Designer Akanksha Deo Sharma© HELLO! India

Akanksha Deo Sharma On Being The Only Indian Designer At Ikea

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Shraddha Chowdhury

An industrial designer, textile innovator and visual artist, Akanksha Deo Sharma has a refreshing candour that rubs off on you. Be it her affable nature, unbridled love for design or how she perceives the craft as a powerful tool for self-expression and change, there’s a certain zeal to how Sharma sustains serendipitous beginnings.

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At just 30, she attracted global takers for her sustainable design aesthetics and is the only Indian designer at Swedish home décor and accessories giant Ikea. In a riveting chat with HELLO!, Sharma lets us in on working on coming-of-age designs, representing India at Ikea and her next big move.

HELLO!: Take us through your formative years. Did you always want to be a designer?

ADS: I had quite a rebellious childhood, growing up in an Indian middle-class family that placed utmost importance on education and being financially independent. Most of my extended family are engineers and doctors, and the same was expected of me. To break out of that circle and fight for what I wanted to do with my career was a long-drawn battle. Young adulthood was all about fighting fiercely to prove myself and for what I believed in. It clearly shaped me, making me who I am. Designing was never really a thought at the back of my mind while growing up, but finding a way to express my ideas was.

HELLO!: How has the transition to a new country been?

ADS: Having moved to Sweden just recently, I’ve been dividing my time between Copenhagen and Malmö. My life here is different in many ways, compared to my days in Delhi. My family has been incredibly supportive all through. I feel like I focus more on the simple things here because you basically start from scratch when you transition to a new city, country or continent! I’m still settling in and learning little things about the culture, language and customs, one day at a time. There’s a lot of visual stimuli at times, and having some kind of a rough routine helps to calm your mind.

HELLO!: What does a typical day in your life look like?

ADS: I start my day with some movement. I then set up a healthy space to work, while trying to squeeze in a break for some sunbathing. It’s something you can’t take for granted once you move to Scandinavia!

HELLO!: What are you currently working on?

ADS: Having been very passionate about the wonders of movement and exercise, I’ve had great opportunities to learn about how people live in different countries and what we can do to enable them to lead an active life at home. Currently, I’m working alongside a bunch of really creative minds at Ikea. We are researching and designing a collection of products that bridges the gap between home furnishing and movement. Besides that, there are many projects that revolve around working with waste material and developing new material to challenge the status quo, to address the challenges we face as humanity in what we do and work towards our common goal of being all circular by 2030.

HELLO!: What is your home aesthetic like? 

ADS: I wouldn’t classify my home to have a particular aesthetic. I want my home to tell a story about my journey and the passage of time. Currently, I’m having fun mixing my Indian pieces with modern Scandinavian items, along with some distinct elements collected during my many travels.

HELLO!: What are the challenges of working around responsible design for behemoths like Ikea? Is there a design philosophy you closely follow? 

ADS: At Ikea, we have committed to becoming a circular business by 2030. This is a challenge but a bigger opportunity to reshape how we see value in the things around us. One key piece of the puzzle is to adopt circular thinking during a product’s design phase, developing it right from the beginning so it can reach its full circularity potential one day. As for my personal design philosophy, I feel we, as designers, have a responsibility to make sure that our inventions and creations are not just clever, but wise; that we don’t just create things but are aligned with a sustainable future. Design is proving to be one of the most important tools in shaping our future. It has long- term impacts on climate, society and the planet. It’s very encouraging that new generations of designers are taught to have such an inherent focus on sustainability when making decisions.

HELLO!: What does a day off look like for you?

 ADS: A day off would involve working on my art, going to see art shows, diving into the food scene here, running while exploring different parts of Copenhagen and Sweden and pole training. I’m at a very interesting point here, as everyday, there’s something new to learn and discover in this new land and culture. I’m a staunch believer in leading an active lifestyle, so running, pole training or doing CrossFit after work is non-negotiable. I make time to connect with my family or friends back home, cook dinner sometimes with my partner, socialise with some friends here, go check out an art exhibit and unwind.

HELLO!: What inspires you to give your best shot, at work and otherwise? 

ADS: Not to sound entitled, but having the opportunity to do what you are passionate about makes it sustainable in the long run and pushes you to be better each day.

HELLO!: In case of designer’s block, what do you do to get back in the flow of things?

 ADS: I move. I dance, move my body, go for a run to give myself some perspective, or maybe meet or connect with a friend and listen to them. Activities like these can often give you a new perspective on certain things that can help reset the flow. But really, one should find and do whatever works for them.

HELLO!: Who do you look up to? 

ADS: Paola Antonelli and Alice Rawsthorn are doing such crucial work by having conversations around design as a powerful tool for change. Everyone should check out their initiative called Design Emergency.

HELLO!: What’s next on the cards for you?

ADS: I’m planning to set up my atelier here in Malmö and plan on focusing on my art, in addition to my design projects.

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s March 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!