Nineteen-year-old Kara Fedrigon had 60 TikTok followers in March 2020. Two months later, she had a million.
On the social media platform, she showcases her origami skills through short videos under the username @karagamii.
Now, she has 1.4 million followers, most of her videos of brightly colored creations receiving hundreds of thousands of views.
Fedrigon said the largest portion of her fan base is younger viewers, girls in the 10 to 12-year-old age range. But she has viewers of all ages, eager to watch her make three-dimensional paper objects, some with moving parts, like the transforming ninja star and paper fidget cube.
And, it must be noted, not all of her origami is made out of paper; she even has a few videos in which she transforms food into art through origami, including bread, fruit roll-ups, and, as best she could, a slice of processed cheese, something her viewers requested she try.
Fedrigon said that, as a child, she wasn't really into origami, though she was into crafting.
"My mother was a graphic designer at the time, and she always had cool paper and craft supplies at home," Fedrigon said. There were cutting mats and X-ACTO knifes, which Fedrigon wasn't supposed to use. But she did anyway, creating greeting cards and other crafts.
"I wasn't into origami as much as I was into paper," she said. It was the design of things that fascinated her. As a child, she was intrigued, for example, with the way McDonald's french fry boxes fold up and pop open. "I said, 'Mom, I want to design packaging.'"
In fact, she's majoring in industrial design at University of Illinois at Chicago, although she's currently getting her prerequisites out of the way, hoping that in-person classes will be a certainty when she takes her design courses, because, she said, they are so much better live.
COVID-19 hasn't just affected her studies; quarantine is one of the factors Fedrigon points to that probably contributed to her popularity on TikTok. The social media app saw a surge in downloads early during the COVID-19 pandemic, generating "the most downloads for any app ever in quarter, accumulating more than 315 million installs across the App Store and Google Play," according to Sensor Tower, provider of market intelligence and insights for the global app economy.
And, said Fedrigon, people have been looking for things to do, hobbies to keep them distracted and entertained when their normal pre-COVID activities might not be possible. Origami is a perfect skill to learn, something you can do with paper you probably already have at home.
Fedrigon is thrilled with her following on TikTok, particularly excited when viewers post videos of themselves following her instructions to create something. But the issue, she said, is maintaining followers.
"The hard part is keeping your audience," she said, adding that social media can be "very fickle." Finding time to make videos is hard, since Fedrigon works 20 hours a week and takes college classes.
"TikTok is really a job of its own," she said. But she enjoys it and, someday, hopes to see it pay off as well.
So far, said Fedrigon, all she can claim is bragging rights, since monetizing on the platform isn't very robust yet, TikTok being relatively new to the social media scene. She's begun to monetize on her channel, but so far anything she earns goes back into her videos. She hasn't lost money. But she hasn't made a profit yet either.
She recently signed on with an agency that will sell origami paper through a shopping-cart feature on the TikTok app. Although she won't be designing the products, she'll have a say in which ones are sold on her channel, and she'll receive a commission for products sold through her account. These products may include glow-in-the-dark or metallic paper.
"I'm very particular about the paper and packaging," said Fedrigon. "Making sure that everything is nontoxic, for example, is important, especially when a lot of my followers are kids."
Her popularity on TikTok, said Fedrigon, may have been spurred by people taking up quarantine hobbies. Aside from that, though, she said her presentation skills have helped her success.
"In high school, I was super into choir and speech, and I think that helped a lot with my online presence," she said. "There are a lot of talented people who don't know how to present things well."
With a laugh, she added: "I'm a show-off. I'm just a normal person who puts myself out there."
Community Guide 2019 - 2020
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