today is May 24, 2022

There are 250 potential combinations of carbon fiber, fabric and base materials for Mishima, a swooping 3D-printed chair and ottoman set. All of these options can be parsed through on one customization site, in a process as easy as it is inspiring. This chair-ottoman combination is the debut release of an on-demand furniture brand, also named Mishima, which developed the advanced additive manufacturing technology that allows it to turn consumer decisions into elegant furniture. Right now, Mishima has more than 70 cutting-edge printers and their capabilities are only increasing. Mishima the brand is a technology company that’s trying to change the world; Mishima the lounge set, designed in collaboration with SF-based creative studio Branch, is a light, strong and sophisticated contribution to any home.

“I am an entrepreneur. I’ve been forming startups pretty much all my life,” Sonny Vu, CEO of Mishima, shares with COOL HUNTING. Throughout his illustrious career, Vu has launched companies and invested in others. “One area, as an investment family, that we have been excited about is finding deep tech based on some sort of scientific or engineering breakthrough that has the potential for positive, planet-level impact. About 70% of what we do is climate change reversal deep tech—a lot of energy, food, materials.” Perhaps surprisingly, Mishima fits in this sector.

“When we found Arevo, it was so interesting that we didn’t invest, we joined,” Vu says of Mishima’s parent company, which is a pioneer in lightweight manufacturing. “I had never joined someone’s startup before,” he continues. “It was that fascinating, mainly because it was solving the profound problem of trying to make things lighter and less expensive. I looked into carbon fiber composites. It turned out the reason why they’re so expensive—for military jets and fancy cars or bikes—was first the cost of materials, but that has commoditized over the years. Now the process of forming the product out of this material is 80% of the cost.”

Arevo began to invent the software, machine learning tools and robots to upend the industry. Their first product to test it all out on was a bicycle named the Superstrata. At first, it took 200 hours to print. Since, they’ve been able to reduce printing time to 16 hours. Initially, it weighed four kilograms—now it’s only 2.6 and they’re quickly moving toward 1.5. Throughout these iterations, it’s looked exactly the same but the internal structure has advanced. All the while, it picked up a committed consumer base.

“Everyone thought we were a bike company so we launched a scooter,” Vu says, of the brand’s Scotsman. “Then everyone thought we were a mobility company and we had to explain that we just print stuff. We are trying to make the world lighter,” Vu says. “The Superstrata was to demonstrate the complexity of what we could do. The Scotsman was to show how fast we could come to market with something—five weeks from design to prototype. But then we wanted to demonstrate the strength of the material and what we can do—so we built a chair. That’s what Mishima is for: to show in a really elegant way something that’s very strong.”

As a design partner, Branch came highly recommended. “I asked a friend of mine, Tony Fadell, who his favorite designers were. He sent over a few names. Josh [Morenstein, a co-founder and partner] at Branch had designed the Sayl Chair for Herman Miller and the Coast Chair for Ghidini 1961. I thought that [Ghidini chair] was it: something that would show off beauty and strength. In our initial call, Josh had the idea for a single swoop and I said, ‘That’s it. We’re totally going to be able to pull this off.'” Then the Mishima team learned that this design was really complicated to 3D print. “We had to print and re-print. The main challenge was flection,” as the material has some give.

Through different versions, they ironed out all the details and now each chair prints in 12 to 14 hours, the ottoman is another few. “The minute you order, we print that,” Vu says. “It can be done in a day. Then it’s a matter of upholstering and sending to people. The bulk of the time is shipping because it’s so clogged these days.” To solve this, Vu intends to open more printing facilities in Europe and Asia.

Regarding the customization program, Vu says, “We do have a few signature designs, a few combinations that we recommend, and then there are a few that we don’t. Our concierge service will make a comment if you try to do one of those.” That concierge is an AI service that helps consumers select their options and warns them about unexpected decisions. In some cases, Mishima will also void the warranty if people select color combinations that are deemed extreme. From luscious leathers to high-end fabrics, and various colors and materials—some of which are over-the-top, like a a special edition 24K gold-polished finish—there are plenty of decisions to be made. Mishima also intends to include vegan leather down the line.

Our focus was not about utility, it was about wonder

Although Mishima’s origins are technological—and their mission is one of the sustainability affixed to making things lighter and more cost effective—design was never an afterthought. “Our focus was not about utility. It was about wonder,” Vu says. “We wanted to make something wondrous so that people get that we can make objects light and strong and just for them.”

Images courtesy of Mishima