Rebecca Rodriguez

FOUNDER / MAKER / SOLE PROPRIETOR - DIRTSA STUDIO

I'm a Puerto Swegian (Puerto Rican, Swedish, and Norwegian) native of New Jersey who is obsessed with color, pattern, and design. My dreams of becoming a museum curator fell by the wayside when my creative side-hobbies started getting attention. So I left the worlds of academia and museums to become a window and display artist for Anthropologie, before starting my own full time business designing and making handmade homewares and decorative accessories. I couldn't be more thankful for the unexpected twist life has thrown my way.

What makes you stand out in the maker community?

The maker community is amazing and I'm loathe to suggest I have a leg up on any of my counterparts. Rather than comparing myself, I'll just share why I think I've been a commercially successful maker for almost eight years: I'm committed to excellent craftsmanship and to designing things I truly love and believe in, rather than chasing trends.

Tell us about your work and the projects you are currently working on.

My small business -- dirtsa studio -- is my full time job and only source of income. I sell my handmade creations directly to customers online, as well as wholesale to small businesses (and occasionally larger retailers).  Historically much of my work has had a nostalgic bent, I adored primary school and many of my items tap into those school-days memories (maps, library cards, learning to write, etc.) But lately I've also been inspired by current events and have found myself creating items that help people express their social and political values -- from immigrants rights to girl power.  I've also been soaking up the artisan work of cultures outside the U.S. My husband is from Colombia, and our trips to his homeland make me itch with inspiration and the desire to celebrate the look and feel of other cultures and places. All my items are 100% designed by me, and most are handmade.  The only items that I have any manufacturing help with are designs that involve custom fabric which I design, then pay to have printed up for me. But even then, the finished product is finished by me in my home studio in New Jersey.

Who is your favorite contemporary artist or maker?

So hard to pick, I'll give you one specific person and one more general group of people: 1. Okuda San Miguel (@okudart on Instagram).  His work is this crazy mix of fanciful and colorful with some amazing perspectives.  And he does sculpture, painting, and even has his mom help him do these gorgeous embroideries (which I love, since my mom is my default helper!).  I eat up his Instagram feed like candy. 2. The Wayuu people of Colombia.  They are a native tribe of South America (along the Colombian/Venezuelan border) who still speak their own distinct language. My husband introduced me to their story.  They make the most intricate and amazing hand woven bags in bright patterns and colors.  One bag can take them an entire week of full-time weaving.  It's the kind of thing that has been copied and bastardized a lot, but the real thing is just breathtaking.

What inspired you to become a maker?

Desperation. While I really did love studying and being in school, when I was in graduate school I felt desperate to do something outside of a book or a computer, so I started playing around with a sewing machine I had inherited.  I fell in love with the process of designing and choosing materials and the satisfaction of making something with my hands. (To be fair, I grew up in a very DIY house, so we always had some form of ""making"" going on when I was a kid. But it took the desperation of being an overworked graduate student to really kick my making into high gear).