BETTY-LOU: posed in her adopted environment.
Ramona is a tattooed rockabilly chick with cat’s-eye glasses and a twin-lens-reflex camera strapped around her neck. She shops at vintage clothing stores, loves horror movies, and wears a red-and-white polka-dot dress that makes her butt look big — but she likes it that way. Her best friends are Betty-Lou, a pink-haired girl who’s into jitterbugging and bulldogs, and Link, a chain-smoking greaser with an affinity for hot rods and pin-up girls. Ramona and her friends are known as the Ginchys, and, for between $44.95 and $169.95, they’ll remember anything you want them to.
The Ginchys are Mimobots (pronounced Mee-moe-bots), meaning that Ramona, Betty-Lou, and Link are electronic-silicon creatures whose ancestors originated from planet Blõôh. What this means is that they’re USB flash drives — thumb-size portable data-storage devices with between 512 MB and four gigabytes of memory. They are also designer toys created by West Coast artist Lili Chen and manufactured by a company in Brookline called Mimoco.
“Designer toys” are hybrid novelty items, falling somewhere between action figures and tabletop statues — toys regarded more as objets d’art than as playthings. The KidRobot line (kidrobot.com), for example, features cartoony rabbit-shaped characters called Dunnys, whose personalities range from a black-clad anarchist to a zombie vampire, depending on the artist who designed them (Frank Kozik, the former; Nic Cowan, the latter). But Mimobots — two-inch-plus portable drives resembling Russian matryoshka dolls with ears and arms — aren’t just decorations; they’re tools you can use like any flash drive to transport digital files. With this unexpected combination, Mimoco founder Evan Blaustein has merged technology and urban consumer culture in a way that few products have.
Blaustein, who lives in Brookline, is the sort of guy who describes himself by his sneakers (I am “a wearer of Air Max 95s,” he told atypicalliving.com) and has always thought Wired was the coolest magazine. He came up with the Mimoco idea while he was in business school at Babson College, where he and his now-wife, Cecile, started collecting art toys. Inspiration came one day when Cecile, digging through her purse looking for her flash drive, instead pulled out a Bearbrick toy figure. “I was like, ‘This is about the same size as your flash drive,’ ” Blaustein recalls.
He’s sitting in Peet’s Coffee in Coolidge Corner beside publicist Nicole Rosano, who’s been with Mimoco since August. “That’s when the idea all gelled together. . . . All these toys, they were cluttering our desks. At least if we give functionality to these toys that we love, we’ll have a reason to buy them.”
Out of Babson, Blaustein worked for a mobile-gaming company but, after nearly a year, realized that it wasn’t going anywhere. So he quit to start Mimoco (a made-up, Japanese-sounding word riffed off the word ‘memory’) in his 700-square-foot apartment, targeting 18-to-35-year-old “alpha trendsetters” — creative professionals “who’re going to teach the other people what’s cool”: designers, architects, artists, writers, culture shapers. The iPod had underscored how design can enhance technological functionality, but Blaustein wanted to take aesthetics one step further and make design as important as functionality.
“I realized, ‘I’m going to devote my life to this because I think it’s the real thing,’ ” he recalls.
BIGBY AND DARTH AND R2: Original designs and licensing deals add variety to Mimoco’s line.
The first Mimobot series came out in August 2005. The initial run was a line of eight aliens designed by Mexico-based collaborator Yahid Rodriguez. Their profiles adhered to the Mimobot backstory: each USB thumb drive is really a creature from planet Blõôh who’d suffered from “flash events,” amnesiac spells that sporadically erased their entire memories. Eventually, Blõôh-based scientists discovered Mimobots could be useful to humans by memorizing information and sent them to Planet Earth. And so there was Vera, a mischievous pink female monster with a daisy in her hair and an extraterrestrial-bat sidekick. There was Jolibear, a goofy bear-like alien with an oversize tongue and freckles. There was Ta2b, a radar-emitting cyclops creature with a greenish radioactive tint.
The Rodriguez production run was limited to about 500 pieces, they’ve since sold out — Rosano’s never even seen some of them — and the characters have proved so popular that Mimoco intends to release vinyl art-toys of those original figures.
Since then, Blaustein and his wife have hired three full-time employees, taken on a stable of freelancers, outgrown both the 700-square-foot apartment and another Brookline house, and they’re about to relocate into a larger office over near the Brighton/Allston line.
Part of the Mimoco strategy is to vary its Mimobots by subcontracting design work to a wide spectrum of artists throughout the country, such as Lili Chen (who did the Ginchys). The company has also released 14 additional Mimobots, including a pair of ninja-like figures designed by Chicago-based Shawn Smith (best known for the plush toys, Shawnimals) and Bigby, a snot-nosed eight-year-old who wears a powder-blue teddy-bear suit, aspires to be a mad scientist, and has a small rocket tied to his back. He was designed by Dino Alberto, a freelance illustrator and character designer based in New York.