It’s Their Turn

In recent years, fashion has looked to Ikea for ideas. One very expensive Balenciaga bag, for example (among others). With the Efterträda line, launched today, Ikea is fighting back. Sort of

If car makers can sell fashion collections, why not furniture makers? Ikea has just launched the Efterträda line, showing the world that it can do for T-shirts what it has done for its Billy bookcases. At the launch this morning, it was a relatively quiet affair. Nothing remotely close to last Friday’s throng outside Orchard Gateway was seen. Or during the launch of the Virgil Abloh collaboration last year. But there was a queue (short), or a line that was set up only for those buying the 8-piece Efterträda line. But it was learned that customers were allowed into the stores (both at Alexandra and Tampines) because by ten, “the line was quite long,” according to one traffic warden (the store opens at 11).

At the Tampines store, there was a dedicated line for those desiring to buy the Efterträda, but you would not know that, as it was not marked out or clearly sign-posted. A staff was stationed at the entry to the line, shouting “Efterträda?” to whoever she thought might be interested. This person was key. If you missed her, you would have joined the wrong line, and you would not be given a sticker bearing the crucial queue number with which to gain admission. In the line, someone comes to you with a mounted poster to say that each customer is allowed to “buy two items each” from the seven items shown on the poster. These were two water bottles, two towels, one hoodie, and one T-shirt. The tote, we were told, was sold out. Someone wondered aloud, “so soon?”

The woman explained that the first customers snapped up all the bags. Really? “We had only twenty bags,” she offered. You could see on their faces: “Are you kidding?” It seems odd that Ikea, a mass retailer, with probably one of the best supply chains of any business, would not be able to secure something as basic as a cotton canvas tote. When we expressed that thought, the woman spoke somewhat defensively, “It’s a global supply issue.” While it is true that global supply chains for soft merchandise—in particular those dealing with cotton*—is in a state of flux, it is puzzling that, with the buying power of Ikea and a retail programme (and costs) that would have been locked in at least six months ago, the store had such a small amount of the one-style bag to sell. “Well, obviously I can’t convince you,” the woman shut us up and walked away.

As it turned out, once you leave this queue, there were another two more to join: one, a holding area a floor before the showroom and the other, just in front of the designated space for Efterträda. Only five people were allowed to be in these two lines at a time. Similarly in the Efterträda corner, only five shoppers could browse and choose. Before you enter, you would have to surrender the sticker with the number “so that you would not get in again.” As they were basically three items (different colours of the same thing were not counted), except the miniature Frakta bags, it was not hard to finish picking (at least visually) in a glance. For most shoppers, they already knew what they wanted. Most grabbed and went. The space itself was no larger than a bedroom of a HDB flat, and was furnished, unsurprisingly, with Ikea furniture on which no one sat to try.

There was really not that much to buy. For fashion fans, there was only the T-shirt and the hoodie. During the time we were here (and around the space), we noted that most people picked the tee. We did also notice something odd. The crew necks of the T-shirts differ in the width of the rib. For both small and medium, they were the same, but the large, at about 5/8 of an inch wide, is visibly narrower. We brought this to the attention of the staff. At first she could not see the difference. When we put the L and the M side by side, she said it was “because the L is larger”. We were quite surprised by the response, but at the same time, we did not think the Ikea staff, trained to sell furniture, would understand the complexities or inadequacies of quality control.

Announced in July, the Efterträda capsule was made available first in Tokyo on 30 November, at its city-centre store (another first) in Harajuku. We were told by a staffer that the collection “did very well in Japan.” And then she added, “ but not in China.” This isn’t the first time Ikea is selling clothing. Back in 2017, there was a capsule (also) of T-shirts in the multi-product Stunsig Limited Collection. The tees were conceived in collaboration with print artists from Europe and the US. We were impressed by the quality and even more so with the price: S$8.90 (and no limit to the number that can be purchased), which is cheaper than the S$12.90 charged for the Efterträda version. It suddenly dawned on us as to why the T-shirts were not tempting. They look like uniforms. Scanning the space and the people who staffed it, we saw that we were not wrong. A brand such as Balenciaga can use visual codes of Ikea in their fashion and they could pass it off as ironic. Ikea doing Ikea is not.

*We understand that cotton is a tricky material to acquire now. With the Xinjiang situation, most European and American brands are now looking to Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam for their supplies. It is also true that prices of cotton are on the rise. It is possible that Ikea, not primarily a fashion producer, would have some problems getting their hands on sufficient cotton for their totes. We are, of course, speculating.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji