- South African web developer Ross Symons quit his job at an advertising agency in 2014 and started folding origami animals which he posted daily on Instagram.
- At this point, he only knew how to fold a single paper crane.
- But a year later, the French fashion house Christian Dior asked him to create origami for a campaign that paid double his former salary.
- Since then he has done origami art folding deals for global brands such as Red Bull, Investec, Samsung, Adidas, McDonald’s, Disney and Nordstrom.
- And in 2021, he landed his biggest origami job yet. — a commission of R500,000 for a single brand.
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Ross Symons was working as a web developer at an advertising agency in Cape Town when he felt “an undercurrent of having to go somewhere to work”.
“The work was good, but I was told what to do – and that always bothered me. I felt like I had good ideas and something to give, but every time I tried to share them, the boss or the most creative person would always step in, and that would pass without any real recognition of my contribution,” says Symons.
In 2013, when he was dreaming of quitting and starting his own business, but still very locked into corporate life, he opened an Instagram account called White on Ricewhere he started posting photos of the origami art he was creating in his spare time.
At first, he only knew how to fold a fairly classic origami animal, the crane. But as he spent time honing his hobby and diving deep into the online world of origami, his passion and skills grew.
Inspired by the miniaturist Loot from LorraineSymons then decided to fold an origami animal and post it on Instagram for every day of 2014 – simply as a hobby and motivation to get better at his hobby while hoping to grow more social media.
Origami Rabbit by White on Rice / Ross Symons. Picture: Provided.
Around the same time, Symons decided to quit his job and go freelance in the world of advertising – it was then that he first realized the financial potential of his growing reputation as a origami artist.
“I was hot-desking at an agency that had a client who owned a bacon bar. The person I was sitting with at the time knew I was bending animals in my spare time and pitched the idea. of an origami pig curtain. He based the pitch on me creating 250 origami pigs for the installation,” Symons says.
Though intimidated into designing an original animal for a brand and reproducing it 250 times, Symons took the job as a bacon bar, got paid for it, and realized there were companies that would pay in made for folded paper animals.
A chance meeting with the South African “origami rock star” based in Switzerland Sipho Mabona, and an Instagram frontpage of his work a few months later, was the boost Symons needed to leave the indie world behind and get into creating origami art for brands. The demand and budget available for his work amazed him, and despite “common entrepreneurial issues” around motivation and non-surrender, he managed to turn White on Rice into a viable business.
The first real indication of this came days before the end of his first 365 Days project on Instagram, when he received an email from French fashion giant Christian Dior requesting a quote for an origami piece on measure – his first large-scale origami concert.
Ross Symon. Picture: Provided.
“I was stunned, they wanted two small pieces of content for Twitter or Instagram and asked me to quote them on them in euros,” says Symons. “They paid me more for this work than I would have earned in two months as a developer.”
Over the next year, Symons dutifully completed another 365 days of origami on Instagram, and as his social media following grew, so did his business portfolio. Global brands such as Samsung, Red Bull, ADIDAS, McDonald’s, Sony, KLM, Playstation, Pixar, Nordstrom and Spar have all sought out custom creations, and he has since completed over 65 similar corporate projects.
Earlier this year he also signed a deal with banking and wealth management group Investec, who asked him to fold their iconic zebra mascot for their sponsorship of the Cape Town Art Fair.
“Working with Investec was a particularly great project. Investec needed an artist to create content and help with the design of the booth at the fair. I was able to design their origami zebra, create animation and do an installation in origami,” Symons says.
Investec zebra by White on Rice/Ross Symons. Picture: Provided.
“The work I do is tedious and requires a lot of patience and precision. People enjoy the art of what I’m able to create under these conditions. There’s also a ‘technical and creative’ element that I think a lot of people find it interesting.” Symons said.
Symons isn’t exaggerating when he says his job takes time. He recently spent three months designing an origami tiger that is not yet fully finished. And in 2016, with a team, he folded 1,600 origami butterflies for cider brand Strongbow.
Leaving the corporate world behind and origami continues to pay off, more than eight years later. Symons says her track in the advertising world helped, as did her social media following boosted by her 365 Days projects early in the business.
“I have always been approached directly by brands and agencies. Due to my social media presence and the uniqueness of my work, brands often see what I do and come up with their own ideas on how they can work with me. my work is organically generated,” he says.
Symons has since started an animation studio spinoff with his wife called New Sugar Studios. And last year he landed his biggest client deal when a brand paid him half a million rand to create ten original origami animations.
Yet the success of White on Rice took him by surprise.
“I didn’t expect this to happen at all, and I’m really grateful to be able to create original work and have people appreciate it for what it is,” Symons said.
“I remember sometimes when I was working 9 to 5, I would come home at two or three in the morning because we had to put a website online. I hated that. Now if I have to finish an urgent project and work late, I’m not sitting there hating my life, I love it!”