In May 2019, in a renovated industrial warehouse on the west side of Manhattan, Alejandro Vidal Ruiz stood proud. He had just won WantedDesign’s 2019 Launch Pad online voting competition.
For the past seven years, WantedDesign, a New York-based platform that promotes design and fosters creativity all across the globe, has been hosting an exhibition where emerging designers can introduce their furniture, lighting, and home accessories on an international scale. Launch Pad happens every year during NYCxDESIGN, a much larger city-wide festival that showcases everything from the latest in New York architecture to prototypes from emerging furniture designers.
When we first met Ruiz at this year’s event, he was standing in the main hall with the other exhibitors. Unlike the work of his peers, however, we found Ruiz’ work to be refreshingly humble, with fine craftsmanship always at the forefront of each design, and ergonomic.
Yes, the work that Ruiz had on display was impressively subtle among the works of more seasoned designers. You could scarcely believe that just seven months earlier, he was only studying industrial design. It was October of 2018, and he had just graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a diploma in Industrial Design of Objects.
So just how did Ruiz go from the graduation podium to the top of a digital podium at an international design exhibition in such a short window of time?
Back in 2013, her started a company called Trotamundo Wood & Design out of Mexico City. At the time he was working towards his Master’s in Architectural Design, but it was more theoretical than technical. “I had a scholarship that didn’t allow me to work,” he explains, “so I decided to study carpentry at the same time as well to balance some theory with some practice.” About two months after that, Ruiz was loving carpentry so much that he began making furniture for his family and friends. By 2016, he had completed both his Master’s program and his carpentry studies.
After the completion of the program at UNAM, Ruiz submitted the plans for his Bifront bench set to participate in Launch Pad and gain exposure for his furniture making. By February of 2019, he had been selected to participate in the WantedDesign exhibition. The only challenge was that he had to cover the exhibition entry fee and the shipping costs from Mexico City to New York City. He thus turned to Kickstarter, setting a crowdfunding goal of $40,000 MXN (just over $2,100 USD).
To sweeten the deal for his backers, Ruiz made wooden coasters in his shop for rewards, along with tote bags, screens with the Bifront logo on them, stickers, and t-shirts. By the time the second week of March came around, Ruiz had already met 50 percent of his initial goal. This achievement was so impressive, in fact, that Kickstarter even catalogued the Bifront campaign as one of their favorites. Two weeks after that, the goal had been fully met.
That is how Ruiz came to stand among an international set of designers (and come away with a bit of acclaim) at the exhibition. Not only that, but immediately after the exhibition was over, the Bifront set shipped to New York was bought by a New Jersey woman who wanted it for a showroom that she was curating. “It was very helpful because we didn’t have to bring it back home,” he says, “and [it] also helped a lot to pay for some of the expenses.” He has already started work on the second generation of Bifront furniture.
As a designer, it’s not uncommon to get attention for a fleeting moment only to have it immediately taken away. People are always searching, scrolling, and swiping for something new. Nevertheless, designers continue their work for the love of the craft. Based on the success of his Kickstarter campaign, our reaction to his work, his winning the award at the exhibition, and a complete stranger buying his work on a whim, it’s pretty safe to say Alejandro Vidal Ruiz will be busy making furniture for a long time to come.