It all started with cardboard.
Mimi Tin, a 1989 graduate of Baylor School and now a resident of Atlanta, launched a line of furniture last fall based on colorful sushi rolls and today will launch a line of children's ottomans and dolls.
"Based on the pop art movement, I love things that appear to be larger than life," she said. "I think it's very whimsical and kind of humorous. It evokes some kind of emotion in people. I wanted to do that with the furniture I created. I didn't want to just make something people had seen before. I wanted it to (have) a wow factor, like this is something you've never seen before."
Ms. Tin, 38, said her interest in design began when she saw the 73-story Peachtree Center Plaza Hotel when her parents took her to Atlanta when she was 5. Used to a lack of toys from her earlier life when her family fled its native Burma (now called Myanmar) amid political turmoil, she re-created the landmark hotel out of cardboard and paper.
"That played such a big role," she said of her cardboard-fueled imagination. "I guess that really helped us (her and her brother) be inspired and create our own little world."
Ms. Tin's own world of furniture, called Sushi Style, includes chairs, benches and ottomans, each with colorful, embroidered designs, micro-fiber suede fabric and wooden frames.
She came up with the idea for the furniture while doing a project during a graduate school class at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta.
"I like pop art and that style of furniture," Ms. Tin said, "and I wanted to put an Asian twist to it. I just really liked the way (sushi) looked because it's so beautiful with the colors and the shapes and everything. It's such an art the way that they make (it)."
The rolls, she thought, resembled cushions.
"Through the years, I've refined (the original design)," Ms. Tin said, "and made it more workable. Now it's turned into a sleek, high-end-looking ottoman."
At the time, she said had no money and no contacts, but the friends she bounced the idea off encouraged her to go forward with it when she could.
Some 10 years later, Ms. Tin launched the line. And today, she juggles Sushi Style with her Mimi Tin Designs graphic arts business and classes she teaches at the Portfolio Center.
Presently, her furniture is available at the Lotus Fine Arts Gallery in New York City and through her Web site (www.sushistyle.com). However, she hopes to pitch the line in Sydney, Australia, in early March, expects to have a Los Angeles launch in early spring and already has patented the line in Japan. Eventually, it may expand into different styles and shapes, she said.
Today, in Atlanta, Ms. Tin will officially launch Sushiami, her children's line that includes poufs of soft poly or high-density poly filling; dolls that were modeled after her Chattanooga-resident, 6-year-old twin nieces Brooke and Sydney Tin; and T-shirts.
"I had looked around for Asian dolls for the girls," she said, "and it's really hard to find, so I was like, I'll just design dolls that look like my nieces and have them made. And so that's what I did."
The line also will have a showing at the International Toy Fair in New York City next month, Ms. Tin said.
"I'm a big dreamer, and when I came up with the (original) idea, I thought this could be something really exciting," she said. "I wanted to make something and have it manufactured and start my own company -- do something for myself. I'm really excited."