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Lisa Frank: A Look Behind The Rainbow

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Ah, the ’80s and ‘90s; what a time to be alive. Any girl from that era will tell you all about her Tamagotchi pets, her My Little Pony toys, and, of course, her Lisa Frank everything.

In case you weren’t there, Lisa Frank was a massive brand created in 1979. The company is currently recognized for its nostalgic sparkles, unicorns, adorable pandas, and being 

the world’s sh*ttiest employer.

No, I’m serious.  That’s a true quote from Coraline, a Tuscon, Arizona resident. When she was looking for a new job, she happened to be near the headquarters. Fortunately for her, the locals had warned her about Lisa Frank Inc.’s constant rotating door.

 This colorful firm, it turns out, wasn’t all sunshine and glitter. A chaotic, drunken shitshow of a business was hidden behind those brilliant blue panda eyes.

If you don’t want to have your childhood ruined, I recommend skipping this article. But, let’s be honest here, your innocence has already been damaged if you’re on the internet. So, let’s find out what happened to turn this rainbow paradise into a technicolor travesty.

The Neon Rainbow Forms

Lisa Frank is not only a brand name, but an actual person. Born on April 21st, 1955, Frank always had a passion for arts and crafts. Growing up in Detroit, she was the epitome of the “girly girl” archetype. Coloring, painting, crocheting, and ceramics were among her favorite activities. Her parents, who came from an affluent background, encouraged her to pursue her artistic passions.

During her senior year of high school, Lisa Frank made a whopping $3,000 by selling her art at an event. This notes the very first time her artwork gained monetary success. She went on to the University of Arizona to further her education.

To make some extra cash, Frank stated that she would acquire low-cost ceramics and jewelry from local Native American communities  She’d then take them back home to Michigan, and slap a much higher price on them.

Yeah… kinda shady if you ask me. But I suppose from Lisa’s perspective; business was business! Of course, the overpriced artwork became a hit in her area, and she even began telling these indigenous artists exactly what to create. Chances are, they weren’t properly compensated. Regardless, Frank’s small business was her first step toward pursuing a career in entrepreneurship.

Around the age of 20, she launched the brand “Sticky Fingers,” which consisted of chunky jewelry with hand-crafted designs. This time, it was her own work, which was already being sold at places like Bloomingdales, and Neiman Marcus. Although Lisa was talented in her own right, her socioeconomic status provided a spotlight on said talent. Her family had connections to powerful people who saw the immense potential in her art style.

Lisa Frank soon renamed this brand after herself.  And thus, the legend was born.

Lisa Frank EVERYTHING

Along with the name change, the brand began to offer new products.  Lisa would tour a variety of museums and zoos, as well as speak with children. She was inspired to create something that reminded her of childhood; something that could transport people into a whimsical wonderland. 

Backpacks, folders, pencils, notes, and stickers were among the items sold by her company. They were all covered in the most flamboyant graphics you’ll ever see. I’m talking rainbows, dolphins, multicolored leopards, bears, and of course, sparkles. You cannot forget the sparkles. 

Lisa Frank, Inc. was a juggernaut. And that is putting it mildly. Not having anything Lisa Frank was social suicide in the 1980s and 1990s. At least, that’s how it went in the world of middle school girls. It was not uncommon in the ‘80s to come across a little girl decked out in Lisa Frank gear. Hell, you might’ve been one of them!

As for me personally, I, unfortunately, wasn’t around in the ‘80s or ‘90s. I was an early 2000’s kid. Regardless, shopping for back-to-school items meant coming across many Lisa Frank notebooks and folders. I may have not bought any myself (It was all about Bratz and Disney Princesses for me), but I saw plenty of classmates sporting them.

And if you were to ask 5-year-old me if she’d like to work for Lisa Frank, she would’ve jumped up for joy. 

Behind The Scenes

Back when it first started, Lisa Frank INC. was just like any other big corporate business. I’m sure employees had their regular ups and downs, but it was an overall decent place to work. 

That all changed, however, with the addition of Lisa’s then-husband, James Green.

James Green was originally the first in-house designer and illustrator. He worked in close proximity to Lisa Frank, and from there, they developed a relationship. Green rose through the ranks over time, eventually marrying Frank in 1994.

After having kids, Frank seemed to reconsider her business ventures. Longing to focus solely on her artwork and children, she decided to step down and let her husband take over as CEO. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea, right?

As it turns out, letting James Green take over was probably the worst mistake she’s ever made. With his attitude, illegal activity, and consistent drama, Green is credited for running his wife’s company into the ground.  

