At what point in your life did you first learn about your field of work? What called you to it?
Aguiñiga: Having grown up in an environment in Mexico where everything was put to use, I was drawn to artistic expression that was fully functional. My first solo apartment was above a midcentury furniture store, and I became interested in furniture from staring through the shop windows at night. I walked into the shop one day and asked the owner if I could volunteer at the store. He said you could not volunteer at stores, but that a young lady named Wendy taught furniture design at San Diego State University and I should go study with her. This led to my studying furniture design at SDSU with Wendy Maruyama for my bachelor’s, and at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with Rosanne Somerson for my MFA. While studying woodworking as an undergraduate, I was introduced to jewelry making/metalsmithing, ceramics, and textiles.
Name a woman (or women), living or dead, whom you admire or look up to.
Aguiñiga: I was really lucky to have studied under two amazing women, Wendy Maruyama and Rosanne Somerson, who are leaders in the field of furniture design. Wendy was one of the first two women to receive a master’s in furniture design. (Gail Fredell was the other.) Wendy is Japanese American and hearing-impaired and, despite adversity, persisted to become a seminal figure in American furniture design. I also had the great privilege of having Rosanne Somerson as my department head, professor, mentor, and friend. I went to RISD specifically to study under Rosanne, who had become one of my role models in design. When I was a student, Rosanne believed in me more than I believed in myself. Having had two strong women at the helm of my career made me feel like the field was ours for the taking.
Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in running a business.
Aguiñiga: You have to be resourceful, work hard, be kind, and constantly innovate. You never know who a stranger actually is and what they may mean to your business later on, so you have to treat everyone you come across with respect and never burn bridges. You also need to be true to yourself when designing and editing and explore your own story as a source of inspiration, as that is what will give your work more integrity and make you stand out from the crowd.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
Aguiñiga: I’ve always followed the advice to work smarter, not harder. I believe in assessing a situation early in the process to make sure that it will yield success, since time means money. I try not to beat something into the ground, and let go if it’s not promising.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
Aguiñiga: My workspace is part of an arts complex in my neighborhood. Because we are a part of one another’s community in and out of work, my studio neighbors are generally open to collaboration, friendship, and helping one another’s businesses thrive. I receive a significant amount of business from my studio neighbors each year and I contract them on jobs whenever possible.
On Monday, Oct. 17 Tanya Aguiñiga will appear on an incredible panel with Grace Bonney and other amazing business owners for the #InTheCompanyOfWomen Los Angeles event. Visit link here for ticket information.
Copyright ® 2016 by Grace Bonney. Photographs copyright ® 2016 by Sasha Israel.
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