Startup Diaries: The Art of Paper Folding

Cathy Nunes, Founder of The Origami BoutiqueOrigami jewellery maker Cath Nunes tells us about the early days of her business and shares her top ten tips for entrepreneurs.

As a young I child I remember making things out of paper like fortune tellers, hats, planes and boats that I would send down streams in competitions with my brother and cousins. As my mum was a primary school teacher there were always craft magazines around and I used to make things out of paper from carnival masks to Christmas nativities.  At a later age I remember helping my mum to make original gift wrapping.

Since the passion for folding and working with paper had always been there it was just a matter of time before I was the one doing the special packaging for my mum's gifts.

When I went to University I left Barreiro, a city close to Lisbon and moved to Coimbra where I studied architecture. Throughout the Degree and my Masters I had to do plenty of scale models and as it was one of my favourite things to do, not even long hours and working all-nighters could dampen my enthusiasm, and the sense of pride in my work always made up for all the hard work and effort.

Making paper models always came naturally to me and I have always been quite handy, probably helped by the constant calling from my dad whenever something needed fixing around the house as a teenager.

Different materials were always available in my room during my university years and spare bits of paper were always lying around so when in a moment of inspiration I decided to make a brooch the choice of medium was obvious.

While at Uni I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit London several times and quickly fell in love with it. After finishing my Masters in 2009 I was unable to find a job in my area of expertise in Portugal.

So in 2010 I took a risk and with the support of a good friend living in London I came for 10 days to try to find a job. 

After a few days of knocking on doors of architectural practices (and not even reaching the reception of many of them), eventually I was able to leave my house-shaped origami portfolio with a company and I was lucky enough to get an interview before my flight back to Portugal. I returned a week later to start working near Russell Square and during those first few months I would cross Waterloo Bridge on my way home and felt extremely lucky to have achieved my goal of living in the great city of London.

Origami has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child it was just the simple models and after a few years away from it as a teenager, the passion was reignited with Christmas ideas and it was in my last years at Uni that I started to create pieces of jewellery. Initially it was just brooches as they didn’t require extra tools and I would only make items for myself, family and friends but I would always wear my creations and one day on a bus near Stoke Newington I was approached by a girl who complimented me on my brooch, which in London I believe is quite rare!

In the summer of 2012 when the architectural company I was working for closed down, it was the push I needed to pursue my dream and set-up my own business, making unique handmade origami jewellery.

I knew there was a gap in the market for my kind of designs and products as more people nowadays seem to want to have/wear something that gives them a sense of exclusivity, something that they won’t be able to find in all the big retailers on the high street.

My incentive was knowing I could create something original and unique and although it is more mainstream now than a couple of years ago it is still quite an unusual type of art that is becoming known and used in fashion, architecture and design.

I am inspired by the simple things in nature and have been influenced by the work of architect Tadao Ando. His work is always so striking and he uses the simplicity of lines that work very well with origami.

I aspire to create unique pieces that people love and that are timeless. All the products I create are handmade, one of a kind so no two pieces ever look the same. I make a range of different kinds of brooches, rings, hair clips, earrings as well as any bespoke designs - I love the challenge of bringing other people's ideas to life. Because of the absorbent nature of paper and the materials I use a water resistant finish to ensure durability. Right now I am working on the bridal side of the business and want to provide pieces such as bouquets and accessories. Not only will they look great on the day but they will also be a wonderful keepsake long after the wedding day. 

10 key lessons I’ve learned from working for myself and having an online business:

  •  From the initial concept to actually developing the business can be a lengthy process.

You need to stay focused and be willing to adjust to the circumstances.

  • Discover and analyse your ideal customer, maybe it is a version of you and that’s fine.
  • Do your market research; you obviously love your product, your family will love it too and so will your friends, but you need to know where your ideal customer is and if they like the product.
  • When I started at full speed winter was approaching fast and that combined with working at home by myself took its toll on my state of mind. Sometimes it is ok to step back and have a bad day when you don’t get much done. You’re only human.
  • Starting your own online business can be a lonely task; you need to network to keep sane! And at the end of the day people are more likely to buy if they know you so win/win!

The best decision I took was to join “The Girls Mean Business” a very supportive online business group. I can help others and scream for help when I need it.

They are a lovely bunch of ladies and can give advice on pretty much anything as there’s always someone who has been there and done it before. 

  • If you don’t like or don’t know about a certain aspect of your business, and can afford to, outsource. It is money well spent and you’ll have a professional doing it in half the time (or less) than it would take you.

Don’t expect people to find you just because you’re online. Having an online shop is like having a physical shop in a dark, little alley in the middle of nowhere.

You have to promote it and work on it for it to move to a busier street where more people can find you.

  • Be effective, have 10 minutes to do lists, stop the distractions, all the social networking can wait for 90 minutes! 
  • But the most important thing I’ve learned is not to be afraid. To step out of my comfort zone and go for it. After all what is the worst thing that can happen?

For many years Cathy Nunes has had a passion for Origami. After losing her job in a London architectural practice she decided to set-up her own business - The Origami Boutique - making brooches, rings, hair clips, earrings all out of paper! All of Cathy’s products are hand-made in her studio - they are water resistant to ensure durability. She creates, bespoke, one-off pieces for women with a sense of style who are looking to stand out for all the right reasons. 

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