Designer Bubu Ogisi. Photography by Maganga Mwagogo

What one innovative African designer taught IKEA about Us & Our Planet

Could Bubu Ogisi’s haute couture recycling help the furniture giant towards a greener, more collaborative future?

Recycling isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for ourselves. That’s the message readers may well take away from the Togetherness chapter of Us & Our Planet. This new book, created and published in conjunction with IKEA, explores how to live more sustainably, based on the experience of both ordinary and extraordinary lives, showing how small changes at home will work positively towards sustainability for our planet.

“A reusable coffee cup, a well-worn cotton tote bag and a pair of jeans made from recycled denim are all small, noble efforts, alone,” argues this new book. “Scaled up – think: one billion coffee cups, tote bags, pairs of jeans – they have a visible, tangible impact. It is up to each of us to do everything in our power to make small changes in our day-to-day lives, and to encourage those around us to make small changes in theirs too.”

In producing this book, our editors took a careful look at those day-to-day lives by recreating IKEA’s own research technique of Home Visits, or trips to houses and apartments across the world to see how people are living today. The book’s final visit isn’t quite as homely as the earlier ones; we meet the Nigerian fashion designer Bubu Ogisi not at one of her many homes (she was born in Nigeria, studied in Paris, and now divides her time between Lagos, Nairobi and Accra) but in Nairobi’s Beacon of Hope workshop, where local women learn crafts such as weaving.

You may not expect to find a forward-thinking designer beside a loom, but, as the book explains, Ogisi's work combines some surprising, contemporary elements. “When we meet in the workshop, Bubu wears a warm coat made from three attached suit jackets, a hat whose style has long been associated with Mobutu Sese Seko, two dresses and faux-fur slides – all in varying shades of brown – to shield herself from the Nairobi winter,” explains Maisie Skidmore in Us & Our Planet.

Designer Bubu Ogisi. Photography by Maganga Mwagogo

In the accompanying interview Ogisi describes how she has turned a bath sponge into a handbag, is working on transforming some old carrier bags into men’s trousers, and is currently turning unwanted plastic into a new cloth that recalls a long, lost empire.

“We’re weaving with hemp and cotton, and probably a little bit of plastic also,” she says. “We’re opening up people’s minds to new eco-innovative designs. So, we’re using red, yellow, blue and the natural colour of the hemp too. The idea is based on the land of Kush.”

Kush, for those unfamiliar with ancient history, was a kingdom that ruled the Nile valley around 3,000-2,000 years ago. You see, Ogisi doesn’t just want her garments to make good use of bad waste. She also understands how, by combining the threads of today’s plastics with culture from a bygone era, she can truly bring people together.

“Apart from reading and doing research, I like to travel to different African countries, and see what the connection is between them,” she explains. “Learn about new histories, new stories. That inspires me to create. The first part of the process has to do with travelling and movement.”

IKEA’s own designers might not be bobbing among the traffic in Accra and Lagos, looking for inspiration, but, in their own way, they too have ecologically sound ways to bring us all together. The furniture giant launched its buy-back scheme in 2021, saving unwanted products from landfill. Over the past decade IKEA has also grown to become a leading producer of LED light bulbs, reducing the cost of these once pricey bulbs to just one euro.

What one innovative African designer taught IKEA about US & Our Planet

Us & Our Planet

Ikea also launched an affordable air purifier, called FÖRNUFTIG, in 2020, to meet the needs of a world where nine in ten of us breathe air that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s guideline limit for pollutants – indoors as well as out.

And the book brings news of MISTELN, a soon-to-be-launched tap adaptor that reduces water usage by over ninety per cent. “Set to retail at five euros, the compact, black nozzle comes with an adaptor kit that means it can be used with the majority of tap fittings, and boasts two settings, mist and spray, depending on how much water you require. The aerator and handle are made from recycled plastic, the inside from reinforced polyamide plastic for durability and hygiene. It’s a small but vital move towards reducing the collective impact of our bad water habits.”

To tug on this thread a little further, and find out much more besides, order a copy of Us & Our Planet here.