Despite – or maybe because – I spend, as many of us do, and inordinate amount of time on the computer, I have a real soft spot for paper. No amount of digital wizardry will ever (I don’t think) make me stop reading books in their physical form. I understand the benefits of an iPad but prefer the real deal. I enjoy the feel of a book in my hands, the smell and crinkle of each page. It’s the paper that makes it. I enjoy the look and textures of decorative papers; admire the ability of artists to form delicate beautiful things from a piece of paper; wish I had more patience to make origami …
Which is precisely where this week’s interviewees come in. Melbourne-based Carolyn Wong and William Du’s business was formed around the art of origami and artworks made from specialty papers. Not only that, their aim is for each piece to tell a story. As Carolyn says, ‘We believe everyone has a story to tell and that designing products inspired by these stories is a beautiful way for the world to connect to each other’.
It is such a lovely idea and a lofty ideal and one in which they have succeeded. You only have to look at their ‘Happy Pills’ (below) to see their vision in action!
Here’s what Carolyn had to say about their creative journey …
I love the stories behind some of your creations such as the Hope in a Box. Tell me your stories – who are you, what is your background, and how have you ended up where you are today?
We both come from artistic families and the long story short is that we were both travelling the normal path of studying hard and completing our education to secure a good job. But we were feeling a little uninspired and wanted to do something more. We studied a short course in business and received a government grant to start our own business. Our first product was storybook frames where we offered a scrapbooking frame to children in kindergartens.
We tried whatever it took to pioneer our product, however after many months of going what felt like nowhere we hit a low point. It was then that a friend bought me a small box of origami paper to help me pass this time. I escaped through origami and revisited my childhood hobbies and started folding.
A week passed before Will suggested that it would look beautiful framed up, and from there the business quickly grew to include products that people can escape into and connect with. The brand became something more than just a gift-ware line; more than just beautiful objects. We became obsessed with designing quality products that share a story and have something more to offer.
Our vision became to inspire people to interpret and appreciate the finer details and share stories all over the world. We believe everyone has a story to tell and that designing products inspired by these stories is a beautiful way for the world to connect to each other.
When and why did you begin exploring/ working with paper?
Paper is an amazing discovery. It was discovered by the Chinese in the 2nd Century BC before revolutionising the entire world and the way we communicate. With such a simple product it had the ability to connect the entire world.
The Japanese then adopted this technique and made beautiful designs and intricate patterns. Many papers were handmade and silkscreen printed – each piece taking more than 40 minutes to complete.
Origami is such a traditional art form. It’s so raw and back to basics. We think in this technology-driven world it is amazing to preserve this art form and practice the intimacy of paper. It brings me back to when I was a little girl and wrote letters to friends and family to keep in contact. Writing an email these days just doesn’t feel the same. And this is the personal touch and intimacy we want to embody in our products.
Tell us about the paper you use
The papers we use are predominantly Japanese Washi paper. We also use Italian, Indian and some Thai papers too.
For the washi paper there are only a few families in Japan who still practice silk screen printing rather than digital printing. These papers take more than 40 minutes to dry and set as each layer of colour is hand-printed on and left to dry before the next colour is layered on top. The more patterns and intricate the details, the longer the paper takes to be made. This is the beauty in chiyogami.
Can you tell me about the creative process and how you go about making some of the different pieces?
The creative process – to put it plainly – is everywhere and it can be totally spontaneous. We may receive a thank you email from a customer that will totally inspire us to start a new range, or we may simply draw upon our childhood stories and memories and retell that tale through our products. Like our Hope in a Box, which is inspired by a little Japanese girl called Sadako who is the epitome of hope and peace. She followed the legend that if you folded 1000 paper cranes you would be granted one wish. Sick in bed after the atomic effects of WWII, her passing wish was to hope for world peace and healing from suffering.
I believe this is such a beautiful story that if told in the right way has the capacity to really touch people’s lives. Thus, her story can live forever and continue to affect people’s lives in a positive manner.
When we find good stories, we look at how we can best share that story and the designing process begins. Sometimes it happens the other way around but there is always a story somewhere in there even if it is just appreciating the craftsmanship or the way a product is made.
What have been some of the challenges you faced in setting up your own business? What’s one piece of advice you would give to others wanting to do the same?
It was certainly the storm before the rainbow for us. We had about six months of self- doubt and just pushing through blindly. My best advice is to take it step by step and to definitely just get started. The quicker you try, the quicker you learn or succeed.
You don’t regret the things you tried in life, only what you held back on.
We draw inspiration from …
All things around us. We love going back to nature and appreciating the natural balance of everything. We love talking to people and hearing everyone’s stories. Learning, learning and learning!
My guilty pleasure is …
Having a little time out and filling my entire bed with snacks and yummy foods while catching up on all our TV shows (idiot box).
The most original gift I have ever been given is …
A little box of origami paper for my birthday that started this whole journey.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Absolutely. Our entire business is a who’d have thought moment. Who’d have thought that two people with no business background and experience would be able to inspire and share stories all over the world? We are totally awestruck by what we have achieved and we mean it when we say that the sky’s the limit. You can achieve anything if you just put your mind to it!
Thanks so much Carolyn and William and the good news is we’re going to be stocking some of their beautiful pieces in the store very soon! Watch out for new arrivals on our Facebook page.