James Green ran his business as an abusive authority figure. He was rumored to house substance abuse issues, which he’d carry with him every day to the workplace. Communication was sloppy and overwhelming. While working for Lisa Frank, one would expect the office space to be filled with liveliness and color. Though while the headquarters were painted that way, employees were demanded to work in complete silence. A worker would not be brought aside to speak one-on-one if they stepped a bit out of line. James Green instead chose to shout, berate, and humiliate his staff in front of their coworkers.

To top it all off, despite the company being named after his wife, Green was also rumored to be having an affair. From the workers’ perspectives, it seemed rather obvious that he and his coworker, Rhonda Rowlette, had a less than professional relationship. 

I can’t confirm whether the infidelity rumor is true. Though what I can say is that he and Rhonda made the headquarters a living nightmare. Here are just a few of the horror stories from people who’ve worked for and with Lisa Frank.

  • Jeffrey L Buchanan stated that when partnering with Lisa Frank, Green would be “argumentative with my buyers and relationship sources.”
  • Lisa Decristofaro stated Green was responsible for canceling her health benefits. Conversations between herself and coworkers were also illegally recorded, and then played within Rhonda Rowlette’s office.
  • Betty Hack stated that emails and phone calls were hacked and monitored so that the CEO knew if anyone contacted Lisa.

Furthermore, many lawsuits arose from former employees who weren’t receiving proper and timely paychecks. 

Outside The Office

Unfortunately, Lisa Frank couldn’t keep their controversies inside the office. The batshit business practices found their way outside the revolving doors. 

Sure there has been some minor stuff over the years, such as Lisa Frank comparing her struggles, laughably, to Michael Jackson. Or the complaints surrounding the “sexualization” of Frank’s stylized human characters. 

But I’m not here to talk about those things. Lord knows every company gets its fair share of criticism. I care more about the exploitation of other creators

That’s right, we need to discuss the Lisa Frank Hotel. 

The Cloudland Catastrophe 

Amina Mucciolo is a visual artist, designer, and online personality. She also goes by TasselFairy on YouTube. She blew up for creating this kick-ass apartment complex. 

Just taking one glance at it, you can see the absolutely stunning color, the decorative artwork, and the fun furniture. It’s not hard to understand why she went viral. 

While Mucciolo may have taken inspiration from Lisa Frank, and other colorful aesthetics, it’s clear that the apartment was her own design. A design that she poured her heart and soul into. She called it “Cloudland.” 

Amina Muccio was a black creator living in her dream apartment, with her art being recognized by millions. And I mean millions. She was featured in multiple magazines and news articles.   

It wasn’t long before Lisa Frank’s Instagram account reached out to the artist on multiple occasions. They simply shouted her out, direct messaged her, and complimented Mucciolo on her creativity. 

Seems like harmless fun, right? Well, unfortunately, this is exactly where the pleasantries end. 

In 2019 (yes, that recently!), Hotels.com announced a collaboration with Lisa Frank. It included the creation of an entire apartment dedicated to her work. When photos of this “Lisa Frank flat” were posted, many people noticed how similar the layout was to Mucciolo’s.

To make matters worse, Amina Mucciolo received notice from her landlord that she would have to vacate her apartment by October of that year.  Interestingly enough, this new Lisa Frank flat was owned by Barsala, who just so happens to be affiliated with Hotels.com. 

So, I believe we can all agree that this landlord was looking to profit from Lisa Frank’s popularity. They tried to accomplish this by evicting Mucciolo from her apartment and repurposing it for similar reasons.

Now, to be fair, it’s unclear as to whether Lisa Frank Inc. had any direct involvement in evicting this creator. All I know is that it’s eerily similar to how this business began: by exploiting and capitalizing on smaller artists. POC artists, to be precise.

A Deserted Neon Rainbow

As I’m writing this in 2022, the Lisa Frank headquarters are deserted. The once colorful walls have faded, the outside statues have decayed, and the grass has grown out of control.

Though our nostalgia may be saddened by Lisa Frank’s downward spiral, the truth is that it was a rare diamond of its time.  And, as a result of its enormous success, similar products made by independent artists are now available. Artists who are satisfied with their work, are paid fairly and are not harassed by their superiors. 

If Lisa Frank’s story teaches us anything, it’s that we should respect our employees as individuals. A positive work environment is conducive to long-term success.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Robert A

    June 14, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    Very interesting read… didn’t know all of the behind the scenes details of the Lisa Frank story until now. My mom loved her stuff back in the 1980’s. Good stuff.

  2. Tracy

    June 18, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    Love this article I remember Lisa Frank 😊

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Business

Billionaires Be Warned: Organized Labor on the Rise

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Last week, Apple retail workers in Towson, Maryland, voted 65-33 to seek entry into the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers trade union. It’s a story that’s consistent with a promising trend.

