A textile industry with workers sewing. A wheelchair stands in the foreground.

Creating impact beyond beautiful homes

IKEA has been collaborating with social enterprises since 2012 with a single mission – to create a better everyday life through long-term job opportunities and livelihood for people who need it the most. But what is social impact, and how does IKEA choose a social business partner to join hands with? We sat down with one such enterprise, Saitex and IKEA's Ann-Sofie Gunnarsson, to know more. Saitex and three other social enterprises are creating the new IKEA collection VÅRDANDE, which will be available globally from July.

It was just like any other day at work for Mohamed Chetoui nearly a year ago. But he remembers like it was yesterday. He was at Rekut, the new unit of denim producer Saitex when he heard an excited chatter of people a few steps away.

He turned around to see what the excitement was about. It was a face mask that these co-workers had created from leftover fabrics.

He swiftly ran his fingers to check its quality while those around him looked on in anticipation.

"Tears welled up in my eyes. It was perfect; there was no fault I could pick with the face mask," says Mohamed, the development and pre-production manager at Saitex in Vietnam.

While checking and assessing the quality of products is a part of Mohamed's daily work, this face mask was special. It was created by a team of co-workers with different abilities at Rekut. And they had worked on it according to their capabilities. So, for example, someone worked on the dimensions, another one cut it, and then someone else sewed it.

A portrait of a man in a black t-shirt.
Sanjeev Bahl, CEO of Saitex.

In 2019, Saitex had decided to launch an initiative with the idea to create a safe, equal, and long-term workplace for one and all – co-workers with different abilities or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially the youth, who have a hard time entering the labour market.

"One and a half billion people on this planet have different abilities, and nobody seems to be including them. We are not a big organisation, but somebody had to take a small step. So, we took the first step to include persons with different abilities," says Sanjeev Bahl, founder CEO of Saitex.

Saitex has set a goal to have at least 20% of its employees from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with different abilities across all departments by 2025.

Good intentions lead to good things, or so they say. And the same seems to have come true for Rekut.

For the many people

Rekut's idea to offer equal work opportunities to people from disadvantaged backgrounds soon caught the attention of IKEA a few months later. Rekut and IKEA are now working together on a global, limited-edition collection called VÅRDANDE.

A woman in a green shirt with a face mask is measuring a piece of fabric
Nguyễn Thị Hiền, sewing machine operator at SAITEX.

Since 2012, IKEA has been collaborating and working closely with social businesses that have unique offerings as well as high, measurable social impact. One of the more distinct ways to do this is when these companies create work opportunities for those who need it the most – people from marginalised groups and vulnerable areas, who struggle to find decent work opportunities for several social, and geographical reasons.

Besides, Saitex's Rekut in Vietnam, IKEA has three other strategic partners for this collection – Classical Handmade Products in Bangladesh, Ramesh Flowers, and Spun in India.

Two hands at a sewing machine

Classical Handmade Products focuses on women in rural villages and persons with different abilities and provides job opportunities where work prospects are not easy to come by. The company's efforts enable employees to live with their families but still find jobs, balancing problems resulting from rapid urbanisation. 

Spun makes skilfully crafted, one-of-a-kind products based on textile waste and focuses on empowering women in rural areas. 

"When these women become fully independent, it brings an amazing trickle-down effect – better education for their children, better livelihoods for their families, with better self-confidence and respect within their families," says Dipali Goenka, CEO of Welspun India, which runs Spun.  

A woman with a green shirt, looking into the camera, sitting at a sewing machine at a textile industry with a wheelchair in front of her
Dương Thị Hoàng Oanh at SAITEX.
Since 2012, the IKEA initiative to work with social businesses has generated work for more than 30,000 people. With over 2,800 people producing home furnishing products, more new social partners and their unique skills, IKEA is on its path to create a wider range of unique products for customers around the globe.

"When we try to identify a social business partner, we never compromise on the social impact of a business even if we think they have fantastic skills and capabilities. We evaluate if social impact is built into their business model and mission. Are they indeed reaching out to marginalised groups and making the extra efforts in recruiting, training, retaining, and developing the skill sets of their people?" says Ann-Sofie Gunnarsson, Partner Development Leader IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, at IKEA.

VÅRDANDE – for the home & soul

The Swedish word VÅRDANDE means caring. And true to its title, the upcoming collection has products that can help make small changes, which in turn can create a significant impact - both for those who use them and those who made them.

A handmade kimono hangs in front of a sewing machine at a textile industry

The kimono from the VÅRDANDE collection

A hand holding a kimono in its packaging

All the 20 VÅRDANDE products have been created to help one take care of themselves, take a breather from the everyday hustle and bustle and create a zone of personal wellbeing. For starters, there is a yoga mat that can become one's constant companion and a reminder to take a short quick break, breathe deep, meditate, and be in a zone of peace. How about hand-picked products for the bathroom that can create a spa-like ambience in your own house? Or a hanging decoration that doesn't have a bell-like metal sound of a wind chime but rather delicate notes of bell cups bumping against each other, reminding one of the calm seas. 

The VÅRDANDE collection includes textiles such as a yoga mat, a kimono, and accessories for the home such as plant pots and baskets and ceramics.

Portrait of a woman with glasses in a white shirt.

We never compromise on the social impact of a business even if we think they have fantastic skills and capabilities.

Ann-Sofie Gunnarsson, Partner Development Leader IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, at IKEA.

"If a person has some sort of different abilities, it doesn't mean that they can't perform meaningful tasks. So, for VÅRDANDE, we broke things down and gave these co-workers simple tasks after training them. And they got good at it because they have this innate ability to prove that they can be as good if not better than the others. To me, this collection represents a triumph for all these people who beat the odds stacked against them," says Sanjeev.

The VÅRDANDE collection has been created with the idea to appeal to our senses – sight, sound, smell, and touch and help create a world of our own. Hence, there are several handmade products in this collection and those made in a sustainable industrial setup.

Made by using new and locally sourced materials, the collection includes a potpourri basket made of banana fibre and farm waste, a handmade poster made from the bark of a mulberry tree. 

A white bag hanging in fornt of a textile worker sitting at a sewing machine
How does the collaboration between IKEA and a social business work?
"IKEA and the social businesses shape their relationship on knowledge sharing and mutually respectful exchange of capabilities and inspirations. The social enterprises offer a diverse and unique product offer; meanwhile, IKEA supports with a network of suppliers to provide the social businesses with affordable, high-quality raw material and infrastructure, among others. IKEA contributes with market access and knowledge, which results in unique and affordable products becoming available to customers the world over," says Ann-Sofie.
How is the process different for regular collections compared with collections created by social businesses?
"For a regular collection, we design the product, and then we find the best supplier that can produce it. The starting point with the social business partners is what they can do, their unique abilities and then we design products based on that," says Ann-Sofie.

VÅRDANDE will be available globally from July 2022 until November 2022 in IKEA stores, except for Australia, where it will be available from August.
Close-up of a pink rug.

Products from the VÅRDANDE collection.

A strand bag packed with a pink yoga rug standing at the beach.