The Paul Frank Story

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A look back at the creator of every hipster’s favourite monkey and what he’s up to these days…
From simple wallets sewn up in his garage to multinational fame and collaborations with the White Stripes and LEGO, Paul Frank’s journey to the top has seen its ups and downs. Revamping everything from slippers to undies, and with Lensway now offering up Paul Frank glasses for summer alongside iconic Ray Ban and SPY frames, we thought we’d take a look at the history of the brand that brought us Julius and Friends, and where it’s headed now.

Paul Frank Industries started out as just one man. Paul Frank Sunich, during his time as an art student at California’s Orange Coast College in the early 90s, asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. In between college and his shifts at a local newsstand, he taught himself to sew and began creating colourful vinyl wallets for his friends. Inspired by the cast of Sesame Street and Muppets characters created by the legendary Jim Henson, his designs caught the eye of one his regulars at the newsstand, PR man Ryan Heusing.

In 1995, with $5,000 of Heusing’s cash, they went in to business. Two year’s later, Heusing’s flatmate’s boyfriend, John Oswald, signed up the cause, offering up more capital, and he took the reigns as CEO as Paul Frank Industries was officially incorporated in 1997. With sales already reaching $200,000, the business’ success grew rapidly.

With the trio touring trade shows in the US, orders soon racked up, and before long Julius and Friends had carved out a niche in the West Coast-flavoured casual-wear market alongside brands like Quiksilver and Roxy. As the brand took off, collaborators came a-calling, resulting in team-ups with Weezer, Barbie, Coachella, the Andy Warhol Estate, Lollapalooza and even convincing Hello Kitty to work on a collaborative range for the first time in Kitty history.

The first Paul Frank store opened in August 2001, and today there are twenty spread out worldwide in cities from LA to London, Amsterdam to Qatar, turning Paul Frank into a $40 million a year concern. They still design clothing and guitar straps for indie and punk bands, including Bad Religion, The Shins, Interpol and Alkaline Trio.

2005 saw the artist who created Julius break from the Paul Frank Industries brand, with the creative force no longer gelling with the demands of a business on this scale. He’s since started up Park Le Fun and Treestitch Designs, creating a new cast of characters, wall art and clothing.

Paul Frank Industries continues to go from success to success, producing so many new products that in 2006 it split into three main lines: Paul Frank, Small Paul, (for kids – little Maddox Jolie is a fan) and Julius and Friends. Following the success of their US-wide Academy of Awesome Mobile Tour in 2011 where the brand hit 50 cities on the road in a suitably bedecked Winnebago, plans are finally afoot for an animated TV series.

A Christmas special is in the works for 2012, with Julius and Friends coming to life for the first time. It’s being produced by Emmy-winning Simpson’s producer Mike Reiss, so watch this space!

*guest post*

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