In the last several months, a number of victories have been tallied for worker’s rights around the country.

In December, a Starbucks in Buffalo became the first of its company-owned U.S. locations to form a union. Since then, at least 150 of the 9,000 company-run U.S. stores have voted to unionize, with 10 stores rejecting the union. 

In January, engineers and other Google workers announced that they had formed a union—the Alphabet Workers Union— named after Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It represents about 800 Google employees.

April saw Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York vote to unionize, marking a first for the retail giant.

In May, video game workers at a division of game publisher Activision Blizzard voted to unionize, making them the first to create a labor union at a large U.S. videogame company.

Per a 2021 Gallup Poll: at least 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest since Gallup found a 71% approval in 1965.

A resurgence of unions after years of decline.

President Biden has been vocal about his support for the decision. 

“I am proud of them,” 

Biden said in a statement to reporters. 

Workers have a right to determine under what condition they are going to work or not work.”

This is a far cry from the days of President Reagan publicly firing striking air traffic controllers, a move that signaled to the weakening labor movement that times were changing. Of course, labor rights weren’t always such a contentious topic. 

In the mid-1950s, approximately one out of every three non-farm workers were unionized. This was, of course, the peak of labor’s power in the US. 

In subsequent decades, the ranks of unionized workers would shrink. By the 80s and 90s, due to a combination of economic and political developments, the decline in unions accelerated.

The opening of overseas markets and the emergence of outsourcing put organized labor at a severe disadvantage. 

Around this same period, U.S. employers developed a set of legal— and illegal—practices that could effectively rid establishments of existing unions and prevent new unions from organizing. 

These practices included: threatening union sympathizers with firings and holding a mandatory meeting wherein workers would be subject to anti-union propaganda. Additionally, many employers hired permanent replacements for striking workers.

But Biden has been relatively labor-friendly. In February, a Biden administration task force issued a set of recommendations aimed at making it easier for federal workers and contractors to unionize.

The report argues that the trend of declining union membership has coincided with a rising share of income going to the top 10% of earners.

Youth movement gives labor unions a new hope.

After decades of decline, U.S. unions are finding hope in a growing movement among the youth. Union approval is high— and growing—with the youngest workers. This is reflected by membership levels, which are trending upwards for workers between the ages of 25 and 34. Even as they decline among other age groups.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of union members among workers aged 25-34 rose from 8.8% to 9.4% 

The aforementioned Alphabet Workers Union, for example, is run by five people under the age of 35.

This is consistent with a greater political trend among young people: the youth is less susceptible to the anti-socialist boogeyman rhetoric that successfully fleeced previous generations of working people’s rights.

It’s important to remember that many of the things we take for granted today are the products of union involvement. The eight-hour work day? Labor unions. Job safety laws? Labor unions. Overtime pay? Labor Unions. Weekends? Labor unions. Worker’s Comp? Labor unions. Employer-based health coverage? Labor unions.

And the list goes on.

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Who Does Tori Dunlap Think She Is?

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If you haven’t heard of Tori Dunlap, you’re probably not seeking financial advice. If you are seeking financial advice, you can do a lot better than Tori Dunlap. 

Tori Dunlap is an entrepreneur who claims to have saved $100,000 by the age of 25. After achieving such astonishing success so early in life, she simply had to quit her corporate job so she could devote her energy to helping women learn their financial independence and unassumed dominance in our white cis male-run society. 

Her mission? To create the brand HerFirst100K and…

Idk man… seems kinda gimmicky. 

Disclaimer: I am a cis white male with no financial expertise to speak of criticizing a cis white female financial pundit. I have zero doubts that Dunlap could balance a checkbook better than I ever could. I am not here to offer any financial advice. Rather, I am criticizing Dunlap’s approach to fiscal responsibility and her overall authenticity. 

In short: We’re not buying it and neither should you. 

How Did She *Really* Get $100K by 25? 

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At 25, I was working as a barback in a local gay bar and on the cusp of starting my first professional writing job. I had maybe $600 to my name and very poor financial instincts – you could call me a ‘spendthrift.

My peers around the same age were all fairly financially inept or carefree. Sure, we would meet our responsibilities but we sure as hell weren’t saving – and not for lack of trying. We all worked incredibly hard, dirty, thankless jobs for very little money and could be fired on a whim. None of us would have been able to save up to $100K by 25. 

By 25, I had been working steady jobs for 10 years. Even if I didn’t spend a single cent over those 10 years I don’t think the number would have ever reached $100K. Pardon my doubts, but how is a 25-year-old, any 25-year-old, able to save up to $100,000 all by themselves? After some digging, it turns out she did it with a lot of discipline and a lot of luck. 

