AnimeChicago’s Spotlight interview series highlights local organization leaders, artists and personalities. For Black Friday, we’re chatting Hiro Morita, CEO of Chicago-based company Origami Creative. Origami recently launched Origoh, an online community connecting Japanese creatives with art-collecting enthusiasts around the globe.

AC: What is Origoh? What inspired you to start Origoh?

Hiro: Origoh is a place on the web that gathers authentic products designed by young artists from Japan. We just launched our t-shirt shop, and we’re also working on an actual website that offers more artwork, products and interactive features. We now have over a hundred artists representing a range of styles for which Japan is and will be known for, including anime, Harajuku-style, calligraphy, and digital illustration. We work together with our artists individually to help them create product portfolios to expand their fan base globally. Artists offer canvas, art prints, t-shirts and phone cases.

Now, what inspired me… I was a rocket engineer in the Japanese government before I came over to America for business school. While I was in the government, I had a chance to work with a few computer graphic artists. Because I love art, I built personal relationships with a lot of artists beyond my professional network. What I witnessed was a harsh reality faced by many artists in Japan. Fierce competition. Unstable jobs. I’ve seen corporations exploit artists for short-term profit. I want to change this. My team of entrepreneurs, artists and developers strives to create opportunities for artists to access a global fan base while they secure a steady stream of income.

AC: How does Origoh connect Japanese talent to those who purchase artwork and goods?

Hiro: We are developing an “online museum shop” where you can purchase artwork and goods from registered artists. We’re not just any website that sells art. We provide an exciting space for visitors to interact with our artists and with each other to deepen friendships through conversations over art. We will implement features that make it easier for friends to exchange artistic gifts, thereby encouraging art as a means to celebrate special moments in our lives.

AC: What is the biggest challenge for the company to date?

Hiro: Origoh is an international company, bridging artists from Japan with the global audience. It’s a challenge maintaining relationships with our artists, let alone having artists join in the first place. We’ve got over a hundred artists currently on board and this network is growing. However, it wasn’t easy to get here. We’re not yet UNIQLO, Urban Outfitters or Threadless that could attract creators instantly. As a startup with limited history, we need to build everything from scratch, including building a supportive fan base that would ultimately help our artists succeed. It’s a challenge that our team is committed to take on, and we are asking for everyone’s support.

AC: Are there plans to cultivate and connect with the Japanese pop art scene in Chicago?

Hiro: Yes. Earlier in the year, before we started Origoh, our team visited Anime Central and the C2E2 comic convention here in Chicago. It was amazing to see a lot of American creative folks in Chicago drawing inspiration from Japanese pop culture. Folks at Rotofugi, for instance, have a great lineup of Japan-inspired quirky goods at their store in Lincoln Park, and I met the owner at C2E2. Our team plans to participate in upcoming anime and pop conventions here in Chicago to promote yet-to-be-discovered creative talents from Japan. Hope to see you all there.

AC: Do you have any tips for artists aspiring to sell their artwork online?

Hiro: A lot of of artists faces challenges especially when it comes to selling artwork. Many web-based services have emerged, making it easier to sell online. For example, Etsy allows crafters of all kinds to sell hand-made products for a small commission. Society6 allows artists to license digital images for printed products. These are great, and the trend will continue. However, there are opportunities for further growth. Origoh wants to become a selling platform that gives artists as much control over their work as possible while artists themselves curate products. Once we get big enough, we want young American artists to join our community to break into Japan, fostering a two-way sharing of creativity.

AC: How can AnimeChicago readers support Origoh?

Hiro: We’re asking for AnimeChicago’s help in 3 areas:

  1. Join our Facebook community
  2. Consider purchasing a t-shirt from our artists through our online store. We have a 5% discount code for AnimeChicago members for through November: OrigohArt
  3. Wear the t-shirts to spread the word to friends.

We’re so excited to reach out to the anime community here in Chicago. Hope you all join us in our adventure as we seek to get more of Japan out to American fans. Thanks so much for your support!