Ikea's Social Initiative Debuts New Wall Hangings


Image from Hella Jongerius

In response to concerns about child labour and working conditions, Ikea set up its Ikea Social Initiative with UNICEF almost ten years ago. Its focus was development, health and education in the eastern area of India, with a particular emphasis on getting village women to work.

Initially they sent designers to work with some of the women involved in the project and they developed products such as cushion covers and vases. Now they have a new product--wall hangings--designed by Dutch design Hella Jongerius and produced by 200 Indian women.


Image from Hella Jongerius

Called Pelle, Mikkel and Gullspira, the textiles feature a goat, a fox and a rabbit; inspired by animals found in Swedish fairy tales. Since IKEA is a Swedish company and Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are known world-wide, this gave the hangings a more global appeal.

They are made from a mix of woollen felt, and printed cotton, embroidered and stitched together by hand. Each wall hanging is made from beginning to end by one woman. On the back of the work is a label with the names of IKEA, Hella Jongerius and the embroidered name of the woman who made it.


Image from erbutler.com

In an interview with Jongerius about the project she said

" None of the women spoke English apart from one woman, Neetah, who had lived in Mumbai and was married to a local man. She was their leader. They had no skills at all. Edith, who works in my studio in Rotterdam, and Sofia, from Ikea, went there and spent a week training 12 women, who seemed to have the strongest personalities, to be teachers. They taught them how to embroider, which was new to them. These 12 women were going to teach an overall group of 200 women.

After Edith and Sofia left, the women practised what they had been taught and sent us samples of the stitch work. It took about six months to assess their skills, which varied a lot, as did the pace at which they were able to produce the work. Ikea had a project manager overseeing things who made several visits to India but she soon discovered that in the villages where the women lived there was no electricity or running water. The conditions were pretty awful and they sat on mud floors to do their work. As a result the samples were very dirty and Ikea took the decision that it was necessary to build a workshop where they could all be together in better, cleaner conditions and properly supervised."

Her most cherished memory of the project: "It must have been as I was leaving. One of the women came up to me and said: "Thank you for showing me the world."


Image from Hella Jongerius

The Ikea Social Initiative has involved 20,000 women in 500 villages. The programme has made it possible for "80,000 out-of-school children to get an education and 140,000 children and 150,000 women to be immunized. The program also empowered more than 22,000 women to create sustainable economic opportunities through self-help groups."

The beauty of the model is that craft production on a small scale in villages in India is combined with large scale industrial production by Ikea. It helps women start up small sewing businesses, teaches them real skills such as embroidery and sewing. The work enables them to become empowered economically with the result that they lead a better life and their children can go to school. Hella Jongerius and Financial Times
More on Ikea and Social Initiatives
IKEA PS2006
IKEA's Environmental and Social Reports
Jongerius Designs Nike Shoes

Tags: Artists | Cooperatives | Recycling | Sweatshop-Free