Someone turning his or her childhood passion into a full-fledged career is definitely more the exception than the rule. But that’s how things turned out for Justin Thao, designer and owner of Incredifold, a lighting design company in Sheboygan that produces intricate origami lamps.
Thao says his interest in origami began early in elementary school and has blossomed ever since. But he never gave it much consideration as a career path.
Instead, he received his degree in product design from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and went to work for General Motors as a 3D sculptor. He was able to incorporate some origami into his work there. It was well-received, but he also admits his vision was sometimes hard for others to see.
“I needed to go out there to establish my own vision,” he says.
Thao left his job at General Motors in 2015 with the intention of starting his own business. He floundered for an idea for a while before having a lightbulb moment (pun intended) that origami could make a beautiful lamp. He began pulling pieces together, selling his lamps at area farm markets and learning a lot about what worked and what didn’t. In early 2018, he upgraded the lamps, trademarked the name Incredifold and officially opened his business.
Thao has one employee and primarily sells his lamps on his website. He has a few lofty goals, including venturing into more home lighting fixtures, collaborating with businesses for their lighting needs and selling wholesale to local stores.
While Thao says his career might not be traditional (and even raises some eyebrows from his friends), it’s something he knows he was born to do.
“Sometimes my friends think it’s a hobby because origami is such a tough subject. It’s not easy,” he says. “But I tell them I’m not just doing it because I like it. To me, it’s an overwhelming passion and I can’t just give up.”