A thoughtful gift requires a generous dose of patience and imagination, and for most, it can become somewhat of a challenge. Wrapping it and making it presentable is another hurdle altogether. But for professional gift-wrapper Natalie Lee, it's all part of the package.

Sensing a gap in the market, the design-savvy Lee decided to set up HaoTianQi, a customised gift-wrapping service that goes beyond the functional or merely decorative. The business’s Mandarin name, HaoTianQi, translates from to “good weather”, which Lee chose for its optimistic connotations.

“We move through everything a little too quickly these days and don't get to appreciate it all,” she offers earnestly. “HaoTianQi was a way of bringing out the idea behind giving, a way of slowing things down and helping us appreciate simple pleasures.”

Sparked by a creative impulse while completing her Visual Communications degree at Swinburne University of Technology, the now practicing designer began experimenting with gift concepts for friends and family. Lee now collaborates with anyone who appreciates a holistic approach to gifting, people unafraid to think outside the box, quite literally. Working closely with her clients, Lee encourages people to look at packaging as a natural extension of the gift, imbued with the same care as the original purchase. Mimicking the whole thing is one option, as per her sports t-shirt project, where she illustrated and hand-stitched brown paper as though it were a carefully folded garment, only to reveal the real object inside via a simple cut-out detail, exposing the label.

Lee feels that the story behind the gift is key, channelling her artistic flair to materialise her customer's requirements. “I always try to go back to that when conceptualising for the gift,” she muses. “Based on certain details, characteristics and the personality of the recipient, I will source materials, textures and colour palettes to form the look and feel of the project.”

For example, Lee devised a specially felt-lined box with lace detailing enclosing two chocolate bunnies romantically facing one another as a wedding gift to an overseas couple known for their sense of humour.

While aesthetically attuned, the young entrepreneur also considers environmental limitations and prefers to use sustainable materials. “Fabrics are a favourite medium because of their versatility and the fact they can be re-used after,” she says. In one example, for a little Hanna Montana fan, she produced a fully functioning, fabric-sewn bag, zips and satin ribbons included, to house a pink mini-crocs purse within. The gift for the little girl was really a two-in-one, with absolutely no wastage. The same applies to a handmade, pink polka-dotted pouch to protect a scarf, offered to keep a friend warm after her recovery from surgery. The casing was also meant to be re-cycled into a pillow that symbolised and encouraged her period of rest, cushioning her with a sense of support.

Gift-wrapping goes as far back as the invention of paper in China in the second century AD and has developed throughout civilisations as an important craft. The meticulous art of origami is testament to this and Lee credits it as a key influence. “I remember my mum teaching me origami techniques as a child and being fascinated with how a piece of plain paper could create such three-dimensional forms, including these animals that just seemed to materialise out of a few simple folds.”

Many years have indeed passed since then, but her love for paper engineering continues to grow, as seen through her own quirky, careful folds. She is also inspired by more contemporary practitioners including Sydney-based paper engineer Gavin Wolf and design giant Paul Rand, known for his playful instincts and invention.

Project times are complexity dependent, but for Natalie the dream is to go large. “Imagine a house or a car!” Now that's a wrap.

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