Spinning new yarns

Stripes will be stripes

When IKEA asked Vivianne Sjölin to take care of textiles at IKEA, her first instinct was to say no. After a decade in the crisis-ridden Swedish textile industry, she was ready for a change.

“I was just over 30 and had decided to move on from textiles and do something completely different with my life,” says Vivianne, now 82.

One day in autumn 1973, the phone rang. It was Inger Nilsson, the outgoing textile manager at IKEA, and she wanted Vivianne to take her place. “I picked up the phone, and Inger just said, ‘Why the hell don’t you apply for my job?’” recalls Vivianne, who had far-reaching experience of the textile industry. She knew virtually everything about everything, from weaving and different materials to designing patterns and planning collections.

Elderly white-haired woman, Vivianne Sjölin, behind a desk in a cluttered workspace.
Vivianne Sjölin, who revolutionised the way IKEA worked with textiles between 1974 and 1986, at her home office in Växjö.

As a designer and manager of collections and business development at Borås Wäfveri and elsewhere, Vivianne had developed close working relationships with many leading textile designers. Reluctantly, she agreed to meet Hans Ax, who was CEO of IKEA at the time.

“I think it was my worst job interview ever,” says Vivianne. “Neither of us was particularly interested. I didn’t really sell myself, and Hans Ax didn’t sell the job. I went home and didn’t think about IKEA any more.”

Vivianne Sjölin holds a fabric piece with pink clover flowers on a white background.
As head of design in the pattern studio at Borås Wäfveri, Vivianne Sjölin designed the pattern KLÖVER, which later became an IKEA favourite, in many different versions and colours.
IKEA catalogue image of a bed adorned with green clover-patterned ÄNGSLYCKAN duvet and pillow covers.
The little clover flower came to be used on many IKEA products, from kitchen curtains to bedding – like duvet cover ÄNGSLYCKAN, here from the 1979 IKEA catalogue.


IKEA didn’t give up, and soon the phone rang again. It was Kjell-Åke Perbo, who had been asked to reorganise the whole textile department. Would Vivianne consider taking charge of Curtains? This encompassed everything from pre-cut fabric to ready-made curtains to roller blinds, shower curtains and wallpaper. And this was where Vivianne started wondering. “If I’m going to work anywhere, it might as well be IKEA. They’re the best on the market, with a lovely range and plenty of opportunities,” she thought, and accepted the job. A few weeks later, she was asked if she could take Bedding Textiles as well. “To make sure I could cope with both departments – be two product managers at once – I was given two assistants, Irene Odd for Bedding Textiles and Lea Kumpulainen for Curtains.”

Gruppbild i tidning med sex kvinnor, ledigt klädda. En leende kvinna i vit skjorta håller i en IKEA katalog från 1980-talet.
Press manager IB Bayley in the white shirt and Vivianne Sjölin in the striped top in a newspaper article from 1981, surrounded by IKEA co-workers. On the far right, next to Vivianne, is designer Karin Mobring. On the far left is Margareta Sollenberg (sitting), head of mattresses, cushions and pillows, Ulla Karlsson, in charge of the lighting range, and Irene Odd, assistant product manager for textiles at the time. (From Vivianne’s scrapbook.)

And so on 1 August 1974, Vivianne started at IKEA. She worked with Kjell-Åke Perbo and the whole textiles team in an open-plan office – something completely new at the time. “Kjell-Åke had put his desk right by the entrance, and looked sternly at any outsiders who came in. He wanted us to be able to work in peace and quiet. The best boss I’ve ever had!” says Vivianne.

