ORIGAMI OWL FOUNDER
Bella Weems never saw herself as a teenage founder of a multi-million dollar company. All she wanted was a few thousand dollars for a car.
“When I was 14, I went to my parents and told them I wanted a white truck for my 16th birthday. They said I wouldn’t be getting a car unless I earned one, and that in our family if you want something, you have to work for it. It seemed like everyone at my high school was gifted a car, so I was disappointed, but I did respect their decision.”
As Bella was brainstorming what she could do to earn money for her car fund, jewelry automatically came to mind. As a little girl, some of her fondest memories were visiting the bead store with her mom, picking out favorites and integrating them into necklaces and bracelets for herself and for her friends. As a crafty kid, this seemed like the perfect fit. In that moment, Origami Owl was born.
Making the jewelry was enjoyable, but selling it was a different story. As an insecure 14 year old girl, it was hard to put herself and her designs out there, especially with constant negativity from those who doubted her, but she pressed on.
“I blocked out the negative voices and listened to those who supported me, I just went on with faith veryday, believing I could do it and that everything would work out the way it was supposed to. I knew that if I gave it my all and did my best, I would be satisfied with the outcome no matter how successful I was.”
Success came eventually, but there were a lot of long days and nights and serious sacrifice both personally and as a family before Origami Owl would really take off. Bella would spend all day in high school classrooms, then all afternoon and evening at her mall kiosk, selling her designs. She tried to live a “normal” teenage life, participating in theater, choir, school musicals, and high school social life, but it was tough.
“There were so many days when I just felt overwhelmed like I couldn’t do it anymore. Running a business and being a high school student is not easy. One night I remember working at my kiosk and feeling like I couldn’t handle it all. I sent a text to a few of my friends and within 30 minutes they were all there helping and supporting me.”
Surrounding herself with great people has been the key to Bella’s success. “You can’t do anything in life alone, so surround yourself with people who believe in you.” Bella’s parents have loved and supported her on every step of this journey, and she has amazing friends and business associates who share her enthusiasm for Origami Owl. She keeps everyone on the same page by creating vision boards and sticking to their mission statement, “Be a Force for Good,” which directs every decision they make as a company.
Valuing people, having a vision, and living by a mission statement has been essential as Origami Owl has expanded again and again. In the board room, Bella is often the youngest person around the table, and has had people be dismissive of her success and opinions because of her age, but it doesn’t get her down. She has a burning faith in herself and in her purpose that carries her right on by those who don’t think she is old enough or experienced enough to do something great. She enjoys proving them wrong time and again and hopes her story inspires other teens to take a leap and follow their passion without hesitation. “Never let anyone tell ou you are too young to follow your dreams.”
Today there are thousands of teens pursuing their dreams in Origami Owl’s Owlette program. The program was created by Bella in an effort to educate and inspire young business owners. The Owlette program allows youth ages 12-17 to sell Origami Owl jewelry alongside their parent or guardian. “I think it is so important for kids to have the chance to make money, grow a business, and manage their own finances at a young age, so we wanted to create a program that would help them have those opportunities.”
Each Owlette has a different work experience depending on the designer they are paired with. Some Owlettes host parties and work the jewelry bar, others fill orders and check inventory, some take payments and work on marketing and some do it all. Each Owlette is paid by the designer for his or her services and learns valuable lessons about running a business.
Christina Nguyen, her son Zachary Taylor (17) and daughter Alexa Taylor (15) have become quite a team. This trio works the Origami Owl business together, Christina as a designer and Zachary and Alexa as Owlettes. It has given the teens money for electronics and future cars, but more importantly it has given them the skills and confidence they will need for long term success.
Christina has seen incredible changes in her children since involving them in her business. “One of the things I love about the Owlette program is we have a way for our teenagers to learn about entrepreneurship, running a business, poise, and public speaking--while at the same time they can balance the other things in their life that are important, such as school, family, and church obligations.”
Both Zach and Alexa have enjoyed the extra money in their bank accounts and their boost in confidence from presenting and selling, but what they have loved the most is the time it has given them to really get to know their mom. “My mom’s outgoing and confident – she won’t ever give up on something,” said Zach. And Alexa chimed in, “I love her personality. We’ve gotten closer. Now we have something we share that we like doing.”
Creating connections and an avenue for personal success is exactly what Origami Owl is all about. Attending a Jewelry Bar event is so much more than finding a favorite piece of bling; it is a chance to tell your story. The “Living Locket,” Origami Owl’s signature creation allows people to celebrate, connect, and heal as they reflect their own heart in a piece of jewelry. Those hosting their first Jewelry Bar experience are often surprised by the emotion and beauty of watching someone assemble their first locket. Memories are made, tears are shed, laughter is shared and there are always lots of hugs and sparkle to go around.
With such an abundance of life changing stories, Origami Owl wanted a way to share them, so they created www.livesparkly.com where women and young women from all over the world tell their own living locket story. Some are emotional stories of personal struggle, others are joyous tales of family triumph. Each story is unique but tugs at the heart just the same.
Bella’s story can be summed up in her own living locket. Hers holds: a “B” for Bella; a sun to remind her to be a positive light to others; a few of her favorite things like sunflowers, cupcakes, and pizza; a music note and piano to represent her love of music; her birthstone; and a butterfly to illustrate her immense growth since she started the company and as a reminder to keep growing.
FORCE FOR GOOD
Currently, Bella is especially focused on the growth of Origami Owl’s Force For Good initiative. As a young girl, Bella remembers wanting to make a difference in the world. Sometimes she made a difference by giving a dollar to a homeless person on the street; other times, she made a difference by volunteering with a local charity. “I have always known that I wanted to do something in my life that would impact other people for good. I have been so blessed in this business, and my goal now is to pay it forward.”
Origami Owl is paying it forward on every front. They sell charms dedicated to specific causes and donate the proceeds to the respective charities. In addition, each month an Origami Owl founder heads out to surprise a local charity with a check. These non-profits are often shocked to receive an unsolicited gift that makes such a difference to the people they help. Recently, Origami Owl teamed up with the Microsoft Store to support Helping Hands for Freedom, an organization that helps the families of wounded or deceased veterans find temporary or permanent housing when it is no longer covered by the military.
Bella is especially attached to Child Help which is a foundation that paves a way for abused and bullied children to break free from their abusers and begin to heal. “We have worked with them for quite a few years in helping children understand how to speak up and be safe. We partner with so many different charities throughout the year and love being able to support their efforts.”
Just as Bella believes no one is ever too young to go after a dream, she also knows that there is no age limit for being a light in the lives of those around you. “You don’t have to have money to make a difference. It can be as simple as giving a smile to a stranger, offering to sit with someone who looks lonely, sharing your talents, or volunteering your time with a local charity. I believe with all my heart that one person can absolutely change the world.”