Sewing, Refashioning, Repurposing & Thrifting Through Life

I Have a Problem with IKEA

on February 16, 2016

I started my thrifting/refinishing journey 3 years ago and I have learned so much about fast fashion and unethical clothing production. I like to think that now that I am so much more informed, I am making conscious efforts to shop wisely and ethically. I certainly feel that my love of all things vintage, retro and antique, along with my efforts in transforming and refinishing once-loved pieces are, in some small way, inspiring others to reuse and restyle instead of dumping things in the trash. I firmly believe in buying a good quality piece, even if it means second-hand, old, or waiting to save up for it if it’s not affordable right away.

I almost never shop at Walmart or any of its competitors for the same reasons that I don’t buy fast fashion. This got me thinking about places like IKEA. The Swedish furniture and home accessory manufacturer famous for its affordable (aka cheap) products, are very appealing to those on a budget, especially to those just starting out on their own and looking for a way to decorate and outfit a new house or apartment without breaking the bank.

I understand the appeal. The stores are bright, well-organized and staged in a way that any 20-something can picture the popular Klippan sofa as a modern, sleek place to sit and relax. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but stuff at IKEA is a lot smaller than any old pieces. This can certainly be a factor in the decision making process because they seem to be building smaller houses and condos these days. Naturally, smaller houses mean smaller principal rooms and I know that vintage and antique pieces can be quite large.



Or how about the MALM bed? Young sophistication, right?



So I decided to do a little research, because, I admit, I have bought a few things from IKEA myself. The odd storage bin and what not, but I’ve never bought anything as big as a bed, a sofa, a night stand or even the BILLY bookcase.

I wanted to learn more about their carbon footprint, in particular. I’m sure we’ve all heard the expression: IKEA is Swedish for crap (or was it Mr. Restyle that came up with that line? In any case he’s always saying it when someone mentions IKEA). What exactly is their stuff made of? What are their work ethics? What is so appealing about a dresser or a bed that I have to transport home and put together myself following a diagram and using a bunch of little tools that IKEA provides me with? What makes someone choose the MALM over a vintage, retro or antique piece?

Interestingly, I only had to type in a few keywords to find out the following:

IKEA is the 3rd largest consumer of wood, behind The Home Depot and Lowe’s.

This actually surprised me a little because I can think of so many manufacturers and businesses where I would expect to see a huge consumption of wood. From my research, I have learned that the wood comes mostly from eastern Europe and the far east of Russia where, according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture “wages are low, large wooded regions remote, and according to the World Bank, half of all logging is illegal.” IKEA president and CEO Anders Dahlvig asserts that the timber his company uses is harvested legally, and the company does employ forestry experts to monitor the company’s suppliers. But Shell points out that IKEA has only 11 forestry monitors, not nearly enough to keep a watchful eye on all those suppliers worldwide, and five of those specialists are devoted to China and Russia, a vast spread of territory by itself.



OK, but what kind of wood? You’re not going to find walnut or cherry there! Most of IKEA’s furniture is made from wood composite, aka pressed wood, fibreboard, particle board. That’s right-particle board, so it’s fair to say IKEA stuff is modern looking but not long lasting and in a world where people swap things out every few years anyway, who cares right? Yikes! I have huge problems with this. What happened to us? We used to cherish a piece that was in the family, passed down from generation to generation. The sad truth is that the young generation doesn’t want any of our stuff! Whatever happened to pride of craftsmanship?

IKEA operates 373 stores in 47 countries. their website contains 12,000 products and in 2010, $23.1 billion worth of goods were sold. IKEA was founded in Sweden so all of their furniture is made in Sweden right?

Wrong. Everything is designed in Sweden but IKEA mostly manufactures in developing countries to keep costs down. China accounts for about 2½ times as much supply as Sweden.

IKEA produces affordable, stylish furniture and accessories. They even name all of their pieces, so they must really care.

Take a look at this lamp commercial. Seems to me that IKEA’s message here is just throw the old thing away and buy a new one at their store:

IKEA Lamp Commercial

And this next one, I really have no words for. It really ticked me off:

IKEA Poor Taste Commercial

People cannot possibly be conditioned to think green or to  consider buying second-hand or antique. They must have what everyone else has. Everyone must look the same and companies like IKEA don’t have a responsibility to their consumers.

I think a company’s values, ethics and message actually make a huge impact, especially on young people. If IKEA’s message weren’t that we should just throw old things away and go shop in their store, then maybe people would think twice about buying cheap, poorly made stuff that they will toss in a couple of years.

Young people can learn to appreciate good quality, timeless pieces. They can be taught to fix that which is broken and the best of all? They can put together a place of their own that will not be found anywhere else.

Think back a few years before all of these fabulous paint products were readily available. Nobody was painting furniture or distressing it. Now it’s all the rage. It’s unique. It’s sturdy. It’s old and will last another hundred years and yes, it can fit into a modern home. All it takes is a bit of creativity and a some work.



I’ve only touched on a few points in this post but the topic really resonated with me. I am sure there is more to discuss on this topic. Would love to hear your thoughts.


One response to “I Have a Problem with IKEA

  1. Oh Vee. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough piece on Ikea. We have one just 3 miles from my house and I have never been for the reasons you share here. Yes, in the long run, buying cheap stuff is more expensive for you (you have to replace it more often) and for the environment (sourcing materials and eventual landfill). – Karen

    Liked by 1 person

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