Young woman in blue shirt, Vivianne Sjölin, surrounded by colourful, patterned fabric rolls.
During her years with IKEA, Vivianne Sjölin and her textile co-workers helped to strengthen the visual identity for all of IKEA.
Irene Odd, with short hair, stands before shelves of fabric rolls.
Irene Odd started at IKEA in 1974 after graduating from Borås Textile Institute, and she became Vivianne Sjölin’s assistant product manager. Irene later moved on to new challenges at IKEA, including as a product developer of furniture and textile collections for children.
Yvonne Andersson in front of bold patterned fabrics.
Yvonne Andersson joined IKEA in 1978, straight after graduating from Borås Textile Institute, and she became assistant product manager to Vivianne Sjölin. Yvonne later took over as product manager after Vivianne had moved on in IKEA. She left Textiles in 1986 and enjoyed a long career in a variety of different areas at IKEA.
A young dark-haired man, Lars Göran Peterson, working at a desk.
Lars Göran Peterson, or LGP as he was always known at IKEA, was a textile engineering graduate from Borås Textile Institute when he was employed at IKEA. He initially worked alongside textile manager Inger Nilsson and with Kjell-Åke Perbo, and from 1974 with Vivianne Sjölin. LGP later became head of the entire textile department.
Two women in front of a bookshelf with decorative items; one holds a small white sculpture.
Lea Kumpulainen (left) had worked as an assistant to Ingvar Kamprad when she started as assistant product manager to Vivianne Sjölin in 1974, in charge of curtains. She later became a range strategist at IKEA with broad responsibility for colour and form.

A rapid collection

From her first day at IKEA, Vivianne had just under five months to create her first textile collection. She kept stable best sellers, and combined them with a few well-selected new items.

Close-up of a woman's hand sketching a triangular diagram in a notebook.
Vivianne Sjölin sketches her range strategy. A base at the bottom with items that sell well year after year, and a small space at the top for bold new products that attract people to the stores. The arrows at the bottom represent products that are discontinued along the way.

“A range has to have a good balance, a foundation of items that sell well year after year. And then a small space at the top for new, bolder products. Stuff that has news value, that can grab people’s attention and attract them to the stores,” explains Vivianne. “They come to look at the new stuff but they buy other things as well. Not everything in a collection can drive sales. Ultimately it’s the sales figures that matter, not what the press finds most exciting.”

1976 IKEA catalogue image, a wooden bed with blue and white striped POLKA duvet and pillow covers.
As product manager, Vivianne Sjölin expanded the scope of the range at IKEA, which was soon evident in the IKEA catalogues. 1976 saw the arrival of the duvet set POLKA, designed by Vivianne alongside her assistant product managers Irene Odd and Lea Kumpulainen.
IKEA catalogue 1976 showing POLKA striped duvet covers in blue, brown, green, yellow or red with white stripes.
“POLKA stayed in the range in all kinds of variations, including in products for children and young people,” says Vivianne. Image from IKEA catalogue 1976.
IKEA catalogue 1976 page featuring many different patterned and coloured fabrics.
In the 1976 IKEA catalogue, Vivianne managed to introduce a new, more attractive presentation of the growing textile range. Seen here are patterns like EMMA by Anna-Lena Emdén, SOLREGN by Inez Svensson, as well as LILLHJÄRTAT as pre-cut fabric and wallpaper.
1977 IKEA catalogue bedroom scene with MOLN duvet sets, sky blue with white clouds.
The MOLN duvet cover by Sven Fristedt was originally made as a curtain for Borås Wäfveri’s standard collection. Vivianne Sjölin was allowed to use it exclusively for a duvet cover in her first collection for IKEA. When it was shown to the press in 1975, many felt it was “too bold”. Press manager IB Bayley asked, “Do you think this will sell?” “I’m not sure,” replied Vivianne, “but it’s sure to get in the press.” She was right, and IB Bayley was happy. MOLN also sold well. Image from IKEA catalogue 1977.
Page in the 1975 IKEA catalogue with duvet covers in different colours and patterns.
Vivianne and IKEA wanted to help customers “open the door to the bedroom” with attractive duvet sets. The range developed quickly, from five designs in 3–4 colour schemes in the 1975 catalogue (above), to around 30 different expressions in the 1981 IKEA catalogue.
1978 IKEA catalogue page featuring LUSTGÅRDEN duvet covers in green, brown, red, and blue.
A nice duvet cover meant no bedspread was needed! Image from IKEA catalogue 1978.
1977 IKEA catalogue textile page, showcasing brightly coloured graphic and flowery patterned fabrics.
In the 1977 IKEA catalogue, textiles were given more space then ever – a full 14 pages. Shown here are designs such as HILMA by Anna-Lena Emdén, stripy GUSTAVA, basic checks EBBA, BERTA and RUT, and the red-checked INGEFÄRA.