She graduated college with zero debt, landed a job in digital marketing with a salary of $55K/year, and put a disciplined percentage of her take-home into saving and an investment fund. These are all great, very privileged ways to save $100,000 in three years. 

I’m curious to know how a 22-year-old snagged an investment fund and knew which investments would pay off and how much they earned but… I digress. 

I don’t sneeze at this kind of discipline. Many people would benefit from a financial discipline such as that. I do sneeze a little by using this as a marketing tactic. While she qualifies this by admitting her privilege, she makes her achievement the main marketing point of Her First $100K. 

I did this and so can you!” the sentiment screams. Except most people can’t. And I think Ms. Dunlap knows that. 

Tori Dunlap Is Not Qualified To Give Anyone Financial Advice

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The only thing I trust Tori Dunlap to do is market and brand herself effectively. She’s cool, she’s hip, she can play along with the broader trends, she TikToks with the best of ‘em, and it all feels so desperately empty and deeply phony. 

I think Tori Dunlap has a keen eye for self-promotion that masquerades as “woke financial advice.” This would be fine if it wasn’t potentially f*cking with people’s money. There are people out there with some serious financial issues and concerns. If they trust Tori Dunlap, they could be misled because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

I don’t mean she doesn’t know how to assert her value and practice financial discipline. I mean she doesn’t have the financial authority to be profiting off the advice she gives. It’s like getting medical advice from a sickly friend – they’ve got experience but no expertise. 

TikTok Advice Isn’t Real Advice

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If you take a look at Dunlap’s TikTok, it looks pretty much like every other TikToker out there. On her page, the financial advice is few and far between. It appears that TikTok is the space where she promotes her brand, podcast, and book – with a whole lot of cookie-cutter trends you will find on any account. 

When you finally do get to her financial advice, it’s no different than if you were to ask your fiscally savvy friend. For example, “know your worth and advocate for it” is a great bit of advice, it’s one I tell my peers at work – but it’s not expertise. It’s a good ol’ fashioned, “you can do it!” Which is nice, but it’s not practically helpful. What you’re getting from Dunlap are educated tips from someone who is being nice to you. 

When you present yourself as an authority figure you have a responsibility that comes with it. Telling people you are the savior from the patriarchy if you pay for her course doesn’t exactly scream “hero.” 

There’s nothing wrong with providing a service and charging for it. There is, however, something really gross about masquerading as a feminist hero when you’re actually an unqualified financial nobody with no serious credentials to speak of. 

Tori Dunlap is not qualified to be giving financial advice to anyone. She says so on her site: 

LEGAL STUFF: I am not a licensed financial advisor. I offer education, not prescriptive advice. The information that is found here are my opinions and the opinions of other readers/contributors and should be taken as such.” 

Legal stuff.” Cute, so relatable. 

All of Dunlap’s success stories are social media posts, texts, and emails. Hardly a case study. 

Dunlap claims to be “leading a movement of financial feminists,” but a quick Google search on female financial advisors yields no results for Ms. Dunlap. What exactly is she leading? You cannot be a leader when you don’t show up on the first 12 pages of Google. 

Here’s What An Actual Financial Expert Says

We spoke to Danetha Doe, an economist with over 10 years of experience in the financial industry. She has worked as an accountant and a CFO. She also created Money & Mimosas, a financial education resource for ambitious folks. 

In short, Ms. Doe knows her sh*t.

We asked Ms. Doe about how the average person could save up to $100K by the age of 25. 

I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe the average person can save $100K by 25. 

“In order to do that, they would either need to be born into wealth, have zero student loans, work for a startup that goes public or gets acquired, or start a business that is financially successful. 

“All of those scenarios do not apply to the average person.

“The median salary for an individual is under $40,000. Therefore, the average person earns about $40,000. In order to reach $100K in savings on an average salary could take decades in the United States.

Ms. Doe has a lot of excellent financial advice without being patronizing or weaponizing oppression for profit. She has a professional and personal background that makes her an effective authority when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

My two grandmothers [are the financial experts I admire most]. 

“They came to the United States as immigrants and became real estate investors during a time when Black women were systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities in this country. 

“Their lasting legacy guides my financial decisions.

If you want to learn finance tips from someone who can relate to or understand your experience fully, Danetha Doe is the way to go

Besides, who doesn’t love a mimosa? 

What In The Hell Is ‘Feminist Financial Advice?’

What is it about financial advice that needs to be tailored specifically for women? Let’s take a super casual and lazy glance at successful women, shall we? 

