The second designer we’re spotlighting for Design Milk’s 15th Anniversary is Tanya Aguiñiga, a triple threat artist, designer and craftsperson whose work we’ve been covering since 2010.
“I actually started as a community activist,” Tanya reminisced, “focusing on migrant rights and border issues as part of the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo.” Based out of Los Angeles, she later went on to study design, but kept her two interests – that of activism and design – separate.
Tanya first began her business somewhere around 2001, per her estimate, designing, making and selling homegoods. “At the beginning, they were super mid-century obsessed pieces, then very 70’s plastic fantastic in their vibe,” she recalled. All of this was happening at the same time as she was studying furniture design as an undergrad in community college and at San Diego State University. “Later, in grad school, I started getting more interested in jewelry and fashion, while continuing furniture design studies and making homegoods.”
The first project that landed Tanya’s work in galleries and on early blogs, as well as helped spread word of her work, were her hand-felted birds. The irony is that they were initially created as tests as she was experimenting on ways to fully hand-felt folding chairs. But then they became their own sensation. She said, “I literally ended up making thousands, felting till my hands bled. After that, the folding chairs garnered lots of attention and pretty much gave me a big opening into the world of contemporary design.”
The work Tanya is creating now is mostly focused on using Craft to aid in social justice and migrant rights. “I’m creating large-scale fiber sculptures in a femme-centered studio, which are sold in galleries. It’s how we pay for mutual aid initiatives. I’m also currently super proud of starting a ceramics studio at an LGBTQ+ Asylum Shelter in Tijuana,” Tanya shared, she herself born and raised there.
“I’m currently exploring starting a non-profit for my AMBOS Project’s (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) initiatives. It’s really exciting to think about how we can grow a stronger community of supporters to help fund border-based arts initiatives that help advocate, provide and expand access to safety and the arts.”
Tanya’s work employs craft to generate conversations surrounding identity, culture and gender while at the same time creating community. This approach has helped museums and non-profits, in both the U.S. and Mexico, diversify their audiences through marginalized communities and collaboration.
Tanya mentioned that Design Milk showed up on her radar shortly after graduating, when she was looking for blogs that covered international design. “Design Milk was one of my favorite and regular sources of inspiration.” Eventually we reached out and began working together. Tanya participated in our first NYC design week event—East Meets West! Popup at Bobby Berk Home in 2013 and then again at WestEdge Design Fair in 2014.
“I really loved when Jaime gave me the assignment of taking pictures to show what my day was like. It was super fun to get to show the community and chaos of our studio!,” she said thinking back. “Honestly, the most fun has been meeting other designers in person [through Design Milk]… especially thinking about our current isolation during the pandemic. I also really loved being exposed to new designers from around the U.S. and internationally.”
“Tanya’s work captivated me from the very first time I laid eyes on it,” says Design Milk Founder Jaime Derringer. “I came for the work, but I stayed for the activism. Tanya’s story is courageous and honest, and she never ceases to surprise and inspire me with what she does.”
Design Milk is thrilled to have played even the smallest part in sharing Tanya’s talents and causes far and wide. We know that whatever she puts out into the world next will be full of beauty and meaning.