgrounds”, says Akanksha.

Akanksha Deo.

Maria had asked them to prepare a presentation about spring and summer traditions, as well as product ideas and sketches.

“Even though they come from different backgrounds, they had a very similar taste. I hadn’t decided on a colour pallet yet for the collection, but it was fun to see that they all came with a similar idea,” says Maria.

Maria had asked them to prepare a presentation about spring and summer traditions, as well as product ideas and sketches.

“Even though they come from different backgrounds, they had a very similar taste. I hadn’t decided on a colour pallet yet for the collection, but it was fun to see that they all came with a similar idea,” says Maria.

Can you describe the palette?

“Neutral as a base, with soft pastels and some stronger accents. The soft and spring-like colours translated well into what I had in mind, and it ended up becoming the palette for the collection,” says Maria.

How did you decide which local designers to collaborate with?

 “I looked for designers with a modern expression because I wanted to show that handicrafts don’t necessarily have to look traditional or old-fashioned. It can also be modern and even avant-garde. Being open to collaborating and wanting to be a part of creating better opportunities for vulnerable communities, was a major reason for me picking them,” says Maria.

Can you describe how you work with the artisans at the social entrepreneurs?

“It is a constant process where you start with an idea and together with a way to what is possible. The collaborations between the different designers and the artisans are very much explored in the prototype phase. For example, we had sent out some rough ideas for the carpets we wanted to create to the supplier before we visited, but when Akanksha and I went to the factory floor we got lots of new input from the craftswomen and ended up developing a couple of completely new designs based on the techniques they showed us,” says Maria.

Maria O’Brian.

Why is it important, for you, to collaborate with social entrepreneurs?

“These collaborations give me and my team such a clear purpose. They are a way for us as a big company to make sure that there are jobs in areas where they are needed the most, while we also learn so much about these handicrafts, cultures and what possibilities and restrictions we have to consider when there are people behind every stich,” says Maria.

What was the idea behind the design?

“The word ‘lokalt’ means locally in Swedish, and in the design we really wanted the products to reflect the place they come from. Each product has a story to tell and really, they all are statement pieces. Throughout the process of creating the collection, the designers and artisans have felt so proud that their culture will be showcased all over the world. We can’t wait to see how people in all kinds of different countries will use the collection in their homes,” says Maria.

The LOKALT collection will be in stores 2021. Social businesses contributing to the LOKALT collection are Jordan River Foundation in Jordan, Doi Tung in Thailand, Industree in India and Diamond carpets female weavers in India.