Today, Vivianne barely remembers what the first collection looked like. “The press showing was in June 1975, and we all stayed up the night before – including Kjell-Åke, cutting out small fabric swatches to give to the journalists! We’d had so little time that I didn’t have much new to show, but we’d produced something in any case.”

“That’s not so easy to figure out from an office chair.”

Ear to the ground

Despite an intense initial phase, Vivianne travelled around Sweden to visit the textile departments at different stores in person. “It was a policy at IKEA for product managers to visit all stores once a year – a great idea. I got to know the ‘ladies’ who were seeing customers every day, and I learnt a lot. We also put the fabrics up on the shelves to see what worked and what didn’t. That’s not so easy to figure out from an office chair.”

Soon, however, assistant product managers Irene Odd and Lea Kumpulainen took over the travelling around Sweden and parts of Europe, along with administrative jobs like taking minutes for the product selection committee. The role of product manager demanded all of Vivianne’s analytical and aesthetic efforts. She built up a network of designers, buyers, store personnel, warehouses, and 150 suppliers. She also designed several patterns herself, while keeping a close eye on business.

Smiling young woman with long hair holding a floral-patterned fabric.
Vivianne Sjölin with some of her favourites – stripes, flowers and leaves.

“I had 2,000 items in my range list. I could monitor each product, see what was selling, and also see which items were on the way up or down,” says Vivianne. Gradually, she and her co-workers developed the textile range and a profile of simple Scandinavian style, with elements of bold patterns and bright colours. This process helped to boost the visual identity of IKEA as a whole.

Growing pains

Vivianne came to IKEA in the middle of a huge reorganisation. IKEA had expanded massively and was experiencing growing pains. Ingvar Kamprad had been in charge of virtually everything from the very beginning, but this was no longer possible. IKEA was planning new stores across Europe and North America, and this called for a new approach. As well as her assistant product managers, the young yet highly competent Irene Odd and Lea Kumpulainen, Vivianne had textile engineer Lars Göran ‘LGP’ Peterson by her side. “The world’s best textile buyer,” says Vivianne about LGP, who started at IKEA back in 1969 at the age of 25.

Dark-haired young man, Lars Göran Peterson, in a white IKEA T-shirt and red cap.
Textile engineer Lars Göran Peterson, LGP, having fun during a visit to Borås Wäfveri, the design and production textile mill where IKEA bought many patterns and fabrics. (From Vivianne Sjölin’s scrapbook.)
Group of men and a woman in red patterned fabric coats, holding drinks glasses.
When the IKEA textile department visited Borås Wäfveri in the late 1970s, dressing gowns had been made for the guests out of duvet cover fabrics. Pictured here (left to right): IKEA textile manager Kjell-Åke Perbo, assistant buyer Curtains Christer Forsberg, delivery coordinator Curtains Eva Angser, and assistant buyer Bedding Textiles Bo Lindström. (From Vivianne Sjölin’s scrapbook.)

LGP and Vivianne were always striving to make the best deal – for IKEA, the suppliers and the customers. “There were always alternatives that didn’t cost the earth,” says Vivianne. “The important thing was to make the right product in the right place, to not take a sketch to a mill that didn’t have the right machines or materials. After ten years in the textile industry in different kinds of production, including weaving and printing, I had the practical knowledge, while Lars-Göran was a qualified engineer. This meant that we worked incredibly well together.”

In the new organisation, Vivianne and her co-workers were left to look after themselves. “We were quite glad about that, as it meant we could get on with our job without interference,” says Vivianne. “As a company culture, it was about taking responsibility, having courage and growing with the work. It was okay to make mistakes, as long as you put it right afterwards. Kjell-Åke was always ready to help if necessary, but he usually made me realise that I already knew what I had to do. He would say, ‘You’ve already solved that’.”

In the same way, Vivianne trusted that her co-workers, like Irene, Lea and later Yvonne Andersson, could work independently. “They knew what my vision was and where we were heading. We worked side by side and helped each other out. Everyone was kind, skilled and willing to take responsibility. There was a tremendous sense of friendship and community in our department,” says Vivianne.

