An Auckland student has found a way to share her hobby with the world and earn more money than she does at her part-time supermarket job.
Julia Zhu, 20, makes cute origami characters the world can't get enough of. Her interest began when she was 15 after she saw a white 3D origami swan at the house of a friend of her mother. She immediately went home and searched on the internet to find out how to make one.
After learning how from YouTube videos, she developed her own kooky characters - which she often created in class by folding tiny pieces of paper to assemble later at home.
"I've always liked cute Japanese stationery, stuffed toys and stuff that has that kawaii look (a Japanese style of cute cartoons). I always walk around Asian shops, look at their stationery, toys, products and stuff, see how they're made, and get inspiration from them for 3D origami and amigurumi (crochet plush toys)."
Julia's initial intention was to pass her origami creations on as gifts and show others how to do the same. "When I was 17, I had a really severe skin infection over my whole face and body. I was seeing doctors and going to hospitals a lot, and gave some of my big 3D origami sculptures to nurses, doctors, dermatologists, to all the people that helped me.
"I felt that if I didn't know handicrafts, I wouldn't really be able to show them my appreciation and how thankful I was."
With people so amazed by her paper masterpieces, she decided to show others the skill, just as she had first learned it online.
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"I wanted to share what I knew through YouTube tutorials so others could learn and give gifts as well," says the AUT art and design student. She spent weekends and holidays making hundreds of characters and hundreds of YouTube clips. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to make one of the larger origami creations, on top of two-three hours folding the pieces of paper. The smaller ones take her about 20 minutes after an hour of folding paper.
She was as surprised as anyone when her videos gained a big following on YouTube, with requests for her to demonstrate how to make specific characters and also to recreate simpler versions of other people's diagrams and tutorial videos.
"I had videos showing what I'd made, then people wanted tutorials for them. After a few tutorials, people wanted more and started requesting all these tutorials for cartoon characters, like Disney, Pokemon, Digimon, Sanrio. They liked my straightforward way of teaching."
Now with a cupboard full of characters and more than five million views, mostly from the US and Australia, Julia is making money from her videos. She's a YouTube partner, earning more from her videos each month than she does from her two day a week job at the supermarket. YouTube accepts partners depending on their video views and subscriber numbers.
"People online started asking me, 'Why aren't you a partner?' But at that time New Zealand wasn't on the list of countries."
Now the 100 YouTube partners in New Zealand share profits from ads that run adjacent to the "most watched" clips.
YouTube spokeswoman Kate Mason says the programme has been available to Kiwis for two years and is gaining momentum as a way for people to share videos and make a bit of money on the side. Others include a 15-year-old high school student in Kerikeri who earns around $6000 a month from his design tutorials.
But Julia's pretty happy with the folding stuff she gets - $200-$400 a month - for folding stuff from her Panmure home. It's a hobby after all.