by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

IKEA Designer Akanksha Deo Sharma on Diversity, Empowerment & Beauty

Product designer Akanksha Deo Sharma talks BEAUBIT through her experience of being IKEA’s first Indian hire, diversity and female empowerment, as well as her beauty routine.

Image credit to @shoplune

Born and bred in New Delhi, India, Akanksha Sharma (@akanksha.sharma) is the first Indian designer to join the Swedish furniture giant IKEA’s headquarters in Sweden as part of the core design team. The National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate lives up to her hyphenated job titles — an industrial designer, a textile innovator and a visual artist, Akanksha keeps trying to re-work and re-invent her style and aesthetics.

We had the opportunity to chat with Akanksha about her experience being IKEA’s first Indian hire, her definitions of diversity and female empowerment, as well as the beauty tidbits inspired by her heritage.

Tell us more about yourself.

I grew up in Delhi, India, where I studied commerce followed by fashion design. I’m a visual artist and work as an in-house designer for IKEA.

What is it like being IKEA’s first Indian hire? Have there been any challenges along the way?

Being IKEA’s first Indian hire feels empowering and filled with possibilities, not just for me but for many more South Asians to come. It’s a sign of changing times with diversity and inclusion as the future of work. My journey has been very productive, filled with incredible learnings but also with due reflections. There have been plenty of challenges along the way; whether it be about understanding my roots and how can I celebrate it while working for a Swedish giant, finding my own voice as a designer, learning how to navigate within a different culture or learning, and understanding each aspect of designing a product and how it impacts people and the planet as a whole.

How would you describe your creative process?

I would say that my creative process is constantly evolving. I derive a great source of inspiration from interacting with people from different parts of the world. Learning and understanding their stories, culture and practices helps me create my own narrative as a designer and an artist. My creative process has a framework within which I operate, but also allow the freedom to change its order and method suited to a given project or objective. I thoroughly enjoy the research, ideation and conceptualisation part of the process which allows me to think on a macro-level, further narrowing down to sharper ideas. I’m also a very visual person so I need all elements and visual food when I work on my table. 

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

To be listed under Forbes‘ “30 under 30, India” amongst some of the brightest future changemakers has definitely been a huge honour. Also, I can’t miss out the time when Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of IDEO, shared my work in front of 500 odd people as one of the designers to watch out for. I also think my project Förändring, a collection based on rice straw, part of IKEA’s Better Air Now initiative, has definitely shown me the power of a strong idea that resonates with the present and how design can make a positive impact in our lives.

What are your plans for the future?

Currently, I’ve been designing a few collections at IKEA involving some communities based in India, Vietnam and Jordan. Hereafter, I will be researching and designing how the future of living and working will look like in a post-pandemic world. We are standing at a very definite point in time socially, culturally and environmentally and my plans will be to sharpen my vision and actions towards creating meaningful work.

What does female empowerment look like for you?

“Women empowerment means engaging in a collective sisterhood that looks out for one another and helps overcome limiting beliefs and patterns by strengthening, celebrating and learning about one another—online and offline.”

It is important that we create spaces that are inclusive; where we find women allies not only vertically, but more importantly horizontally; the socially and historically marginalized; those who identify as female while also being of colour, trans or not able-bodied.

What does diversity mean to you?

I recently re-read an article by Marlon James where he said that diversity is “an outcome treated as a goal” and that makes sense. Diversity is more than just integration. It’s a natural outcome when we work to remove the filters and systems that keep certain people out based on their race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. It exists when you go above and beyond being aware of differences or accepting differences to the point of actively including people who are different from you. Diversity is learning from our differences to make the whole community a better place.

Let’s talk about your beauty routine. What does it look like?

The first thing I do when I wake up is to wash my face with cold water to refresh myself, and then cleanse with Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser (SGD28.80). For hydration, I use a different moisturizer depending on the weather and the way my skin is feeling on that particular day. Clinique’s Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator (SGD77) is a staple for me as it’s light and super hydrating. For the body, I love the luminescence of Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse Florale Mist Oil (SGD52).

One thing I’m trying to be more regular with is putting sunscreen on as I often forget. Also, hand cream is also essential now with the ongoing pandemic and excessive hand-washing.

Akanksha’s Beauty Picks
Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, SGD28.80
Clinique Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator, SGD77
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Florale Mist Oil, SGD52
Atelier Cologne Silver Iris Cologne Absolue, SGD245
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II, SGD103

What is your earliest memory of beauty and what does it mean to you?

In India, we have grown up with commercials and products focusing on fairer skin. Unfortunately, I think my first memory of beauty was a misconstrued idea about fairness. But the idea of beauty is changing and it’s more inclusive than ever.

“Beauty really does come from within; it’s a reflection of who you are and your values and everyone deserves to feel beautiful no matter what colour they are.”

What is your favourite beauty activity to indulge yourself in?

I’ve been really cherishing my newfound nighttime ritual, which relieves me of stress, and is a reminder to love and take care of myself. After washing my face at night, I apply Aesop’s Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Serum (SGD99), then moisturizer, followed by a 15-minute gua sha face massage while watching a movie or listening to music. I wonder what took me so long to try gua sha!

Are there any beauty tips from your culture that you can share?

“Indian culture emphasizes on beauty that’s directly linked to health—it’s what you put inside that shows on the outside.”

I’ve been drinking a shot of homemade amla juice regularly since February as its excellent for your hair and immunity. Turmeric has been used as a herbal remedy for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine; I make it a practice to drink turmeric tea once a day. My mother and I also do the classic turmeric and sandalwood face masks, along with coconut oil massage for the hair. 

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