Design Collaboration: Swedish Furniture Giant IKEA gets the African Touch

IKEA hasn’t always had the best reputation. It may be famous for its Scandinavian design heritage but As IKEA’s design manager, Marcus Engman told the Dezeen in an interview, “We [IKEA] could be misinterpreted as a low-price company doing cheap stuff”.  A notion he quickly wanted to rectify. The Swedish furniture giant’s mandate really is affordability and Engman wanted to use capsule collections to remind consumers of that. This crusade has seen IKEA do all sorts of collaborations with fashion and product designers that bring that ‘wow’ factor back to the brand. Under Engman they have already released capsule collections inspired by India and Brazil, and now the creative explosions happening in African cities sees their latest undertaking working with some of the best talent on this continent.

Architect Issa Diabaté and Fashion designer Selly Raby Kane [Image: IKEA]

With Africa being a vast and dynamic continent, it was only natural for IKEA to reach out to Design Indaba – a leading South African design platform – to draw from their extensive network. To create furniture that catered to “modern rituals and the importance they play in the home”, in-house IKEA designers (Mikael Axelsson, Kevin Gouriou, Hanna Dalrot and Johanna Jelenik) will work closely with a mixture artists, architects, creatives and designers hailing from seven African countries. Namely; Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa. The collaborators met for the first time with IKEA designers at the Design Indaba Conference that run from March 1 to 3, 2017.

Reform Studio’s Mariam Sherif and Hend Riad have created a unique interpretation of the IKEA bag. [Image: IKEA]

As IKEA undergoes its metamorphosis, it’s also providing an avenue for a conscious effort to experiment, push boundaries and challenge perspectives. Or as Engman adroitly phrased it in an interview with Curbed, “If you want energy, you need to create friction, and there’s good friction between cultures,” he says. “Then something new happens.” The collection won’t be ready until 2019, but here is a reminder of what each participant accomplishes individually to give you an idea on how fresh this collection is going to be:

Selly Raby Kane

Fashion Designer | Senegal

Not only is she a central figure in the new creative wave in Dakar, she is also the creative director of the 2017 edition of Design Indaba. Kane brings to the able her rebellious personality, bold pattern, unusual materials and use of three-dimensional moulded shapes. Read more about her style and eponymous label here.

[Image: Courtesy of Selly Raby Kane]

[Image: Courtesy of Selly Raby Kane]


Studio Propolis

Architecture & Furniture Designers | Kenya

Husband-and-wife duo, Bethan Rayner and Naeem Biviji, are the brains behind the Nairobi-based studio that started in 2005. Both hold Masters in Architecture from the University of Edinburgh which they combine with informal training in furniture making and design. The result is a studio that specialises in designed-to-order, handcrafted projects that range from furniture to designing small spaces and buildings.

Cathedra is the seat of the Bishop, representing his teaching authority. The Cathedra for the sanctuary of Kericho Cathedral [Image: Courtesy of Studio Propolis]

Raw steel front doors of the Kericho Cathedral [Image: Courtesy of Studio Propolis]

Sun room [Image: Courtesy of Studio Propolis]

designed and made a series of puppets and mechanical stage props for the musical version of the well loved animated TV series Tinga Tinga Tales. [Image: Studio Propolis]


Bibi Seck

Product Designer | Senegal

No stranger to large design teams, this designer specializes in solving complex problems through product design. Read more about Seck on his TDS Design Trend feature here.

[Image: Courtesy of Bibi Seck]

Dakar Collection [Image: Courtesy of Bibi Seck]


Christian Benimana

Architect | Rwanda

The Rwanda Programs Director at Mass Design Group is a strong advocate for sustainability-focused architecture that creates long-term impact. he was previously worked on the Maternity Waiting Village project in Malawi as project manager,  as well as, contributed to creating the Liberia Health Infrastructure Standards and Guidelines for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and a master plan for the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Lambarene, Gabon.

MASS design group uses materials from Congolese jungle to build ilima school
[Images: courtesy of MASS design group / African wildlife foundation / Billy Dodson]

Internal walls only reach two-thirds of the ceiling height to allow for unrestricted airflow.
[Images: courtesy of MASS design group / African wildlife foundation / Billy Dodson]


Reform Studio

Product Designers | Cairo

Hend Riad and Mariam Hazem found a way to deal with the menacing pollutant; plastic bags. By turning it into an eco-friendly material – Plastex – they could create furniture and start their studio in 2012. As a design material, it takes the plastic bags vices that harm the environment, such as its durability and water-resistance, and makes long-lasting furniture.

[Image: Courtesy of Reform Studio ]

[Image: Courtesy of Reform Studio / Design Boom]

Chairs made with handmade recycled material by Reform studio [Image: Courtesy of Reform Studio]


Issa Diabaté

Architect | Ivory Coast

Co-founder and managing director of the Koffi & Diabaté Group is a Yale University graduate with a Master in Architecture. He’s a member of Côte d’Ivoire’s Order of Architects (CNOA) and has also been appointed Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit in Côte d’Ivoire. His work has been presented at DAK’ART Contemporary Art Biennale (1998 laureate), and most recently at Design Indaba Exhibition in Cape Town as well as at ABIDJANOW in Côte d’Ivoire.


Assinie Mafia Church by Koffi & Diabaté Group {Image: ArchDaily]

Bambou Pavilion by Koffi & Diabaté Group [Image: ArchDaily]

Laduma Ngxokolo

Fashion Designer | South Africa

The luxury Knitwear designer is one of Africa’s finest, with his work appearing in international powerhouse magazines such as Vogue. (we’ve done a bit of our own coverage of this designer too! (check out his work here.) His designs seek to preserve traditional African cultures and experiences by interweaving them into contemporary design.

[Image: Courtesy of Laduma]

[Image: Courtesy of SDR / Laduma]

[Image: Courtesy of Laduma]


Paula Nascimento 

Architect and Curator | Angola

In collaboration with Stefano Rabolli Pansera, they founded Beyond Entropy Africa in 2011 to address design issues in urban areas of the African Sub-Saharan regions. With Luanda as their muse, they were looking at issues such as the lack of basic infrastructure and overpopulation. In 2012, they curated the Angola Pavilion at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice and went to curate the Angola Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.

Image © Paula Nascimento Pavilion Angola Expo 2015

Image © Paula Nascimento Pavilion Angola Expo 2015

Image © Paula Nascimento Pavilion Angola Expo 2015


Renee Rossouw   

Architect & Artist | South Africa

Focusing on colour, patterns and geometries, she started her studio in 2013 in a bid to create a new South African Aesthetic. Using a variety of spaces and mediums, she’s able to create original and bold patterns as well as embark on several collaborations with other designers.

[Image: Renee Rossouw patterns on De Steyl Play Play cabinet]

[Image: Courtesy of Renee Rossouw]

[Image: Renee Rossouw patterns on De Steyl 2DO Stackable Storage]


Sindiso Khumalo

Fashion Designer | South Africa

With a bachelors in architecture from the University of Cape Town and  Masers in Design for Textile Futures at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, she launched her eponymous label in February 2012. The self-proclaimed textile nerd is not only into sustainable fashion, but also shares her cultural heritage – Zulu and Ndebele – through her design.

[Image: Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

[Image: Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo]



While the ‘African-influenced’ IKEA collection will not be available in any of the seven African countries, it does provide positive outcomes. For starters, it’s a validation that Africa is more than a source of cheap labour and resources. It’s also  an opportunity to encourage more designers to look internally to collaborate and support each other in order to improve Africa’s manufacturing potential.


[Image: Courtesy of Renee Rossouw]


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