1979 IKEA catalogue page, titled
A proud headline in the 1979 IKEA catalogue – ”Few can beat our textile department” clearly mirrors Vivianne Sjölin’s vision.
1980 IKEA catalogue page displaying colourful wax cloths and curtains with white patterns.
Some designs were printed onto all kinds of products, like here on kitchen curtains, wax tablecloths and pre-cut fabrics. Image from IKEA catalogue 1980.
1980 IKEA catalogue page featuring various patterned roller blinds.
Stripes and sunsets on handy roller blinds. Image from IKEA catalogue 1980.

New era, new role

Textiles was now becoming one of the fastest-expanding business areas at a growing IKEA, and this demanded close control over both design and the business. Things were changing fundamentally. The range expanded and the number of items increased rapidly. Vivianne developed new sales strategies and made sure that textiles were given more and more space in the IKEA catalogue, which was a key publication at the time. The results were evident, not least in the huge increase in sales.

1978 IKEA catalogue showcasing curtains, tablecloths, and seat cushions under the title
In the IKEA catalogue and showrooms, Vivianne Sjölin tried to demonstrate to visitors how they could mix and match different textile products in their own homes. Image from IKEA catalogue 1978.
1977 IKEA catalogue page featuring TINTO bed top with large blue flowers on a black base.
The stretchy mattress cover TINTO with a bedspread in similar shades. The TINTO covers came in a variety of colours and were developed by Kjell-Åke Perbo. Image from IKEA catalogue 1977.
1976 IKEA catalogue page displaying roller blinds in various colours, patterns, and bamboo.
Roller blinds in different colours and designs were simple and fun to match with home furnishings. Image from IKEA catalogue 1976.
1982 IKEA catalogue page showing SANNA wallpaper rolls in pastel colours and STARK rug samples in dark tones.
Around the time Vivianne Sjölin was moving from the textile department to become range coordinator at IKEA, she designed the SANNA wallpaper in various monotone shades that could be matched with the STARK wall-to-wall carpet. Image from IKEA catalogue 1982.

Her mind a hard drive

Vivianne describes her mind as a “hard drive” where she stores everything she sees and hears, all her experiences. “I put it all together, and sometimes something good comes out. Other times it’s a complete disaster. Kjell-Åke Perbo often said you should be right at least 50 per cent of the time, and I think I managed that okay.”

Being hearing impaired from childhood helped Vivianne to develop a good visual memory. She learnt to lip-read and became good at “reading people”, although she says she should never really have had a job with so many people and meetings. She describes herself as a bit of a lone wolf, and says her “mind was elsewhere”. But maybe it didn’t matter that much, she adds.

“As a product developer, you have to be two years ahead. Most of what you see is already obsolete in your eyes. While Irene, Lea and Yvonne were working on current collections, I was somewhere else completely. You need a feeling for what’s coming and have to take in everything around you – watch films, read books and get a sense of the zeitgeist, go to the theatre and exhibitions.”

Fresh yeast in the dough

Purchasing trips around the world have been important sources of inspiration. Vivianne usually travelled on her own to meet suppliers and find new markets, as in Pakistan and India. During her first visit, Vivianne was guided by Mr. Nath, the first suppler IKEA ever worked with in India. Together they travelled to cities like Varanasi, Delhi and Jaipur, and also a small village where the INDIRA fabric was woven by hand. “That was quite an experience,” Vivianne recalls. “India was overwhelming with all its smells and sounds – I don’t think I slept for four days. From India I went on to Pakistan to meet Inez Svensson. At the time she was working for the UN, helping Pakistan to develop its textile industry. I particularly remember an amazing visit to the Sindh province. And all those impressions got stored on my mind’s hard drive.”

