(Leela Morimoto of LeeMo Designs | Photo by Katie Sox )
One of Cascade Business News’s Accomplished Under 40, 2017 recipients, Leela Morimoto, is truly one of Bend’s small-business success stories. After settling back in Oregon, Morimoto turned her childhood hobby into a unique design business where her creativity could flow. Morimoto loves shapes, bright colors and is constantly coming up with new organizational decor and jewelry designs. Here is her story.
Where are you from originally and how did you get to Bend?
I’m originally from Hawaii and Japan [and]went to college in Eugene at the University of Oregon, where I fell in love with Oregon. After some time traveling after college, my now husband and I opted for a move to Bend.
Your love for origami goes way back, when and how did you decide to make jewelry?
From what I hear, I was a very high-energy child, and my mom wanted to find a way to keep me occupied so she could have some down time. She got me a pack of paper, and I started folding when I was three years old. What was just a hobby to keep my hands busy when I was a kid turned into a full-fledged product in 2008 when I started making my modular origami into smaller and smaller units for earrings.
How has your design business evolved over the years?
Origami has always been what I do to decompress. Making has always been great, but paper is very limiting as a material, and I started finding myself wanting to explore other avenues of production. I had a huge shift in my work earlier this year when I moved away from solely focusing on origami and now have a line of products for organization (my other passion). Every year I look back at everything I’ve done and love seeing the design styles and inspiration all come together.
Where can the general public find your products?
The Workhouse, Alpaca By Design — Sisters, Wildroots Coffeehouse, Sand Lily Home and Oregon Body & Bath.
What is your favorite part about living and working in Central Oregon?
The community. It’s so amazing how many creative and encouraging entrepreneurs we have in our community. From artists and makers to small-business savvy people, the time I’ve lived here has been an amazing growth for myself — both in my business as well as personally. My husband and I are very lucky to have found our house and people so soon after moving to Bend.
What professional groups do you belong to?
Bend Boss Babes.
How has social media influenced your business?
I have to think more about what I want to share and not just focus on one product or what I’m immediately working on. I used to just share products as I was developing them in excitement, but it’s also important to showcase the finished items in a way that draws people in to see the whole process. In one year, I went from a jewelry line with some art items to also having over 50 organizational products in my line now. It’s been amazing the reach social media offers in terms of sharing your work — not just locally or within the state, but worldwide as well. I’ve been able to connect with so many paper and laser artists to create relationships with — we never have a sense of competition and can just share ideas with each other and help each other out.
What is new for LeeMo Designs for the holidays and next year?
I’m always coming up with new designs. I thought I was done for the year but somehow, I’m prototyping between holiday orders still.