Last week I met with Lesley Pennington, a Canadian living in Sweden who in 2004 launched Bemz, one of the cleverest companies I've heard of recently. Bemz makes affordable custom-order slipcovers from over 160 different fabrics for over 100 different Ikea sofa styles, including discontinued models (good news for those, like me, with a tired-looking Karlanda couch at home).
"We see Ikea as a platform—they produce really great sofas, but where you see the difference in quality is in the fabrics," said Pennington, pictured above. "We talk a lot about upcycling—we make Ikea sofas into a better product. Ikea has to focus on price, but we can focus on the textiles. Each of our slipcovers is made custom to order—we take something mass market and create something new and unique. A huge company like Ikea can't offer this kind of selection, but because we're on the internet we can."
Here's the backstory: several years ago, Pennington had an Ikea couch but wasn't happy with the cover. So she looked online, assuming someone out there had already followed through on what to her seemed like an obvious idea: creating slipcovers for Ikea furniture in high-quality fabrics. Realizing no one had yet stepped in to answer this need, while on maternity leave from her I.T. job she wrote up a business plan, got funding from investors, and launched her company. Today Bemz ships out more than 3,000 sofa and chair covers every month, selling to 35 countries worldwide. Here's a selection of her fabric swatches:
I assumed Ikea might have resisted Bemz, but Pennington says they've been 100% positive. "They send customers to us all the time," she said.
All of Bemz's covers are made from all-natural, machine-washable textiles, including some beautiful Belgian linens and Marimekko and Designer's Guild fabrics. They're about to launch a new partnership with Bantie, an up-and-coming Swedish design group. See below for a preview of some of their new designs...