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All it takes is a scroll through Akanksha Sharma’s Instagram feed to know that design runs through her veins. I chance upon a sofa that looks like it is made of raw steak and a ring that is all teeth with braces. It’s probably also why Ikea singled her out to work for them as their youngest designer and the first Indian one at that. She describes herself as a very visual person and loves the depth of indigo and the sensuality of red, something that she hopes to infuse into her work for Ikea’s India launch later this year.
Please tell us about yourself?
Akanksha Sharma is IKEA’s first Indian hire and the youngest designer at the Swedish furniture and homeware retailer. Her first collaboration with IKEA was when she was still a student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi.
Headlined by Swedish designer Martin Bergström, the furniture giant worked with a group of students from NIFT to create the SVÄRTAN collection. This home furnishings collection was manufactured in monotones of greys and blacks and established an Indian connect with the use of textiles native to the country while maintaining the minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic that IKEA is known for.
Tel us about your Journey to the center of design. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
“I grew up in a strict, conventional family and it made me curious to explore unknown realms. My time at Delhi University exposed me to arts, culture, and literature and soon I was bursting at the seams, trying to find a medium to express my ideas. A year after, I enrolled myself into NIFT where my thoughts found structure. The ball of energy in my head found an outlet, and I discovered that I was drawn towards an aesthetic that was bold, graphic and expressive. A most interesting project came my way in the form of a collaboration between Swedish designer Martin Bergström, Ikea and NIFT after which Ikea’s Creative Leader Karin Gustavsson extended an invitation to work for them. I had to turn it down because I was in my third year then and needed to graduate before I accepted any job offers. They were gracious enough to wait the year out and handed me a design internship to hone my skills. I finally joined them as an in-house designer in February this year.”
Tell us about your first project?
“My first project for Ikea was a collaboration between Martin and NIFT that entailed an alternate representation of India. The collection was called Svärtan (meaning blackness) and highlighted modernism through a monochromatic lens. When I left for Sweden to officially work with Ikea a couple of months later, it was quite unnerving to find a unique voice in the massive pool of talent. The company focuses on creating a better life for millions of people and that gives you perspective when you’re working. You also get to learn so much! Viktigt and Sinnerlig designed by Ingegerd Råman and Ilse Crawford are all about simple forms, natural materials, and honest imperfections and they’ve altered my own thinking. I have to say though, of everything I’ve learned here, my favourite is ‘fika’ – it’s a Swedish coffee break and boy, do the Scandinavians take theirs seriously.”
What are your strengths?\“I’m a visual artist along with being a textile designer. Having specialised in Indian textiles, I work heavily with structure, construction, pattern and fabric manipulations and the technique of dyeing and printing. My alter ego explores mixed media like photography, collage, illustration, audio, and video. This is why I like to travel and get acquainted with new surroundings, cultures, tastes and smells; it inspires my design process. I am currently working on Ikea’s India launch collection and here you will find hints of anything that has ever moved me.”