I’ve read it last on old Marcus’ illustrious Dezeen magazine. Few have realized the importance of what lies behind that seemingly innocent article’s true story: that the big blue-and-yellow giant is taking a sharp turn (or pretending to) towards “real” design and one of the aspects that are the fundamentals of the real design (which, by the way is NOT just how a product looks) – that is, the research on materials.
And it makes it by mixing apples and oranges. It takes a hip, nice Dutch designer (Piet Hein Eek), and asks him to create something to put back a little magic in Ikea‘s product line. And behold – what does he do? He gets straight to the point, by making a research on materials and techniques coming over from that other half of the globe, South East Asia, to introduce some rattan and bamboo. Swedish furniture and Indonesian inspirations and materials.
This is cool, I mean, and shows us something. It shows us that you – manufacturer from Asia – do not have to copy Ikea anymore: that time is past. Now it is Ikea who is copying (ops, sorry, taking inspiration from) your traditional techniques and materials. This fact should make you think, and think fast. Because if Ikea is doing something like that, then you are going to behold a sizable amount of interest in your region from the furniture manufacturers worldwide, especially the big retail chains. Oh, and I bet that your role models – the pseudo-nordic lines – are going to get a dramatic cutting of interest, both globally and locally.
Ikea is not the first to tread this path: there are other European companies – much smaller, I admit – which are employing Eastern talents to work on their products, and vice-versa.
Apart from the uber-hip architectural studio Neri & Hu, which is nowadays working for everyone and their sister, Gebruder Thonet Vienna has asked Singaporean designer and entrepreneur Nathan Yong to design one object for their collection. Another Singaporean, Jarrod Lim, has published his lovely rocking horse, Hi Ho and his iconic Koi chair for UK’s Innermost. And also some Eastern companies are working on the same scenario. In China, the luxurious Hong Kong-based Stellar Works is employing old and new Western designers alike to work on their collections, and also some Malaysian companies are doing the same. Through the inspired PDP project from the Malaysian governemnt, four Malaysia companies have displayed this march at EFE Kuala Lumpur eight design prototypes by four affirmed Western designers: Giorgio Biscaro, Manolo Bossi, Filippo Mambretti and Stefan Schoning. Also, Luca Nichetto is spending his days hopping between Italy, Sweden and China, of late, curating projects for Zaozuo.
So, the presentation of this collection is like the cherry on top of the East-West fusion cake, so to say. Ikea says that the Jassa collection is just limited-edition, an experiment (but it is already the second “experiment” in line – last year Ikea commissioned Ilse Crawford herself to design something, and behold – she used natural fibres). So, how many “experiments”do you need before suspecting that there is a definite trend in progress? Especially when – as Dezeen goes – “Ikea’s design team spent time learning textile printing techniques in Indonesia and basket weaving in Vietnam, as well as traditional bamboo-bending.” (which is not bamboo, but rattan – but anyways). If you think that a cost-efficient furniture company like Ikea lets a design team spend weeks in a country to learn the traditional techniques and the use of local materials just because they like them to enjoy the warmer climate, then I have a nice bridge to sell you. Cheap. What I mean is that even the biggest corporate giants are beginning to assert that the real globalization does not come by imitation of a foreign culture and design, but by a fusion of elements yielding something which is a modern-day development of local cultural and traditional products of arts and crafts.
And look, the source for this kind of inspiration does not come from South America or Africa (where incidentally, Ikea is not present at all), but from South-East Asia. The place that is going to be the economic powerhouse for the next twenty years or so, and enjoy the biggest growth worldwide. And Ikea, who is not number one in the world for nothing, has a keen eye for planning its future expansion right here and right now. And if this fact still doesn’t ring a bell in your ears, then maybe you should plan a visit to your otolaryngologist. Quick.