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Bringing home the springtime beauty of India, Jordan and Thailand

When she was 16-year-old, she started a company of her own, selling handcrafted silver jewellery. The business did quite well but Maria O’Brian had to let it go four years later to focus on her studies as an industrial designer. The passion for creativity had, however, found its way into Maria’s mind and heart. Today, she is one of the key persons behind the soon-to-launch LOKALT collection.

It almost feels like you are in an art gallery when you are in Maria’s studio. Beautiful paintings and sketches, mostly of bright-coloured flowers, dot the walls. A cabinet in the corner of the studio has several sculptures made by Maria. It’s hard to pick the most beautiful one. When I point this out to Maria, she laughs, saying she’s trying to capture the beauty of the springtime that we are in. Spring does seem to have a lot of significance for Maria. She started working on the LOKALT collection exactly three years ago, with an idea to capture spring and summertime in three different countries through handicraft.

Today, the LOKALT collection is ready and will have 25 products. These handcrafted products include textiles, such as cushion covers and pillowcases, rugs, throws and carpets, banana fibre bowls, and lampshades, among others.

Portrait of a woman beside a plant.

Maria O’Brian worked with the LOKALT collection. 

Each product is made with a lot of love and precision by the four local designers, reflecting the culture and traditional craft of their country and life during the spring/summertime. The designers are Tania Haddad from Amman, design duo Ploypan Theerachai and Decha Archjananun from Bangkok, and IKEA designer Akanksha Deo in Delhi.

“With each LOKALT product, you take home a story with you.”

Think of the old parts of Amman. Springtime means colourful kites hovering over in the skyline of the city. And this is what you will find in the pillowcases and throws that Tania has designed along with social entrepreneurs for LOKALT.

Maria brought these designers together and developed products with social entrepreneurs in India, Jordan, Thailand, who are closest to the crafts of carpet making, embroidery and ceramics.

“With each LOKALT product, you take home a story with you,” says Maria.

Two women at a table looking at a mobile phone.

A woman beside a white door, holding three white cushions with printed motifs.

“My brief to the designers was that this collection would be coming out in spring/summer, so we would like to tell the story of what happens in your cultures at the time. We want you to incorporate parts of your country’s heritage into a modern design,” she says.

Maria felt there was an untapped potential in showcasing these crafts – that handmade could also be edgy, modern, and fresh, not just romantic and pretty, and could live well in a contemporary home.

“The idea for me was that I wanted to reach a new audience that was more interested in statement pieces or modern design,” says Maria.

Once the ideas were zeroed in, these designers then worked with social businesses partners Jordan River Foundation in Jordan, Doi Tung in Thailand, Industree in India, and Diamond carpets female weavers in India.

Two women looking at colour samples on a low table; one of them is writing in a notebook.

For Maria, this was not the first time she was working with social entrepreneurs. So, there was a learning that she needed to implement for LOKALT. According to her previous experience, what social entrepreneurs develop often ends up looking quite traditional. But that’s not what she wanted for LOKALT.

“We’re taking inspiration from the local areas where we produce, but we are delivering it globally. We want to pay tribute to the areas where these products come from and tell that story. We are modernizing it to make sure that we’re not just plagiarizing something,” says Maria.

The three key aspects of LOKALT are culture, designs and material. And all three are of equal significance.

“Our starting point was the material because that’s what the social entrepreneurs could work with comfortably. We added the idea of culture on top of that, and that became the design,” says Maria.

In Swedish language, the word ‘lokalt’ means locally. And this is what the collection is all about – it has local stories, shared by local designers, and created by local artisans. For you.

Two women looking at fabrics with printed patterns on the floor, with boxes on shelves in the background.

A woman standing in a room with crockery in piles and rows around her on the floor.

What has been a challenge in this collection for you?
“These are handcrafted products, which is an opportunity, but it can also be challenging because every stitch is a cost. At IKEA, we want to create handmade products, but we also have to think about how we make them accessible for everyone so that we don’t end up with a very expensive cushion cover or throw. The challenge is to utilize the fact that we have access to beautiful handicraft and balance it with a price that will be inclusive to as many as possible.”

Which is your favourite product in the LOKAL collection?
“My favourite product is the throw from Amman. I think it captures the spirit of Amman, with all the rooftops and tells a story in a poetic way of both the city and the atmosphere of the spring months. It has these birds that are filled in with stitches; some of the houses have a little embroidery on them. It’s a piece that I will hang up in my home, more as an artwork than as a functional object.”

What were the highest and lowest points you faced while creating LOKALT?
“One of the highest was meeting all the designers in Thailand. The workshop was the first time that I put together a team of designers like this. It was also the first time I led a design process with so many different people from different cultures. The amazing thing was that they all loved each other.

We had trouble figuring out what functions would work in banana fibre because of the moulding issues. We had several iterations in banana fibre before we landed on what we have in the collection.”

The LOKALT collection will be launched in selected IKEA stores in June 2021.

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