Like most high school seniors, Isabella Weems is balancing school work with extracurricular activities, all while deciding where she will attend college after graduation.
But unlike most high school seniors, Weems also works almost everyday; not at a grocery store or a fast food restaurant, but at her own custom jewelry company, Origami Owl.
At 14 years old, Weems decided she wanted to be able to buy a car for her 16th birthday. Her parents advised her to start babysitting but after many weekends of babysitting, she only earned $350.
Weems then had an idea to create and sell custom lockets with charms. The “living lockets” allow each individual to design a personal locket that means something to them.
The charms range from butterflies to crosses to footballs and can be mismatched to get the look you like. You can also include plates in the locket with statements like “love life” and “survivor.”
“One thing that was really special about the charms and the lockets was they tell a story about yourself and who you are and that was something that I was really passionate about,” Weems said.
Weems originally started selling them out of her Chandler home to friends and family, but as other people began to see her products, her business grew. She began selling them at craft fairs, jewelry fairs and at a stall at Chandler Fashion Center.
Flash forward to today. Bella, who attends a local high school in the Chandler Unified School District, earned enough money by her 16th birthday to purchase a white Jeep Wrangler (she named it “Alice”). Now 17, Bella’s company has more than 700 employees in Chandler and more than 40,000 independent designers that sell Origami Owl products across the country.
“A lot of people have a dream in mind but not a lot of people go after their dream and actually achieve it,” Weems said.
Because of the rapid growth in the past three years, Origami Owl recently appointed 10 executives to oversee the company.
Robin Crossman, Origami Owl CEO, began consulting for Origami Owl in January and became the CEO in May.
“I loved it,” Crossman said. “I loved the energy, I loved what this company stood for — a force for good — and I was looking really for that organization that fit my ethics.”
Origami Owl hosted its first convention in July in downtown Phoenix. About 2,300 designers came to the convention which centered on leadership, training and advice on financial independence.
“Okay, so you’re supposed to have a convention to really motivate your field,” Crossman said. “I have to tell you, it goes both ways. We come back totally energized because these women are so positive and so excited about what they’re going to do with their business and how it made a difference in their lives.”
Crossman said the company tries to empower women to succeed, and that Weems has become a role model for young women.
“I made it a goal to help other women and men achieve their dreams because having the feeling of reaching your dream is something that I had never felt before ... I wanted other people to experience that same feeling,” Weems said.
Weems is now a motivational speaker and inspires people throughout the country to set goals and go after them, no matter their age. Bella also works with the "Owlette Program," which allows 14-17 year old girls to become independent designers and sell Origami Owl products. She holds monthly phone calls with the owlets to inspire them to be a “force for good in their own lives.”
“These young women learn responsibility and business basics and they learn so much about themselves and what they can be and it gives them great confidence,” Crossman said.
As much as she is involved with her company, Bella has one bigger priority- finishing her senior year and pursuing higher education.
“Balancing everything has definitely been a struggle that I’ve had to work on over the years,” Weems said.
On top of regular school work, Weems is also deeply involved in the theater program at her school. Crossman said that she tries to make sure that Weems has a normal high school experience.
“Sometimes we have to push her and say ‘yes, this is important and we love you but remember, school come first,’” Crossman said.
After graduation, Weems said she will be attending college but she hasn’t decided where. She also hopes to help other young businesses grow bigger and help secure tools for them to succeed.
“Learning from past experience of growing my own business, I want to be able to give other people the tools they need to grow their own business because it could be scary in the beginning and I just want to be able to motivate them and give them the tools they need for their business,” Weems said.
Jessica, a junior studying journalism at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern with the Tribune this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6548.