London’s Origami Queen: Kyla McCallum


Kyla McCallum, the founder of east London design studio Foldability, talks to PORT about being “geekily obsessed” with origami

Founded in 2013, Foldability is the product of a competition. It was the kind of entrepreneurial challenge you see advertised all over east London – ‘pitch a brilliant business plan to win £10,000’.

Although Scottish designer Kyla McCallum didn’t win the funding, the award gave her the impetus to set up Foldability – a design studio that creates geometric, origami-inspired products. Since then, the designer has worked for Burberry, been commissioned by ELLE Decoration for an origami-inspired cover, and created over 2000 hand-folded flowers for H&M’s flagship store. Here, we chat to London’s ‘Queen of Origami’ about her age-old craft.

How has Foldability developed since it began in 2013?

The business began with a range of origami pendant lights, but now I create a large variety of things, including set design, packaging, invitations, window displays and installations. Every project is very different – one day I could be making a giant folded advent calendar for a still-life shoot and the next day a range of bespoke light fittings for a retail fit-out.

Leah Pendant
Leah Pendant

How collaborative is your design process?

As each brief is so varied, it helps to keep a level of flexibility so that I can bring in the best people for each project. I work with architects, engineers, industrial designers, fabricators, graphic designers, project managers and pleaters.

How long do you usually spend on a piece?

I love to fold and every project is so different, so I still have a lot to learn and explore. It’s very therapeutic and relaxing. If anything, I wish I could spend more time folding and less time on all the other aspects of running a business!

I often work on a few different projects at the same time: some can be just a few days and others weeks, months or even years. The actual folding aspect is often not the thing that takes the most time; I spend a lot of time on design, product development, testing materials and refining production techniques.

The making of ‘Transitions’

How does your work challenge perceptions of origami?

Often people think origami is limited to paper but almost everything is foldable. So far I’ve worked with paper, fabric, metal, composites and ceramics. It’s possible to use a fabric pleating process to fold all sorts of things from dried fish skin, to metal mesh and dried flowers. I’ve also been exploring machine techniques for speeding up the folding process and opening up the possibilities to use more rigid materials such as metal.