Grey-haired man, Mr. Nath, in glasses and white shirt stands with young woman Ann-Christin Karlsson in jeans and red shirt.
The first IKEA contact in India, Mr. Nath, with Ann-Christin Karlsson, rug buyer at IKEA. (From Vivianne Sjölin’s scrapbook.)
1979 IKEA catalogue bedroom image with a wooden bed, dark pink INDIRA bedspread, and graphic patterned STRAM wallpaper.
INDIRA, hand-woven in India, was first launched as a pre-cut fabric. Vivianne Sjölin made bedspreads that became such huge sellers that IKEA later developed a machine-woven version to meet demand. Image from IKEA catalogue 1979.
1977 IKEA catalogue image of a wooden bed with green check INDUS bedspread and a white rug on the floor.
The INDUS cotton bedspread was hand-woven in India and was also available in orange, red and brown. Image from IKEA catalogue 1977.
1977 IKEA catalogue image of a wooden bed with a red, black, and white bedspread and a striped rug on the floor.
The striped AMBALA was also hand-woven by Indian crafters. Image from IKEA catalogue 1977.

Vivianne not only stored her impressions in her mind. She also stuck them to the wall at IKEA. ‘Vivianne’s wall’ soon became a popular attraction for people who wanted to get a feel for where the wind was blowing. It was a constantly growing collage of pictures, newspaper cuttings, colour samples and fabric swatches that provided inspiration for new ideas.

“All your experiences become a kind of dough, but sometimes you need some fresh yeast in the dough to make sure things evolve. Nothing new comes from more of the same,” says Vivianne.

Collage of patterned fabrics from 10-gruppen's first collection 1979.
A collage by Vivianne Sjölin for the IKEA catalogue, with fabrics from design collective 10-gruppen’s first collection, launched in 1979.

Attracting 10-gruppen

By 1977, after a few years at IKEA, Vivianne was really getting into the run of things and wanted to add some “fresh yeast to the dough”. She went to design collective 10-gruppen (Ten Swedish Designers) with a question: would they be willing to create a collection exclusively for IKEA? 10-gruppen had been formed in 1970 by textile designer Inez Svensson and nine other designers, who all had different, but modern, expressions. Vivianne was in contact with the group since her days as head of design in the pattern studio at Borås Wäfveri.

Back then, 10-gruppen had produced a collection of 10 patterns in different colour schemes, but were having a hard time finding someone to produce it. Eventually, Borås Wäfveri’s head of marketing at the time, Nisse Lindgren, offered to start producing the collection. As head of design for home textiles, Vivianne got to know all ten of the designers during production. “They were very different and the patterns went off in all kinds of directions. But they had a shared vision. And Inez was the one who could keep it all together.”

Inez Svensson in a patterned blouse with a happy man in a brown jacket; a white cat walks by their feet.
Designer and member of 10-gruppen Inez Svensson with the head of marketing at Borås Wäfveri at the time, Nisse Lindgren. (From Vivianne Sjölin’s scrapbook.)

Inez Svensson and Vivianne had first met in the early 1960s at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm. Inez was a teacher and Vivianne a student, but only much later did they become friends and colleagues “We spoke the same language, and she had that feeling for what was coming,” says Vivianne. “Whether it would be checks or something else. She was generous as well, which not all designers are. Inez was not only interested in her own stuff, but also in the zeitgeist and in other people.”

It was Inez that Vivianne asked if 10-gruppen could design patterns for IKEA. “She was one of few people who would consider working for industry and big companies in the 1970s. It was a time when everyone at art college thought that was the worst thing you could do,” Vivianne recalls. “But they knew who I was and clearly had enough faith in me.”

One week in August 1977, the ten designers got together to shape the IKEA collection. “I never asked Ingvar or anyone else for permission. I just placed the order, then all ten of them sat down and started drawing,” says Vivianne. She then got to “pick and choose” among all the sketches and chose designs for duvet covers, wallpaper, pre-cut fabrics, and two large fabric pieces with a collage of different fabrics.

