Whatever Happened To Lisa Frank?

For children of the '80s and '90s, Lisa Frank's colorful creations were absolutely everywhere. From rainbow unicorn stickers to gumball machine-splattered notebooks to puppy-covered travel gear, her bright designs reigned supreme. And while the company's products have since dwindled from most shelves — perhaps due to waning consumer interest, the company's notorious management woes, or a little of both — the forthcoming movie adaptation of some of her most cherished animated characters might just court some renewed enthusiasm for those cute neon creatures. Until then, she hasn't disappeared completely, although the notoriously private namesake of the nostalgia-inducing brand has had a few not-so-pretty snags over the years.

She's exceptionally protective of her privacy

Few know offhand what the woman behind the self-named business even looks like because she's made a long, concerted effort to keep her face away from cameras. Rarely has the Tucson, Arizona based designer given interviews in support of her products, and rarer still are the times she's allowed her photo to be taken in association with the company.

In 2012, she did appear in a video feature for Urban Outfitters Television, but demanded that her face not be shown in the short film, which promoted the company's sale of her products. "I do exist. I'm a real person," she said in the short video before admitting to her eccentricities. "I'm crazy. I'm a lunatic. I mean, we have to stop me and say okay, it's enough because one illustration gets hundreds of hours in it. It's really, you know kind of madness."

The notorious recluse began her business in 1979 and reached peak popularity just a few years later, when she opened up her factory and started producing vibrant school supplies with her signature characters and color schemes. In the '90s, the company reached peak popularity and brought in as much as $60 million a year. The glory days have since ended for Lisa Frank Incorporated, but her spotlight shyness hasn't changed a bit. Perhaps the reason for her voluntary seclusion is ...

She thinks she's very, very famous

In a 2012 interview Frank did with The Daily (via Gawker), she revealed that the reason she's cast such a thick veil over her life is that she believes her popularity is akin to even some of the most iconic names in the entertainment business.

"In my own little way, I understood Michael Jackson... We think about it a lot, how well-known the name is, but I'm very, very low-key," she said. "If I use my credit card... and they go, 'Oh my gosh, there's Lisa Frank who makes the stickers!' I go, 'Isn't that the craziest thing, that I have the same name?'"

Frank caught a lot of flak for her words in that interview because of the sense of self-importance purveyed, but then again, maybe she had a point — Her name is uniquely synonymous with her fanciful brand. Speaking of which ...

Employees notoriously hated working for Lisa Frank Inc.

At one point in the company's history, Lisa Frank's giant factory employed hundreds of people, but that staff has since dropped to just a handful thanks to outsourcing of production and diminished demands for the product. Even its heyday, though, Lisa Frank Inc. had trouble hanging onto employees because of their documented dissatisfaction with the work environment she and her former CEO-slash-husband James Green created for staffers. As one source told Jezebel for their investigation of the company's history of woes, "Lisa Frank is notorious in Tucson as the world's sh***iest employer. Every single person I talked to advised me to avoid Lisa Frank at all costs. I didn't know a single person who had not heard horror stories about the work environment there."

Indeed, in 2005, when Frank sued her ex-husband for mismanagement of corporate funds, over a dozen former employees submitted affidavits alleging that Green and former Vice President Rhonda Rowlette created a "toxic" workplace where they were constantly micromanaged and treated unkindly and unfairly by the executives, leading to many good hires going elsewhere for employment.

She also sued a company for not making Lisa Frank a comeback property

In 2012, Frank reportedly filed suit against Delaware-based corporation CSS Industries, Inc. which was supposed to get Lisa Frank's designs back into the mainstream the way they'd once been, with a promise of $15 million in annual sales to follow their agreement. However, on the year in question, Lisa Frank earned less than $3 million, so she took the company to court for its failure to make good on their promise of restored ubiquity and presence across the nation's retail stores. Playing the blame game as to why Lisa Frank hasn't had a second coming in pop culture ubiquity is an interesting approach to problem-solving.

Frank also has two children that remind her of her characters

In her chat with Urban Outfitters, Frank did offer a sliver of insight into her personal life by revealing that she has two sons, who each served as inspiration for her big kitten creations Hunter and Forrest. "Well, my two favorite characters are Hunter and Forrest, who are based off my kids," she explained. "Forrest is based on my 13-year-old, and Hunter is a 17-year-old character who was named the day Hunter was born. We had created both characters before the boys were born, and then when they were born, we thought, 'Oh my gosh, they really do fit their personalities!'"

She added that even her new characters are often inspired by real-life people and that there's one that most reminds her of herself. "I would say there is probably a little bit of me in each character. But Purrscilla is a lot like me, because she is very into glam and glitz and jewelry and everything very girly. And some of the jewelry in the illustration is even my own jewelry. But I'm not a cat fan—that's the only thing! I'm a dog person. But she is a really glamorous kitty. Not that I am saying that I am glamorous, but the stuff that she likes, I like too."

She really does love colors that much

As Lisa Frank herself once described her living aesthetic (via Gawker), "My house really is purple and yellow and hot pink and light green and orange." Rondi Kutz, who worked as head designer for Lisa Frank for 15 years confirmed as much in her interview with Hello Giggles, saying, "Lisa IS her brand! She lives, breathes, and quite possibly eats colors. Her house was/is purple. She wears the most awesome shoes — usually with super platforms — and unique designer clothes. She is teeny tiny, with a personality about a million times bigger than she is physically. Lisa radiates creativity along with extreme business savvy. She is one sharp and colorful cookie!"

While Frank may breathe rainbows, Kutz couldn't help but admit that her former boss was a bit tiresome, even for long-lasting employees like her. "The most challenging part was the incredible pace at which we had to work. Getting ready for big meetings would require lots of overtime and the patience for enduring revision after revision after revision. Lisa is fanatical about detail. But that is what makes her art so extraordinary," Kutz explained.

In her eyes, the company is still thriving

Whether or not the receipts are still as staggering as they once were, Lisa Frank has recently revealed that her company is still a hot property — in her mind, at least. In a 2015 interview with Foundations, Frank revealed that the company still churns out tons of new designs to increase their variety of offerings and that it's that commitment to prolificacy that keeps them afloat.

"That's why we're so hot still today. There are some companies that have been hot forever but all of a sudden are dead right now," she explained. "The same image has been plastered on hundreds and hundreds of products but the consumers are not stupid. Also believe it or not, the consumers with less money have a keener eye than the ones with more. Consumers with less money only have so much to spend. For this reason they are critical and want to buy the best of the best. I've always appealed to the masses because, I felt so lucky to grow up in a beautiful world, and believe just because someone has less money, why should they not be offered the best of the best, as well?"

She's been waiting for the movie to happen for a long time

When the news broke that Hollywood producer Jon Shestack was optioning Lisa Frank's illustrated properties for a live-action-animation hybrid film, she again emerged from her hiding place to offer a few words of personal interest on the subject, saying to Entertainment Weekly, "I have always wanted to do a feature film that brings the world of Lisa Frank to life. We have so much backstory on our characters and they have been alive in my imagination since the beginning."

Given her reputation as a meticulous artist and the company's reputation for domineering oversight, it's not hard to imagine she'll have a big hand in the creative aspects of the eventual film.