By Opalyn Mok
GEORGE TOWN, Aug 10 ― For Cherly Loh, origami is not only about folding paper cranes. She took the initiative to train under a Japanese origami master when she lived in Japan and became an origami artist certified by the Japanese Origami Association.
Loh picked up this interest in origami back in 2007. During her free time at her home in Japan, she would fold many different types of objects. But instead of folding them for decoration, she made them smaller and turned them into jewellery pieces. That is how her Unigami line of earrings was born.
Her delicate earrings of colourful origami shoes, cranes, flowers and purses are unique art pieces that are carefully handcrafted. No two pairs of earrings are exactly the same as she uses different patterned Washi paper for each pair. Each piece is then coated for durability to make it moisture-proof so that it would not tear easily before being fashioned into earrings.
“I had to commute two hours to and fro each day to the origami master’s place to learn the full art of origami but it was worth it as I simply love creating these pretty art pieces that women can wear,” she said.
Loh’s wearable art was a bestseller in Japan as she painstakingly ensured that each pair is crafted perfectly with minimal flaws.
“My Japanese clients are very particular about this kind of jewellery and they only want the best materials so I am careful to ensure each pair is as perfect as possible while using only the highest quality materials such as the Chiyoda paper for the origami pieces,” she said when met at the Little Penang Street Market.
Loh and her husband, Kenneth Ch’ng, lived in Japan for more than seven years before they came back to Penang last year. Now, they are trying to break into the local art and costume jewellery scene with her unique pieces.
“Over the years, I have travelled to and fro to participate in LPSM every few months so we are not exactly new to LPSM,” she said. Once they moved back here permanently, Kenneth said they immediately patented all of Cherly’s origami earring designs to prevent others from copying her designs.
Other than creating origami earrings, she has also started origami workshops for those interested to learn the art of origami. According to Ch’ng, while the art scene in Penang is growing, it is still moving at a rather slow pace so the market for Loh’s Unigami earrings is still very small and quite limited.
“What we are getting are mostly orders from return customers, Japanese and tourists,” he said. Despite this, he believes that locals will slowly mature and learn to appreciate this kind of wearable art in future. “What better way to collect unique pieces of art and show them off than to wear them?” he asked.
The couple is now in the midst of searching for a suitable space to set up their origami workshop and jewellery store. “We are considering several locations and once we find one that is suitable, we will open our own store and expand our collection of origami jewellery,” Loh said.
They are entering a niche business that may just capture the attention of jaded Penang residents looking for something fresh and new. This local culture of hunting for the latest and the newest maygive budding entrepreneurs like Cherly Loh, or Eugene Lim the fashion handbag designer, or Mah Chun Huey the marshmallow maker a boost in their business.
Whether this can be sustained remains to be seen but it is hoped that with a growing maturity and appreciation for the arts, small businesses like these will continue to flourish, contribute towards the state’s economy and more importantly keep alive a spirit for innovative creativity.