From Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to 90’s Nostalgia Icon: Lisa Frank
Unless you lived under a rock during the 80's to early 2000's, it was like you could not escape the colorful, bright patterns and designs that could only be from one name, Lisa Frank!
Well, as the 90's and all the trends that came with it are making a comeback (much to the disdain of some who lived through the era) it seems the nostalgia and magic that comes with Lisa Frank designs might be too.
However, in all the excitement of a budding resurgence of Lisa Frank merch, did you know she actually was born right here in Michigan? I didn't either until a recent podcast I listened to mentioned her and I did some more research.
Lisa Frank's Michigan Roots
Frank was born and raised in Bloomfield Hills to a pretty well-off family as, Jezebel reports, her father ran Detroit Aluminum & Brass (D.A.B.) which was founded by her grandfather and his brothers in 1925. Part of the business' "claim to fame" was that D.A.B. was the only company in the entire U.S. with the contract to make engine bearings for tanks during WWII (Jezebel).
With how artsy her family was, Jezebel reports her father was an art collector and her mother had a kiln in their home, she was definitely destined to be a bit more creative.
She went on to graduate from the "elite prep school" that is Cranbrook Kingswood School in 1972. BUT not before Jezebel says she already was profiting off her art her senior year to the tune of $3,000, selling to clients like former Chrysler CEO (and crucial part to the creation of the Ford Shelby Mustang) Lee Iacocca.
College & Early Career
After graduating, Frank left the Mitten behind to go to the University of Arizona where her entrepreneurial side began to grow when Jezebel reports she would buy Native American jewelry and re-sell it back home in Michigan at a markup.
Jezebel says it got so popular she actually started directing the creators on what to make (the first signs of exploiting people's creativity for money...oh, we'll get to that). From there she realized she could make her own jewelry designs eventually making it big when at just 20 years old, her line called "Sticky Fingers" was picked up by major retailers, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. She then also started designing her iconic stickers and buttons.
By 1979, at just 25 years old, Jezebel reports she founded Lisa Frank, Inc. and also struck her first million-dollar deal with Spencer's Gifts (yes, THAT Spencer's Gifts).
Her Infamous Designs
This kind of goes without saying that her designs "blew up" from there and the variations of products the designs and colorful characters would be on expanded as well.
According to MentalFloss, back in 1987, the gumball machine design is among the first designs and logos as it holds a lot of special meaning and symbolism to Frank.
Of course, the products most of us remember, the SCHOOL SUPPLIES! Those Trapper Keepers, the folders, notebooks, etc. had us all in a chokehold at Lisa Frank, Inc.'s peak in the 90's. So much so, Jezebel reports they were raking in $60 million a year.
In case you doubted just how iconic and special it all was, according to MentalFloss, there was actually a signature ink used for Lisa Frank designs that actually comes with it's own NDA and the formula is a "closely guarded secret"
Where is Lisa Frank Now?
As Lisa Frank, Inc. grew exponentially, they needed more employees, creatives, artists, etc. to get it all done. Of course, there were a lot of hands in this massive, seemingly never-ending cookie jar. However, as Frank's marriage and personal life started taking some wild twists and turns, so did things behind the scenes at Lisa Frank, Inc. headquarters in Tucson, Arizona.
Jezebel actually did a deep dive, interviewing many former employees who talked about their working conditions, high employee turnover rates and referencing the offices as "the rainbow gulag."
Sales started dwindling since the time of their peak, retail stores closed, products came fewer and far-between and there are a lot fewer employees.
However, the building that housed Lisa Frank, Inc. is now abandoned and Insider reports was for sale, though in 2012, Frank actually allowed Urban Outfitters to come inside before their short-lived collaboration.
In 2020, beauty brand Morphe teamed up with Lisa Frank for a whole collection featuring her designs on the packaging.
As more and more comes out about things not being as bright and sparkly as we once believed (do a quick YouTube search) only time will tell what will come of our Michigan-made mogul. One thing is for sure, though, nostalgia sells.
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