The Real Story Behind Lisa Frank



The world of Lisa Frank isn't just filled with colorful hearts, bears dressed as painters, seals swimming in tie-dye oceans and unicorns dancing on rainbows surrounded by musical notes. Fame and fortune are apparently tainted by drugs and infidelity in the secrecy-cloaked convergence of people and events behind the colorful 90s phenomena. And it turns out that Tucson, of all places, has played a major role in Frank's fortunes and misfortunes, as revealed in a recent story published by Jezebel.

Frank comes from a rich family in Bloomfield Hills, Detroit. Bloomfield Hills is ranked one of the top richest cities with with a population under 10,000.

Her father was in the automotive industry, running Detroit Aluminum & Brass, a publicly-traded family company founded by her grandfather and his brothers in 1925. D.A.B. manufactured automatic transmission components, clutches, et cetera; to put their early success into perspective, D.A.B. was the only company in the United States to make the engine bearings for tanks used in WWII.

Frank enrolled into the same private, PK—12 preparatory school that Mitt Romney and Selma Blair attended.

But her success went stratospheric once she honed her entrepreneurial instincts at the University of Arizona and started crafting jewelry with local Native American communities.

"If I said 'Make a teddy bear or a unicorn,' that was what sold," Frank said in a interview with Urban Outfitters.

In 1979, she renamed the company and Lisa Frank, Inc. was born. That same year she received her first million-dollar order from Spencer Gifts. She was 25 years old.

Tucson became the headquarters for her multi-million dollar conglomerate.

The small staff of LFI still reports to Lisa Frank HQ: a 320,000 square-foot building in Tucson, infamous in the area for its decor, featuring giant, multicolored music notes, hearts and stars and oversized, fiberglass character statues. Near the building's entrance, a large silver unicorn sculpture is missing its horn. The building and land are listed for lease or sale at a reduced price of $13.25 million. According to Tim Healy, the listing agent at the time, LFI was "still operating inside the facility but not at full capacity."

Lisa Frank and the company started to get a bad reputation for mistreating and micromanaging employees, and paying them unfair wages.

"Lisa Frank is notorious in Tucson as the world's shittiest employer," said Caroline, who considered applying for one of the many job openings at the company she saw advertised when she moved to Tucson in 2001, but decided against it after speaking with locals. "Every single person I talked to advised me to avoid Lisa Frank at all costs," she said. "I didn't know a single person who had not heard horror stories about the work environment there."

Not even the Star's fluff piece published in 2004 could improve the company's image; it's high turnover and legal issues spoke for themselves.

"It was a revolving door," Jacob said of the company's turnover. In the four years that he was employed in the 40-person creative department, he estimates that group "may have changed over at least two to three times…It was just unbelievable. One year, almost a third of the entire staff turned over."

There were also rumors that Frank's husband and LFI CEO James Green had drug and fidelity issues. Green was accused of having a relationship with company VP Rhonda Rowlette.

"She was screwing him!" according to one former employee commiserating with past coworkers online. Another referred to Rowlette as Green's "fuck buddy."

[M]y wife and I were shopping at Tucson Mall over 4th of July weekend 2005 and stopped by the Lisa Frank retail store in the mall…we were surprised to see James and Rhonda together in the store on that 3-day weekend. [W]e had a short conversation with James (Rhonda didn't say much). After we left them we both thought it strange that they would be together and that Rhonda acted sort of caught off guard at seeing us and acted uncomfortable. We wondered why James wasn't with his family and Rhonda wasn't with her husband on a holiday weekend. Something wasn't right….

Last year Lisa Frank Inc., entered a deal with Urban Outfitters to sell t-shirts and "vintage" stationary pieces. Urban Outfitters has sold out the apparel but continues to sell Christmas ornaments and holiday items. Apparently, there's a light at the end of the rainbow.

(via Jezebel)

Comments (13)

Showing 1-13 of 13

Add a comment

Add a comment