Dezeen Magazine

IKEA fuels demand for western lifestyle in China, say Hay founders

Chinese consumers are developing a taste for western furniture and lifestyles thanks to IKEA, according to the founders of Danish design brand Hay.

Mette and Rolf Hay, co-founders of the eponymous brand, said that the Swedish flat-pack giant was helping consumers acquire a taste for contemporary design at events at their stores in China.

"I just heard that IKEA is doing these evenings where people can come and get educated in how to decorate or design your home," Mette Hay told Dezeen.

"In Europe we go home in the evening and we invite guests and in China they are starting to do these kinds of things now," she said. "It's [becoming] important to have a nice home and not just eat a takeaway."

Mette said IKEA was helping brands like Hay enter the Chinese market. "They're educating people in in how to make a nice home," she said. "I believe they are helping us."

After a slow start, IKEA has expanded rapidly in China in the past few years, and eight of its 10 biggest stores are now located in the country.

Dezeen spoke to Rolf and Mette Hay at the UK launch of Palissade, a new collection of outdoor furniture by the Bouroullec brothers

However the chain had to slash its prices to compete with local copycats and adapt its products to suit the Chinese market, where homes are typically smaller than in the west. It has also started making products in China rather than importing them.

Rolf Hay, who co-founded Hay with his wife Mette and Troels Holch Povlsen in 2002, said that as China urbanised, the growing middle class is starting to adapt western lifestyle trends to its own circumstances.

"The Chinese population is moving from the countryside to Shanghai, Beijing and all the major cities and it's quite usual for a family to live in an apartment of 30 square metres," said Rolf Hay. "That is of course extremely different to the way we live here. The apartment is not a social platform. They are drying their clothes in the living room. So if you go to IKEA they are offering furniture where the people can dry their clothes in the living room."

"What happened in China the last three years is [that] they start to be interested in design and furniture," Mette Hay said. "What happened in fashion out there has been crazy for many years but now they move into their houses and they're going to live with design."

She added: "In Europe we go home in the evening and we invite guests and in China they are starting to do these kinds of things now. It's [becoming] important to have a nice home and not just eat a takeaway."

Strike Matchboxes by Shane Schneck and Clara von Zweigbergk for Hay
As well as furniture, Hay has pioneered designer accessories such as matchboxes

Hay opened its first Chinese store in Shanghai two years ago and opened a second in the city earlier this year. It also has a store in Beijing.

"It's going very well but it's a totally new market," Mette Hay said.

Dezeen spoke to the husband-and-wife team at design store SCP in London, which hosted the UK launch of Palissade, a new collection of outdoor furniture by the Bouroullec brothers.

Rolf Hay said that his company is developing products with Chinese consumers in mind, including flat-pack products and compact furniture.

"It's extremely expensive to distribute products in China. Getting products around in China is extremely expensive; it's actually a large part of the costs of a product. So we have to work on a new packaging concept in China where things can be flat-packed," he explained.

In Milan next week Hay is launching a number of products engineered with China in mind, Rolf Hay said.

"For instance in Milan we are launching a new sofa with the Bouroullecs, which is a flat-pack concept for a sofa. I'm not saying this sofa is [only] made of the Chinese market, because it's also made for online distribution of furniture [in other markets too]."

"We're launching a new chair for Stefan Diez which is also flat-packed. So it's about making the sofa more compact; about making the dining table more compact in China."

Wrong for Hay collection
Hay and Sebastian Wrong, who first collaborated on this collection in September 2013, are now launching a new lighting brand called Wrong London

Hay has developed a bespoke supply chain for its Chinese operations, with warehouses in Shanghai and Beijing and a local manufacturing base.

"We have possibilities for creating a strong retail chain in China, if you want to become successful in China you have to act local," added Rolf Hay. "Many of competitors are distributing through the Chinese market from a European warehouse. We believe in manufacturing products locally for where customers are. Eighty per cent of our products sold in China are provided from local supply chains."

Last month, designer Sebastian Wrong revealed that he is launching a new lighting brand called Wrong London in collaboration with Hay.