It was three years ago. Ikea's large blue tote bag and its coated canvas that folds up neatly to store in the middle of other plastic bags, became a fashion item through the Balenciaga brand. The Parisian house and its creative director, Demna Gvasalia, had accessorised the silhouettes of its 2017 summer fashion show with large blue bags, a clear nod to Ikea's "Frakta" bag. After a collaboration between the king of streetwear, Virgil Abloh, Ikea is finally ready to officially enter the clothing market: which is exactly what happened this summer in Japan.
A hoodie, a t-shirt, two types of water bottles and towels, an umbrella and a tote bag. For this first capsule collection, the brand stuck to unisex, classic, everyday products, in short: easy. Each item displays the barcode reference of one of the brand's best-selling pieces of furniture: the Billy bookcase. But what can we see in this grand premiere? Are the products as simple as they look? Is the Scandinavian brand really going into fashion?
"Ikea is really part of a lifestyle brand before being a furniture brand."
"I wasn't too surprised by this collection", said Lucile de Goallec, brand strategist and trend researcher at Nelly Rodi. “The fact that it is not a collaboration but an own brand is quite relevant, because in terms of positioning, Ikea is really a lifestyle brand before being a furniture brand. By applying the Ikea positioning to clothing, it allows the brand to free itself from the reality of the product", added Lucile.
Talking a little more with Lucile, we quickly understand that the “Efterträda” collection, as it is called, allows us to better understand the strategy of the large furniture store. “Ikea's real approach is not to make furniture, but to think about functional, everyday products that will improve consumers' lives," continued Lucile. "It can also work very well on clothing because if you are looking for a product that is pleasing, that feels good and that you use every day, then clothing fits in perfectly with this state of mind.”
The aesthetics of the products nevertheless seems to escape the agility of the Ikea strategy. "The barcode is interesting in terms of the link with the product but in terms of cultural symbolism, the image of the barcode is a little tricky," explained Lucile. “From a European and Judeo-Christian point of view, we are all the same, very linked to Auschwitz. We are imbued with an imagination linked to the fact of being marked, of being standardized. I like the idea that a uniform product can be reinvented by the person wearing it, but the barcode symbol can be quite controversial."
To accompany the collection, the Ikea campaign dedicated to the Japanese market seems to completely ignore this interpretation. T-shirts and hoodies are displayed on creative personalities, residents of the Harajuku district, in Tokyo. Each piece is worn in a personal way and presented in an intimate setting, in the homes and apartments of the models. The campaign does not seek to free itself from Ikea’s imagination, habitation and home, but on the contrary, reinscribes the fashion campaign within its own universe.
More fashion collections to come?
Next spring, with the opening of the Parisian store entirely dedicated to decoration, Ikea is showing its determination to become more and more established in the daily lives of consumers. "After all, Ikea has a lot of merchandise dedicated to food, so having merchandise dedicated to clothes doesn't seem inconsistent," said Lucile. "However, I don't think that in 2021 with a 100 percent Ikea store dedicated to fashion...on the other hand, having Ikea clothes around the corner of the shop does not seem absurd.”
This article was previously published on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and editing: Andrea Byrne
Photo Credit: Ikea, image from the "Efterträda" collection.