A room filled with pillows up to the ceiling in various patterns and colours.
Some of the cushions have covers from the 10-gruppen fabric collection, such as TRY. Image from IKEA catalogue 1980.
Living room in blue and white tones with sky-patterned wallpaper, striped rug, blue armchairs, and sofa.
On the wall is 10-gruppen’s VIN patchwork. The covers on the scatter cushions are made from the TRY pattern. The wallpaper is SKYAR, designed by Sven Fristedt. Image from IKEA catalogue 1980.
Living room with a beige corduroy corner sofa, white square coffee table, and curtains in a graphic pattern.
This room is wallpapered in the 10-gruppen pattern TREKANT, and in the windows are curtains in the pattern POPPEL. Image from IKEA catalogue 1980.
1979 IKEA catalogue page with a bed made with red pillowcases and bed sheet, and red-white patterned TALL duvet cover.
The 10-gruppen pattern TALL was printed on products such as duvet covers in 100% cotton. Image from IKEA catalogue 1979.
White-haired woman, Vivianne Sjölin holding a patchwork quilt made of various blue, red, and white patterned fabrics.
Vivianne holds up one of the large fabric pieces, a kind of patchwork that was part of the 10-gruppen collection. Featuring the patterns TRY, TALL and TREKANT.

Tested in real life

In the 1970s, the IKEA stores developed into what were known as showrooms. The heads of interior design and marketing, Mary and Lennart Ekmark, built room settings showing different types of homes, often with a humorous and political touch. Vivianne regularly used the room settings in the Älmhult store to try out new patterns. “I needed to find out if my thinking was right. And by seeing wallpapers and fabrics in a home environment, visitors could more easily imagine what they might look like in their own homes.”

1979 IKEA catalogue spread featuring various wallpaper patterns including MITT HJÄRTA and VITA HJÄRTAN, and TREKANT.
Vivianne Sjölin produced a whole new range of wallpaper in association with wallpaper firm DURO. Shown here, from the 1979 catalogue, MITT HJÄRTA and VITA HJÄRTAN, LILLA BLADET and TREKANT, among others, along with the striped LISA and MÅNS.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Vivianne felt a growing frustration over the look of the textile department at the IKEA store in Älmhult. It had lost its edge and was mainly about displaying huge, shapeless pieces of fabric. Although IKEA offered hundreds of different colours and pattern combinations, it was hard for consumers to get a proper overview of the range.

Smiling man with blond curls and smiling woman holding glass vases and posters, Cornelis Janssen and Vivianne Sjölin 1984.
A creative duo – design strategists Cornelis Janssen and Vivianne Sjölin at the Kosta Boda glass works, 1984. Photo: Georg Oddner.

Vivianne asked her partner, Dutch design strategist Cornelis Janssen, for help. He was currently revamping the whole IKEA store in Älmhult. But when there was just the textile department left to transform, he had had enough. “This will have to stay like it is,” he said. Vivianne says, “I was so upset, I went home and cried all afternoon, and that changed his mind.”

Sweet shop of fabrics

By this time, the IKEA textile department had become a popular destination for those interested in textiles, especially women who wanted to create a better life at home with textiles at low prices. “Our market research showed that some people travelled 100–200 kilometres just to buy fabric,” says textile engineer LGP. “People could transform their homes for not much money at all.”

“Everyone had a sewing machine at home, and fabric was a simple way to make changes,” says Vivianne. “If you couldn’t afford a new sofa, maybe you could afford a few metres of fabric to cover the old one. Textile is a tool rather than a finished product.”

1980 IKEA catalogue spread showing fabric rolls on slanted shelves, an employee showing a customer a fabric.
In the 1980 catalogue, IKEA proudly shows off the newly revamped textile department under the header, “The fabric shop, where you can change your mind 935 times.” Behind the counter is Thea Johansson, in charge of textiles at the Älmhult store, showing STAVA fabric by Annika Malmström to a customer. “Thea was a star who was always willing to chat and always went along with my ‘crazy ideas’. Mutual respect!” says Vivianne Sjölin.

Vivianne and Cornelis wanted to go back to how fabric shops looked in the old days – with the rolls of fabric visible and neatly arranged by colour and pattern. Cornelis created new angled shelves for the fabrics, with the local smith in Älmhult. This design later became standard in all IKEA stores. “Cornelis drew the sketch on the back of a cigar box. He was an expert at what’s known as ‘management by walking around’!”, says Vivianne with a laugh. “He walked around and looked, chatted to co-workers and the smith, and quite quickly came up with a result.” Cornelis Janssen also developed new lighting that made the colours pop. Textile engineer LGP still remembers what it was like walking into the revamped textile department. “It felt like a sweet shop!”

