IKEA

1. IKEA’s New Soft Power

Over the last decade, practically every market has fallen victim to some kind of disruption. From transport to travel, cosmetics to food, most sectors have seen new competition challenge the traditional ways consumers discover and interact with products, services, and the brands behind them.

Disruption normally originates with smaller companies and start-ups who, unlike their larger, more established competitors, have the agility and the greatest incentive to disregard accepted norms.

But in the business of home furnishings, a bizarre picture is emerging in which the largest brand is also the most innovative. Over the last 12-18 months, IKEA has been steadily adding to its dominance of sales and real estate by dominating attention as well – consistently putting itself in the path of consumers bored with the experience of shopping for furniture and homewares.

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Even more bizarre has been the omission by IKEA’s rivals – and other brands in its slipstream – to respond in kind.

At the spearhead of the Swedish retailer’s recent strategy has been its use of collaborations to energise its brand and drive traffic to it. Recent projects with name designers like Tom Dixon, Scholten & Baijings and Hay have invited consumers to reset their perceptions of IKEA’s aesthetic and quality.

But collaborations with industry outliers have been even more effective at growing new business – bringing IKEA to the attention of new consumers and even paving its entry into new categories.

Throughout June, IKEA picked up the pace with a slew of surprising announcements that put it in the same orbit as some of the world’s most popular independent creators. Virgil Abloh from industrial streetwear brand, Off-White, will create home furnishings for millennial first-home buyers, while Byredo’s Ben Gorham will create home fragrances and Jesper Kouthoofd from the avant-garde electronics brand, Teenage Engineering, is helping to guide IKEA’s steps into consumer tech. Meanwhile it launched an extensive capsule of tableware, textiles and accessories by Californian pop artist and Colette-favourite, Steven Harrington.

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The Swedish giant’s pivot towards remarkable products backed by remarkable names is even more astonishing when you consider its meticulously built reputation for averageness.But since 2016, the IKEA concept of democratic design has transitioned from appeasing the average shopper to accommodating overlooked demographic groups. Its annual Democratic Design Days event is beginning to generate the kind of energy typical of Apple’s WWDC developer conferences.

There is no question that the décor business is woefully short of meaningful, energy-laden brands. It’s a vacuum that IKEA seems to be exploiting with activities that would, in any other branch of lifestyle retail, be carried out by brands with sales far, far below €34 billion.On the contrary, names like Abloh, Gorham and Harrington customarily lend their names and talents to brands worth maybe no more than €10 million. The notion of Virgil Abloh at IKEA should be as absurd as Ferran Adrià at Domino’s, but it works because IKEA is as treasured as its competitors are flaccid.

The problem holding back décor companies isn’t a lack of spending power, but rather a failure by most to commit to a clear positioning, and double down on it by innovating and iterating. Whether the category is furniture, lighting, objects or coverings, too many manufacturers and retailers believe they inhabit a rigid, binary world where they must either commit to being a “designer brand” or not. But today’s attention economy rewards many nuanced positions between these extremes.

IKEA’s dramatic acceleration of its agenda should serve as a reminder to the entire décor business of the myriad options that exist to create remarkable premises that lift brands from the swamp of mediocrity and anonymity.

 

food

2. Fashion Loves Food

In the early sixties, Andy Warhol found truth in the banality and repetition of everyday objects like cans of Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola contour bottles. More than 50 years later, references to food and drink are becoming a popular creative resource for a widening pool of clothing, shoe and accessories designers.

For many of them, Warhol’s ironic pop sensibility is a clear inspiration, and usages range from overt to covert: from the exaggerated use of supermarket-ready logos to colour palettes inspired by popular meals. But for others, packaged goods references are a more straight-forward affair, with creative choices based on their ability to articulate ideas like freshness, craftsmanship, flavour or lifestyle.

Irrespective of motive or inspiration, designers and marketers can rely on the knowledge that most consumers are now sophisticated enough to distinguish between fashion and hospitality industry uniforms whenever they see a Coke hat in the street.

June began with widely circulated stories about Moschino’s joint promotion with Magnum and a Big Mac capsule made for Japanese eShoppers. More subtle was a collaboration between Nike SB and chef, David Chang, designed as an oblique reference to a New York noodle bar with history in the local skater community.

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Alongside brands like Coca-Cola and Chupa Chups, one of the most iconic archives of packaged food is licensed by Kellogg’s. Last month, Kellogg’s Froot Loops provided the colours and upbeat mood for new releases of Neff eyewearTimbuk2 bags, and city bikes by State Bicycle Co..

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There are even examples of fashion becoming food. One of my favourites comes from the natural footwear brand, Po-Zu, whose proprietary-blend shoe cream can also be used as cooking fat. During June, the fruit bar Juice Generation launched a new subscription box service with Salma Hayek. “Sip or slather” is the motto of Blend it Yourself, whose packages of fruits and superfoods can be mixed to become either detoxifying smoothies, or regenerative face masks.

 

pride

3. Pride or Prejudice?

June is LGBT Pride Month and an occasion for an increasing number of brands to use special edition products to show solidarity with social values and causes.

To the consternation of the LGBT movement, not only are some brands suspected of riding the rainbow bandwagon, others appear to be nudging June towards a broader definition of inclusiveness. Last month also saw a spike in innovations and promotional campaigns geared towards racial equality, body-positivism and Muslim outreach.

Check out the gallery for a selection of some of the month’s most interesting and colourful releases:

 

sandals

4. Sandals are the New Sneakers

Few categories are more competitive than sneakers. The obsessiveness of fans and the intense competition for their attention mean that, for most sneaker brands, relentless brand innovation has practically become mandatory.

Now the formats, flavours and partnerships made commonplace in the sneaker world are finding increasing traction on sports sandals and slides, with innovations often used to lean into urban minimalist and survivalist themes.

What’s curious is that consumers seem to regard sandals as specialist items: hardly any casual shoe brand can keep up a credible range of sandals. With very few accepted sandal brands on the market, it’s easy to imagine explosive growth and new hero brands in the category over the coming years – especially with the market for flip-flops reaching maturity.