Suze Orman is a trusted financial authority and has been around for a minute

Madonna has built herself an entertainment empire by being unapologetically female

Rihanna became a billionaire through her music and some super-savvy business moves. 

Laverne Cox bulldozed expectations and helped establish a foundation for trans artists. 

Sheryl Sandburg is the most powerful woman in Big Tech – did you see what happened when she resigned from Meta?

There is no shortage of female financial advisors. What kind of niche does Dunlap think she’s tapping into? Dunlap says on her site

I watched female friends get paid less than they were worth. I read stories about women being denied career opportunities because they were seen as ‘less.’ 

“Male colleagues said sexist, negative comments to me at work. I learned that women hold the majority of debt in America and that they invest less of their money than men, yet live for seven years longer. 

“So I knew that I had to fight back.

Sure, Jan. 

Fighting Sexism By Leaning Into Sexism

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I don’t think anybody disagrees (save for a few members of the Republican Party) that women have a tougher go of it than men. To be honest, it’s a bit of a stretch to connect general sexism with financial education. I learned how to budget from my mother, a woman who has had to fight her own battles with sexism and misogyny as the only female partner at her law firm. 

Frankly, I think the assumption that women need help from an unlicensed non-expert in order to learn fiscal responsibility is teetering on sexism. At the very least, it’s grossly condescending and certainly inauthentic. 

If you’re in a position where you need financial advice, you want it from someone who is a serious advisor, not a trending influencer with no qualifications. With inflation at a 40-year high and an underpaid workforce fighting for its value, we cannot afford to take financial advice from someone clearly more interested in self-promotion and branding. 

Dunlap appears to be less focused on offering genuine financial advice and far more focused on hitting woke buzzwords in an effort to patronize marginalized communities for profit. If you want to find a female-focused financial authority, try Ellevest instead. 

Tori Dunlap’s Communications Lead declined to comment.

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Vince McMahon Stepped Down From WWE. Or Did He?

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The news rang out around the world on Friday. 

Vince McMahon, father and face of the modern WWE, is voluntarily stepping down from his CEO position. The news came amid allegations of misconduct, affairs, and hush money.

And then, the strangest thing happened. Moments later, WWE announced that McMahon would make an appearance during Smackdown. Many speculated that McMahon would take the opportunity to admit remorse, address the new path, or prepare a last goodbye for fans.

Instead, he did this.

“It is a privilege, as always, to stand before you here tonight, the WWE Universe. Especially a privilege to stand here in this ring in Minnesota.

I’m here simply to remind you of the four words we just saw in what we call the WWE signature. Those four words are then, now, forever, and the most important word is together.

Welcome to SmackDown!”

“Bizarre spectacle” is a phrase that could appear under the dictionary definition for World Wrestling Entertainment.. But even fans were left scratching their heads by this appearance, with one caught on camera appearing to ask “That’s it?”

What really happened to Vince McMahon

Image credit: CNN

If you didn’t read past headlines about stepping down amid misconduct allegations, you might be stunned that McMahon would appear on TV at all. The truth, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated.

Per The Wall Street Journal, an inquiry began in April concerning a secret payout of $3 million that a WWE paralegal received in January. McMahon allegedly had an affair with the employee. The investigation opened up other, older NDAs relating to sexual misconduct by McMahon and talent relations chair John Laurinaitis.

The misconception at hand comes from WWE’s announcement. While it’s true that McMahon is stepping down from his chief position while the investigation continues, that’s not the whole picture.

McMahon is maintaining creative control of the WWE. For an entertainment company, the creative aspect is a pretty massive slice of the pie. As evidenced by Friday’s appearance—and another appearance on Monday—he’s not stepping down from the public eye either.

Image credit: WWE

McMahon’s WWE character, “Mr. McMahon,” it seems, is not under the same scrutiny as his actor. There are no signs that his exaggerated persona will cease making appearances on SmackDown and at other WWE events.

In a way, it’s a delicate PR chess move. The headline, “Vince McMahon Steps Down Amidst Investigation,” reads like a victory. The sticky truth, that he’s not really exiting at all, will have little impact on the general public.

Wrestling fans, on the other hand, are seeing both sides play out, and it’s leaving some confused. It’s an interesting twist on “kayfabe,” the suspension of disbelief at the root of the WWE community. In reality, Vince has stepped down, but in kayfabe, Mr. McMahon hasn’t gone anywhere.

This bizarre in-and-out response might reflect the inherent flaws in wrestling’s mesh of fantasy and reality. In pursuit of kayfabe, what happens if McMahon is fully ousted? Will an attachment to his fictional persona keep justice from being served? At this point, it’s hard to say.

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