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Ikea recycles worker uniforms into new home furnishing collection

Image © Ikea

After rolling out a new co-worker uniform design, Ikea collected hundreds of pallets of old uniforms and recycled the textiles for an upcoming collection of decorative and functional home furnishing items.

The majority of the material came from worn-out clothes returned by co-workers, with a small addition of overstock of pre-ordered uniforms that were left unused due to the transition to the new design. The collected uniforms formed part of textile recycling trial by Ikea. 

“The fabric is shredded to make fibres, naturally making them much shorter than virgin fibres. This means they have lower mechanical performance, but the performance in every other aspect is just as good as virgin material,” explained Luca Clerici, new business manager at Ikea Group.

“For example, if you make a fabric that’s used for an office chair, the requirements for good quality are quite demanding of mechanical performance in particular, because of the high usage and friction. With, say, a curtain the requirements are different. The stress on the product comes from other things, like light, for which we can ensure the same good quality with these fibres as well.”

It has now introduced VÄXELBRUK, a collection of throws, cushion covers, curtains, and bags made using 300 tonnes of recycled uniforms collected across European between 2020 to 2022. The homeware retailer will soon launch this collection in stores across Europe.

Ikea explained that while the VÄXELBRUK products don’t quite reveal their origins at first glance, they still feature the recognisable colours of the Ikea coworker uniform.

“We got a lot of good ideas from the supplier in the development process and ended up introducing other fabric colours from industrial textile surplus to create a different fabric,” Clerici added. “It helped make the yellow less yellow and the blue less blue.”

A challenge of this project was managing and repurposing its own potential waste at scale.”We had to learn to navigate quite a complex landscape in terms of requirements, legislation, and logistics. How to move the material, working with the right carriers with special licenses to receive and manage them. We studied all of these things very closely,” Clerici explained.

He stressed it was a real team effort and sets an example for recycling and repurposing materials within Ikea.

“There were so many cross-disciplinary learnings, not only about textiles. We’re sharing these across IKEA for people to use in everything from the supply chain to product development and design. Many good things have happened because of this project.”

Read an exclusive interview with Ikea’s vice president of engineering Anca Iordanescu in the RetailX Europe Top1000 report. Discover how Ikea is among the brands thinking again about how they sell as shoppers change their shopping habits once more.

The report also features seven case studies including KPI comparisons. Includes: Albert Heijn, H&M, Empik, Oysho, Castorama, GuitarGuitar and River Island.

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