A man and a woman sawing bamboo in a forest, with another man in the background.

Less waste with authentic bamboo pattern

Emma and Anna headed off to Vietnam to learn more about the natural fiber bamboo – and why so much goes to waste. Together with local weavers they came up with a weaving pattern that reduces bamboo waste more than they ever thought possible.

They both knew that the material utilization of one of the fastest growing plants in the world is low. Traditionally only a small part of the stem is considered useful, and a lot goes to waste. IKEA Product Developer Anna Granath and designer Emma Olbers went from plantation to factory to get a picture of the whole process – how the bamboo grows, how it is harvested, and how it is chopped and sliced to slats to be ready for the weavers. They wanted to create a sustainable lamp collection with a smaller carbon footprint by using more of the bamboo. They wanted to create KNIXHULT.

“We noticed that a lot of beautiful material with a slightly different colour or too many dark spots would be singled out and thrown away. It has been common practice to only use the lightest coloured material of the bamboo,” says Emma.

“… and we also saw that the piles of the untreated and unbleached material was the most beautiful, and from a quality point of view it was the same,” says Anna.

Freshly cut green bamboo in a pile.

They brought all the unsorted and unbleached material from the plantations to Vietnamese weavers, and together they created a pattern using as much bamboo as possible. The result was a pattern with a wider variation of natural colours. Another result, that outstripped every expectation, was the pile of waste in the end. It was smaller than they could ever hope for.

“In the production of previous lamps we used around 18 percent of the raw material. Here we can use 65 percent! Some of the material can be used for other products, but a lot less is wasted and we have also removed the bleaching process,” says Anna.

Mixing in the darker parts of the bamboo to make a beautiful pattern was not as easy as they first thought.

 “To make it happen we could not just mix the pile of slats, but had to create a defined pattern which had the ‘random’ expression we wanted,” says Anna.

Two persons holding strands of bamboo fibre in their hands.

A woman and a man hand-weaving bamboo on a rug on the floor, with other workers in the background.

Did you have any other challenges?

“It was also a challenge to convince the talented craftsmen that for KNIXHULT we thought what was previously seen as waste was something beautiful, that even the ‘ugly’ parts were worth keeping,” says Emma.

With that message more than 600 Vietnamese weavers were trained for making KNIXHULT lamps. The weavers are spread out in the northern part of the country, and it took almost half a year to train them all.

It’s not only the reduced bamboo waste Anna and Emma are pleased about. The shade part is stackable and the use of plastic is reduced to a few plastic bags to hold lamp components, which makes the transportation and packaging more sustainable.

“We are also very happy with that the whole lamp is really easy to sort after end of life time and that we don’t use any metal or plastic except for what is in the lighting components,” says Anna.

Two women hand-weaving bamboo.

Woven bamboo.

Any lessons from KNIXHULT we can use for future IKEA products?

“Every part of the production is crucial and to identify how to make it more sustainable, we have to go to the suppliers and follow the whole process from the raw material,” says Anna.

For Emma it has also been a good reminder about our role a consumers.

”As a consumer, I have the power to make a better choice for the environment every time I purchase something,” says Emma.

The lamp family KNIXHULT will be in stores 2019.