When Vivianne Sjölin looks back on her career, it’s evident that she’s focused on broader contexts rather than just individual projects. She is someone who is “never finished”, and who always put people’s needs first, whether it was textiles, furniture or glass – such as during her years at Kosta Boda after IKEA.

Vivianne Sjölin in a grey cardigan and striped shirt sits on a bench holding a black and white check magazine holder.
The magazine file SNACK came about when Vivianne Sjölin realised that 1980s consumers needed a simpler, more cost-effective solution than the traditional heavy wood and metal boxes.
Stacked LACK square tables in various colours.
During her time as range coordinator at IKEA, Vivianne Sjölin felt that IKEA lacked fun, colourful little tables that were easy to place. In collaboration with coffee and dining table managers Jan Hellzén and Tomas Paulsson, the best seller LACK was born.

“I would take a range and try to think of what people need in their day-to-day lives, like a simple magazine file or a small table,” says Vivianne. “I’d see what was missing, place an order with the designers, talk to production to make sure it could be made at the right price, and keep an eye on the market to ensure we weren’t doing the same as everyone else, but had something unique. Then I’d have to try and convince the management and marketing people that this was a good product for the company. That was the hardest part.”

A bold statement

In 1979, Vivianne Sjölin moved on to a new job within IKEA, where she would help to create iconic products like the LACK table and the SNACK magazine file. But she was always ready to help her former colleagues in the textile department. Like when Ingvar Kamprad unexpectedly wanted a new collection from 10-gruppen in the mid-1980s, and Irene Odd, then product manager for pre-cut fabrics, asked Vivianne for help contacting Inez Svensson.

Textile pattern with yellow bananas on a black-and-white striped background.
Today, RANDIG BANAN is considered a textile icon. But that wasn’t the case in 1985, when the young women in the textile department were brutally criticised by the sales management.

The patterns for the new 10-gruppen collection were designed by Inez Svensson and Birgitta Hahn. To be on the safe side, Vivianne took Inez on a walk around the expanding Älmhult store, which had more and more products competing for attention. “I explained to Inez that we could no longer whisper, the fabrics had to shout ‘I’m a check! I’m a stripe!’ We had to make a bold statement to stand out from the crowd,” says Vivianne. She tells of a time when the designers were sitting sketching in the studio. They were listening to the radio and someone said something about it being “top banana”. “That stuck in Inez’s memory and it became a sketch of the fabric that would be called RANDIG BANAN [striped banana].”

Frightening results

Once Vivianne had placed the order, the work was carried on by her young colleagues who had taken over at the textile department. Yvonne Andersson and Irene Odd remember being very enthusiastic about the collection, producing a wide array of products in several different patterns. “We even made clothes from the fabrics, which we wore when we showed them for the first time,” says Irene.

“At the store in Älmhult, the rolls of fabric were hidden under the tables so as not to ‘frighten the customers’.”

Today, RANDIG BANAN is considered a textile icon. But that wasn’t the case in 1985, when the young women in the textile department were brutally criticised by the sales management. “They really had a go at us for this collection!” says Yvonne Andersson. Vivianne agrees. “I remember feeling quite upset that they had such a tough time.”

Yvonne talks about when the collection was going to be shown to the press and co-workers for the first time. “I was advised to put a white curtain in front of the interior [with the fabrics] so the sales staff wouldn’t be completely shocked,” says Yvonne. “At the store in Älmhult, the rolls of fabric were hidden under the tables so as not to ‘frighten the customers’. So it wasn’t a big sales success at the time.”

Confused patterns

Later on during the 1980s, IKEA would be hit by a financial crisis and also confusion in the range. ‘Migraine patterns’ were seen on the IKEA catalogue cover, and for many it felt like the end of a textile era. An era that not only gave IKEA a worldwide reputation as a destination for textiles and home furnishings, but also helped to boost sales dramatically. The textile development helped to strengthen the overall visual identity of IKEA, and to ensure that many more people discovered new ways of creating a truly personalised home.