Lisa Frank Incorporated
|Lisa Frank, CEO |
James Green, former CEO
Lisa Frank Inc. is a private for-profit company formed in 1979, under its founder and CEO, Lisa Frank. The company is known for its colorful, psychedelic designs featured on a variety of media, such as school supplies and stickers.
Lisa Frank, after graduating from Cranbrook Kingswood School in 1972 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, attended the University of Arizona to study art. She chose this field of study because art had been a large part of her life since childhood. Her father, an art collector, had influenced her. Between her sophomore and junior years at U of A, she made a line of plastic jewelry called Sticky Fingers. The line specialized in colorful fruit and novelty character pendants, utilizing characters in their designs such as Betty Boop. It sold in stores such as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales.
This jewelry line inspired Frank to create her first set of colorful stickers, the same stickers that launched her brand. She began Lisa Frank Incorporated in 1979, when she was only twenty-four years old. That year, the company received its first million-dollar order from Spencer Gifts. The company only produced stickers at first, featuring Frank's original characters and designs. All of Frank's designs through 1989 were colored with an airbrush technique, the process taking nine to thirty-six hours to complete. According to a 1983 interview with Frank, the company’s stickers began with a concept, moved to pencil sketch, and then translated into an 18×24” painting before qualifying for approval. An individual sticker, on average, took a minimum of three months to realize.
Lisa Frank Inc.’s success rocketed in 1987 when the company began producing school supplies featuring original designs. These designs featured “classic” Lisa Frank characters such as Panda Painter. The company believes the original characters continue to be their most popular, despite new additions over the years. Lisa Frank’s original commercial slogan, “You Gotta Have It,” debuted in the late 1980s. Lisa Frank's line of products—folders, pencil cases, erasers, Trapper Keepers, and notebooks—were so popular, the company grossed over $60 million a year in sales during its peak in the 1990s.
In 1989, the company stopped using the time-consuming, hand-painted airbrushing technique and switched to using computer software. The technological age not only changed the way the company produced products, it has also had an effect on the products they sell. According to Frank, current designs feature more complicated and intricate patterns due to the technology and the variety of products the company creates today as compared to Lisa Frank Inc.’s starting years.
In 2005, Lisa Frank filed for divorce from her then-husband, James Green, who was then CEO of Lisa Frank Inc. They were the company’s only stockholders. Frank won a court settlement that year, stating Green must sell all his shares in the stock to her at a discount, according to a 1995 buy-sell agreement. This resulted in Frank resuming her position as CEO of the company. During the court trial, they found Lisa Frank Inc. grossed over $1 billion in sales since 1979.
In recent years, the company produces very little stationery due to the dominance of electronic communication. Lisa Frank Incorporated developed two iPhone apps: one customizes pictures with Lisa Frank clip art, while the other is a coloring app for Lisa Frank coloring pages.
As of 2015, the base of Lisa Frank Inc. headquarters is still Tucson, Arizona, encompassing a 320,000 square foot building. The company earned an estimated $2.3 million in annual revenue in 2012. Its branded retail stores have since shuttered and its products, which once dominated back-to-school aisles in stores across the United States, are difficult to find today. The number of employees at the 320,000 square-foot building near the Tucson International Airport dwindled from a peak of about 500 to just six.
Lisa Frank in popular culture
The majority of LFI’s relevance in popular culture stems from internet exposure appealing to the childhood nostalgia of women who grew up with Lisa Frank merchandise in the 1980s and 1990s.
LFI’s collaboration with Urban Outfitters in 2012 has launched the renewed interest in the company from the previously mentioned demographic. The teen and young adult targeted clothing retailer currently sells 1990s Lisa Frank merchandise on their website. According to an interview with Frank, LFI saves ten copies of every product they have ever made, and Urban Outfitters sells many reproductions of their vintage products.
Urban Outfitters did a video interview with Lisa Frank to promote their collaboration with her brand. The interview video featured a brief clip from a 1993 Lisa Frank commercial featuring a ten-year-old Mila Kunis.
As of 2017, there is a growing Lisa Frank nail art trend across the internet. Girls and young women emulate Lisa Frank designs onto their nails and share pictures of them across social media.
Popular vaporwave artist Macintosh Plus named a song after Lisa Frank; the song リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー (translates to Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing) was the leading single of her 2011 album Floral Shoppe.
Critiques of characters
A 2010 SF Weekly article criticized the sexualization of recent Lisa Frank characters. The article speculated LFI, following trends for a "sexy" appeal in children's toys, abandoned the "classic" Lisa Frank animal characters for sexual Bratz doll imitations.
There is criticism toward human Lisa Frank characters as being detrimental, as characters' designs follow unrealistic stereotypes instead of common body types.
- "We trekked out to the desert to meet the queen of the rainbow unicorns and magical bears. And yes, she is a real person!". Urban Outfitters. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
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- Rice, Jenn. "You Know You're Obsessed With Lisa Frank When You Start Replicating The Designs On Your Nails". Shefinds. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
- Bobb, Brooke (2012-02-15). "New York Fashion Week Fall 2012: Jeremy Scott's Lisa Frank Corset". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- "FLORAL SHOPPE, by MACINTOSH PLUS". BEER ON THE RUG. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
- Wright, Andy. "Sexually Frank: The Rebranding of a Childhood Favorite". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
- Dalke, Anne; Laura Blankenship. "The Lisa Frank Website: What is it Really Saying to Young Girls?". Gender and Technology. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
- Morrissey, Tracie Egan (2013-12-12). "Inside the Rainbow Gulag: The Technicolor Rise and Fall of Lisa Frank". Jezebel.