Friday, 8 December 2017

BEHIND THE SCENES: WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT IKEA.


Those of you who follow me on Instagram, will have seen that I recently went on a press trip to Almhult, Sweden to go to IKEA HQ for a jam packed two days to discover what goes on behind the scenes.

With lovely fellow Interiors bloggers Kimberly and Kate looking like kids on a school trip in a mock up of the latest catalogue cover.


The town itself is where the founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up, and the original store, which opened in 1958 (it had been a mail order business since 1943), is now the museum, which structurally hasn't changed a bit.


Pretty self explanatory.


Some of what I learnt, I can share with you, the rest is tip-top secret so I would definitely have to kill you if I told you. I'm joking about committing murder, obvs, but there were things that we saw that we weren't allowed to photograph, so I feel pretty privileged to have seen the prototypes for collections and collaborations that aren't due in store until 2019!


IKEA HQ- behind those wooden boards on the upper level is top secret stuff.


They make a staggering 2,500 protoypes per year using methods such as 3-D printing or mocking up chairs and tables, so we were told not to sit down in the top secret areas, because it was likely you'll collapse Goldilocks-style onto the floor.

Most importantly, whether it is a mock up, or the real product, they must all live by their five-pointed 'Democratic Design': form, function, sustainable, low price and quality.


IKEA's values- no product makes it to the shelves without passing every element.


Personally, I've always had a massive crush on IKEA. I suppose it's because growing up in the 90s, the fashionable interior styles were floral three piece suites, fussy, frilly curtains and brown swirly carpet that if you'd chundered on it, it would blend in. IKEA was a breath of fresh air, and when I took my first steps in the Croydon store with my Mum and big sister, my five year old mind was blown.

I loved the simplicity of their design, that I'd never seen anywhere else before and fast forward the clock a decade from that point, I based my Design Tech. GCSE table project on the IKEA style. Talk about fan girl.


A gorgeously hygge corner of the IKEA Hotell


IKEA has an evocative nostalgia in my heart: one of my best friends from primary school used to live in a house which had A LOT of IKEA in it (think black leather POANG chairs, fold out kids' chair beds for sleepovers, sleek lighting, and you've got the idea). To me, that house was goals - so simple, so homely: modern classics and they still have pieces of it today.

I've always had this strong awareness that their products aren't just the 'flat pack crap' that some people think they are, but rather things that are built to last and more importantly, keeping low cost, quality and the environment at the forefront.


My room at the IKEA Hotell- Scandi perfection.


Given my level of IKEA fandom, you can only imagine what I was like when I strolled up to the IKEA Hotel- yes, such a place exists and yes, I almost lost my composure when I saw loads of products I have at home. I had to try my hardest not to recite the catalogue number and shelf locations at everyone. I digress...


Let's all play 'spot the IKEA product that you have at home'...


So, here's the lowdown of what I can tell you about IKEA that you might not know...

THEY GENUINELY CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE IMPACT WE HAVE ON IT:


We started our trip in Copenhagen at an uber cool futures lab called Space 10 (they even have a tree house in their office), which was set up two years ago by IKEA to explore the ever changing world we live in and what they can do to adapt to this.


Just a casual tree house in the middle of the office at Space 10...


Here, they are trying to find open, accessible and collaborative solutions for sustainable and efficient living, particularly in cities, so they explore concepts like co-living i.e. where we can live together, produce and share food locally or even grow food in your own home or in a community garden.


I know it's an office, but I could easily reside here and live off the micro-veg.


We were then swiftly taken downstairs to the hydroponic farm in the basement; it looked strangely familiar, but then I quickly realised I'd seen a similar one on CBeebies on that bloke from JLS' farming show. I didn't admit that to everyone. Here, they explore techniques to grow food; they even have a fish tank where they extract their poo to use as manure to grow chillies, cucumbers and tomatoes!!


It wouldn't be a futures lab without a chap in a lab coat.


The hydroponic method (basically growing veg in specially lined trays), which:

  • uses 90% less water than conventional farming; 
  • allows produce to grow three times faster than when they're in the field due to the artificial lighting (it's a gorge neon pink, I hasten to add). 

This initially sounds very 'Dolly the Sheep' and could be subject to alienating people from nature. However, as the conditions are constant and not at the hands of unpredictable weather:

  • the produce will never spoil; 
  • you'll always have fresh ingredients on tap;
  • it's kind to the environment as there's little or no transportation involved and;
  • it is packed with nutrients. 
Winner, winner, micro-veg dinner.



Neon light goals.


IKEA's mantra is 'a better everyday life for the people', and what struck me on this trip was that this is something they are truly passionate about, rather than it being something the big corporates tend to do to be able to tick the 'eco friendly' box.

We met a sustainability spokesperson for IKEA and she explained that they are constantly exploring ways to prolong the life of their products, or once a product can no longer be used, how can it be made into something else. To you and me, this will be apparent in the stores as IKEA only sell LED bulbs, what will be less apparent to us, is that their taps are designed to let out less water than conventional ones.


