Leela Morimoto was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i, but spent much of her childhood living in Japan. “My parents separated before I was 5, so I spent my childhood traveling between Osaka, Japan and Kamuela, Hawai’i, on the Big Island. Until third grade, I would spend six months in each place going to school, but when it became difficult academically, I opted to go to school in the States and then spent summers and holidays in Japan from then on,” Morimoto said.
Traveling between the two countries, Morimoto was steeped in Japanese culture. To keep her occupied as a young child, adults pushed her towards learning origami. “I’ve been folding origami since I was 3 years old. I was given packs of paper to occupy myself while the adults adulted, and what was a hobby eventually turned into much more,” Morimoto said.
She launched LeeMo Designs in 2008. Morimoto was attending the University of Oregon pursuing a degree in product design, interior architecture and Japanese at the time, and launched her design company during her summer break. However, it would take some time before the modern LeeMo Designs was realized.
“When I really started trying to turn some of my creations into profit would be 2012, when I worked on my photography and blogging skills to spread the word about my origami jewelry,” Morimoto said. “In 2013 I moved to Bend. In 2016 I left my full time job as a manager at Tate and Tate Catering to work part time so that I could pursue more creative hobbies, and about six months after launching my organizational product line, I was able to leave that part time job and commit to art full time.”
Now, LeeMo Designs is locally famous for producing jewelry, art and household products, made from modular origami designs. Morimoto recalls becoming obsessed with modular origami—where two or more sheets of paper are combined into a larger creation—when she was just 11 years old, cataloging hundreds of modular creations and keeping track of what she could create with different kinds and sizes of paper.
The origami jewelry creations produced by LeeMo Designs, like her tiny paper crane earrings, are one of a kind, literally. Each piece of origami is hand folded by Morimoto herself, who uses high quality origami paper, imported from Japan.
I’ve been folding origami since I was 3 years old. I was given packs of paper to occupy myself while the adults adulted, and what was a hobby eventually turned into much more.
It is this attention to detail and the uniqueness of the product itself that have made LeeMo Designs stand out in a saturated jewelry market. In an industry where heavy metals and precious stones reign supreme, LeeMo Designs offers colorful, lightweight and unique jewelry and accessory options that truly can’t be found anywhere else.
Beyond jewelry, Morimoto creates household products that follow the same philosophy as her origami; beauty and usefulness. “My focus has always been things that function and look aesthetically pleasing, so my line of organizational home products made so much sense,” Morimoto said.
These home products are created with a laser cutter, one of Morimoto’s more recent mediums. Of the products, many are organizational
tools—chore magnets, plant markers, laundry signs and more—that adhere to Morimoto’s standards of aesthetics and functionality.