November 01, 2012
Exclusive Profile: Origami Owl
by Jennifer Workman Pitcock
Isabella “Bella” Weems, Founder
Driven by a Dream
Two years ago, 14-year-old Isabella “Bella” Weems told her parents she wanted a car for her 16th birthday. Her parents made a deal with her. If she wanted to create a business and earn the money, they would match her investment. With $350 in babysitting earnings and $350 from her parents, she invested in some clear lockets. She called them Living Lockets. Customers could customize by choosing charms to place inside the lockets.
Weems named her business Origami Owl and got to work designing and selling lockets and sharing her goal with others. She hoped to earn enough to buy an old truck—$3,000 to $6,000. But it quickly became apparent that she could earn much more. In no time, she was making thousands of dollars doing home jewelry parties and setting up booths at events, where she often outsold all other vendors.
In November 2010, she and her mother decided to take a big risk. They rented a kiosk in their Chandler, Ariz., mall from Black Friday through the Christmas holiday for $7,000 per month. In five days, they had made a healthy profit—enough to lease the space for another six months. By Christmas, they had made a five-figure profit. They ended up leasing the kiosk for a year.
Origami Owl’s Co-Founder (and Bella’s mother) Chrissy Weems soon felt the need to seek help. She enlisted her sister Jessica Reinhart to handle Origami Owl’s marketing and her brother-in-law Jeff Reinhart as Chief Operating Officer.
Although the young company had a retail location and website, customers continually asked for more. They asked, “How can we sell your products?” and “When is Origami Owl coming to our area?”
The team considered franchising. But ultimately they decided franchising didn’t line up with Origami Owl’s mission: to motivate and inspire other women to reach their own goals and dreams.
“Origami Owl was all about Bella reaching her goal and seeing her dream come true. We wanted to help others do the same.”
—Jessica Reinhart, Chief Marketing Officer
“The biggest deciding factor for us didn’t have anything to do with dollars and cents,” says Jessica Reinhart, Chief Marketing Officer. “Origami Owl was all about Bella reaching her goal and seeing her dream come true. We wanted to help others do the same. If we opened up retail locations, we were simply providing people with mall jobs.”
The Weemses and Reinharts decided that if they were going to put their whole lives into Origami Owl, they wanted the company to be something they could take pride in. They determined the direct marketing model best met Origami Owl’s mission and vision. So in January 2012 they launched Origami Owl as a direct selling company.
Where does the name Origami Owl come from?
Founder Bella Weems has always loved origami. She’s had it hanging from her ceiling since she was a little girl. It’s a perfect representation of the lockets. Each person folds in their own way, so all have unique characteristics. That’s the signature of Origami Owl jewelry. No two are exactly alike.
Owls represent wisdom, strength and courage. When they put the name Origami Owl together, Bella and her mom, Co-Founder Chrissy Weems, loved the way it sounded. They loved the meaning even more.
Keeping the Balance
In just 52 days, 1,000 Independent Origami Owl Designers signed up. Because of high sales volume, the executive team made the decision to create a wait list for new designers. “At the time we decided to create a wait list, we were having to backorder products,” Jessica Reinhart says. “We knew that could become a vicious cycle.”
The executive team made this tough call because they believed it was in the best interest of their designers. The wait list has allowed growth to take place as the company is ready. Today Origami Owl has about 4,500 independent designers. Each week, the company invites a limited number of people off of the wait list. Yet the list continues to grow.
The product line has grown as well. In November, Origami Owl is launching their Simplicity Collection, which includes an assortment of fine pewter tags with initials, words of empowerment and natural stone elements. Each piece is handcrafted in the United States. Like the original Living Lockets, all of the jewelry can be customized.
Origami Owl’s executives haven’t forgotten the company is the brainchild of its young founder, Bella. So when she and her team created their direct sales company, they wanted to include young people with an entrepreneurial spirit as part of their salesforce. Teens as young as 14 can become independent designers as long as a parent or guardian signs up with them.
The executive team believes its unique salesforce of mother/daughter teams is a defining aspect of Origami Owl. On a daily basis, they hear stories of how working the business is uniting families and helping shape kids into leaders.
“During a time when most teens are like oil and water with their parents, Origami Owl is bringing them together,” Jessica Reinhart says. “They’re learning invaluable skills that life doesn’t usually throw at you when you’re 14, like managing money and inventory. They’re developing personal skills. They’re learning how to make other people feel important.”
Finding Her Future
Since July 2011 Origami Owl has grown from five employees to a current total of 130. They’ve gone from a small office space to a large building with two warehouses in the same time.
“We’ve grown really fast,” Bella Weems says. “At times keeping up on a day-to-day basis has been challenging.”
When she started the business, Weems never could have imagined the impact that her jewelry would have on others. The stories she hears inspire her and keep her grounded. She’s particularly moved by hearing what the necklaces mean to women in the military or those who have lost a loved one. “They have things that remind them of their loved one around their neck every day, which is really special,” she says.
“I’d like to inspire women of all ages. No matter what I do, I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Weems plans to go to college and get a business degree so that she can one day run the company. She is currently interning for two months in each division of Origami Owl. On most days, Weems spends three to four hours at the office after school.
Following her dream has required sacrifices. Weems recently decided not to try out for the school play, though she loves drama and singing. She wants to spend her free time at Origami Owl’s corporate headquarters.
When she looks to the future, her first wish is to see Origami Owl become a household name. And she hopes to become a motivational speaker someday. “I’d like to inspire women of all ages. No matter what I do, I want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Weems says.
She and the executive team soon plan to launch the O2 Foundation. The foundation will have a focus on single mothers with teens, with scholarship opportunities based on leadership and entrepreneurship. They’re also vetting national charitable causes. “I passionately believe in paying it forward, especially since I’ve been so blessed,” Weems says.
The executives at Origami Owl believe there’s plenty of opportunity for other young entrepreneurs. But they warn that it’s not easy. “It has to be something that they’re passionate about. I think that success has so much to do with intention. Our success as a company was founded upon Bella’s very pure intention going into this,” Jessica Reinhart says.
Weems agrees. “In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure if I should or shouldn’t start a company. But then my mom and I took a leap of faith and look where I ended up. If you have a dream, follow your dream and make it a reality.”
One day last June, Weems’ dream became a reality. At a company event, independent designers wrote their dreams on balloons, then went outside and released them into the sky. At the moment they ascended, Weems’ dad drove up in a brand-new white jeep—her dream birthday gift that had become so much more.
“To be able to see that moment was pretty spectacular,” says Yvette Torres-Dickson, Vice President of Culture and Communications. “That’s why we’re all here.”