LED bulbs being tested for safety and efficiency.


Beyond the store, IKEA take great care in ensuring their supply chain is top notch. Anyone (basically everyone), who has built an IKEA product will know that you will come across some kind of wood.

As they are responsible for using 1% of the world's industrial wood, IKEA ensure that their sourcing is sustainable and they have a target to use 100% sustainable wood by 2020; they're currently at 76%, which is still miles ahead of everyone else.

In cotton farming, they achieved 100% sustainable cotton two years ago- they are trailblazers in business, and other big businesses are trying to quickly follow in suit.

In the restaurants, they use ASC/MSC certified seafood, have recently introduced veggie balls and use 100% organic jam. Delicious for you and the environment.

THEY WANT LOW COSTS FOR YOU:


This is what makes the sceptics most suspicious about IKEA: if their products are cheap, they must be low quality, unethically sourced, mass produced toot. Historically, Swedish craftsmanship was about making multi-functional items with minimal waste and this tradition is embodied by IKEA.


With small living spaces, Swedish homes historically needed to have multi-functional handmade items, with the surplus being used to make things to either use in the house, or to sell for a small profit.


Some of their wood will be hollow, but reinforced inside or they'll use a more cost effective material, such as pine, so that it is still a quality product, but the low production cost can be passed onto us as the customer.


Different materials and colours the IKEA products we know and love come in.


And of course, it'd be stupid of me to not talk about the most obvious low cost point: the flat pack, which IKEA introduced in the 1970s, and is probably one of its defining USPs.

Interestingly, in the design phase of a product, the price is the first thing that is decided, then the process continues within those perimeters. That way they can ensure they are producing products that always comply with their Democratic Design and leave you with enough change to buy some meatballs at the end of your shopping trip. Aren't the Swedes just the nicest?!


It wouldn't be a trip to IKEA HQ without eating this iconic dish.


THEY TEST THE S**T OUT OF EVERY PRODUCT:


No, really. You read that right; from the tea lights to tables, it will not find itself on the shelves unless it has endured rigorous testing. Hence why it is unlikely you'll see a three legged chair or table in store. We saw the cutest lunch box that was in the shape of a dog's face being opened and closed by a machine. This process will be repeated at least 200,000 times and up to a million, essentially until the poor little doggy has had enough.


It even snowed!


Similarly, mattresses are tested by a wooden bum repeatedly sitting on it and another method uses a huge wooden roller, rolling back and forth. I wondered why they didn't have one going up and down too, but I kept that question confined to the dirty corners of my mind...


In the words of Limp Bizkit: 'Keep rolling, rolling, rolling...'. Literally.


It was also fascinating to see two bathrooms set up to test the effect of humidity in different climates around the world- if a product doesn't pass testing, then it's literally back to the drawing board, to ensure that the product will withstand the test of time in the home. Although this may be the case, design and comfort is never compromised in the process.


That awkward moment your jumper matches the materials they're about to set alight for testing.


TECHNOLOGY IS KING:


Have you ever considered how the photoshoots for the catalogues happen? How IKEA work out what products people who live in small spaces in Japan, need in their homes, as well as those in Victorian conversions in London? Well, this is where I-COM- IKEA's in house agency- come in. They find solutions for people's living needs, by visiting homes around the world, as well as creating the global media content and the catalogues that we all love flicking through and getting decor inspo from.


A mock up ready for a photoshoot.


Cultural awareness is key here, as the mock up rooms in store must be relevant for the area they're in and also in the way they're presented to the 48 countries the catalogues are found in.

So, you're probably thinking this will take more than a month of Sundays to photograph different set ups over and over? Wrong! Due to very detailed hand scanning techniques, IKEA can have products digitally augmented into their catalogues.

This saves a lot of time if, for example, the colour of the kitchen doors need to be changed and it is invaluable to see if a kitchen is actually practical in real life- I mean nobody wants to have it installed in their home, and then finding out that the utensil drawer is too far away from the cooker, do they?!


Spot the difference: The Chinese version of the catalogue has the pencil cushion pointing the other way as it's considered rude to have your pen facing the other way. A two seater sofa is in place of a 3 seater, due to smaller living spaces and a little rabbit has been added in as it's the year of the rabbit. Amazing attention to detail.


It is so hard to tell the difference between a real photograph and a digital one (we were tested and it was so hard to tell, honest!), owing to the level of detail- even metal has the weld seams on it, to manage the customers expectations that what we see is what we get, even though what we're seeing doesn't actually exist!


Strike a pose!


So, there you go. My lowdown on life as you don't know it at IKEA HQ. I found it truly fascinating that such a huge business can have such a huge heart, and I wasn't sure it was possible, but I love it even more now.


IKEA; I love you!

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