Recently, my wife, Elizabeth was out and about and decided to pick up a few items at Ikea because she happened to be in the area (and wanted to take the kids to lunch… those meatballs, am I right?). As she drove up she noticed a line around the building. We’re talking Black Friday of old stuff here (old being like 10yrs ago haha). Rather than stay in line for over two hours to get into the store, she decided to postpone the trip. We couldn’t help but be curious. How could lines at our Ikea be around the building? The south Seattle store is huge - it’s 399,000 sq ft and is located on 29 acres. We discovered that their Markerad collaboration with Virgil Abloh was released that day.

For those unfamiliar, Vigril Abloh is a genius creator who is the artistic director for Louis Vitton’s menswear ready wear line, creative director for Kanye West, and founder of the fashion brand Off-White. I had to ask myself: how did a man whose fanbase is comprised of those who Supreme end up as an Ikea collaborator?

The answer of course, was in the line around the giant building in south Seattle. People love to get closer to the artists they love. Mass-market brands like Ikea can benefit from this surfacing this connection. In Future Commerce Insiders #013, I wrote on the value of art. Markerad puts an exclamation point on the benefits of visible collaboration with artists. The frenzied, weather-defying, product-lust of yesteryear’s Black Friday is achievable not through the deepest discounts, but instead access to new art from a beloved creator.

In the past few years, we have seen a significant decrease in the distance from manufacturer to consumer. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how their products are sourced and go so far as to expect retailers to be transparent about who is involved in the creation of their product. My view is that the next step of this commerce evolution is an even closer connection between the actual people who design and create the goods and those who buy them. While algorithms and machine learning are now often leading us to products that fit our tastes, “who” is the most important word ahead for brands and retailers. This means giving credit where credit is due, investing more in the personal exposure and growth for the people behind the products, and partnering with artists who are passionate about the collaboration (and their fans know it).

While brand collaborations with celebrities and influencers has long been a successful strategy, I am focused on the idea of retailers exposing to consumers those that actually design and create the products as the center stage draw to purchase.

Another example of a visible collaboration with an artist is Giorgia Lupi’s recent team-up with &OtherStories. This is a perfect look of how to capture an artist’s passion peculiaris through product. Giorgia Lupi has created some of the most inspiring and beautiful art based on data sets. This release tells the stories of three bold women - Ada Lovelace, Rachel Carson, and Mae Jemison - through “a collection based on data-driven narratives, beautifully visualized to reveal a deeper meaning.”&OtherStories could have easily hidden Giorgia behind their brand and - for lack of a better term - “white-labeled” her work to create their collection. Instead, she’s front and center.

Beyond the artist, what about establishing a connection with the people who put their lives into making the products we buy? The things we purchase have an impact on communities up and down the supply chain, and pioneer in ethical and fair clothing production Known Supply is connecting their customers with the individuals who are making their products. “Manufacturing has become nameless and faceless. And yet, the people behind the products we buy are anything but.” Every Known Supply product is signed by the person who made it. You can search that name on, read the maker’s story, thank the maker, and also learn about the manufacturing facilities.

Especially since Gen Z is more concerned than previous generations with social justice (equal rights, community welfare and diversity), this era seems to be an ideal time for building connections between the communities and people who pour their lives into your products and those who consume them. This will set you apart from those who continue to use manufacturing methods that harm families and exploit communities.

I highly recommend you watch Kohl Crecelius’ TedX talk on clothing manufacturing and the importance of connecting with those who make your clothes. His conclusions bridge to industries well beyond fashion. “Who” has always been important, but now more than ever excuses for making a change don’t exist. In short, consumers want to feel a personal connection not just to the product, but to the artist behind the goods.

The Lange family didn't spend the afternoon in line at IKEA Seattle. But those who see the value in the artist will go to great lengths to have and hold a piece of their work.  To them ownership of a product transcends to shared experience. They have a deeper understanding of the creators. They know their maker.


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