Ryan Heuser is the President and Co-Founder of Paul Frank Industries. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two young children.
Q: What aspects of your childhood led to a career in fashion and design?
A: I would have to go all the way back to when I was a little kid. My mother sort of unconsciously has been a huge creative inspiration for me. She’s a very, very creative woman. She did the interior design of our house. And to take it a step further, she would do the table dressings and then beyond that she ended up going to culinary school and was a pastry chef. She could make Pinocchio out of pastries and make it look lifelike. She’s very, very creative. The stuff doesn’t resonate with you as a kid but you’re certainly exposed to this whole creative process that’s happening; whether that’s in the kitchen by way of the food that’s being made and the amount of love, attention and detail that’s going into that or literally our surroundings with our home life and the interiors.
Through high school I was super into fashion and what was happening and doing a lot of thrift shopping. I graduated with a business communications degree from college and frankly I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that point. But what I did know is that I had two passions and that was fashion and music. I’m sure a lot of kids are into those things, that’s not really a stretch. But the thing for me was that I needed to be passionate about what I was doing. It was really paramount and important to me, more so than making money. I felt like I needed to do something and needed to have a purpose on this planet in a creative environment. I always felt that if I could do something creative that I would ultimately become successful. Success was never really the driver, first and foremost was being creative and being true to who I was.
Q: What are the origins of the company name and the character Julius?
A: So there actually is a real gentlemen named Paul Frank. His name is Paul Frank Sunich and he was a founding partner in the company along with me and John Oswald. There are three founding partners. We used to get rare dead stock automotive vinyl and Paul would actually cut out the automotive vinyl with scissors to form Julius’ face. Then we sewed it in down onto a wallet. From the wallet we really refined it in terms of how it appeared as a graphic. Once we did that, it really was the tipping point; that catalyst moment you have when your design touches something inside of a generation and your brand explodes. Clearly, it wasn’t a brand at that time; it was a garage operation with a couple of guys and a sewing machine.
Julius, to get back to him, was born out of love. Paul had sewn it down on a wallet and gave it to his girlfriend as a gift and that’s something that we hold true as a core value in our company to this day. When we’re designing something we have to always remind ourselves to be genuine in that question: “would we want someone to buy this for us as a gift?” That’s really an endearing quality for the brand. I think that it separates us from a lot of perhaps “character” properties out there that are just put-your-logo-here companies. We really pride ourselves on being genuine and wanting to give Paul Frank as a gift. It adds a certain sincerity to the brand.
Q: What inspires you most each day about your job?
A: Now that I’m a dad, I look at the world through my children’s eyes. The cool thing about the way the brand has evolved over time is if you were eighteen or twenty years old ten years ago, you’re now about thirty years old and chances are you have a family of your own. So, we have a line called Small Paul that’s for infants and toddlers that’s a takedown line to everything we do in the teen and adult world for Paul Frank. It’s a lot of fun playing in the children’s realm of the business. We launched a book line with Chronicle Books that tells bedtime stories. We’re working on a whole interactive community service for our website where kids can go and upload their creations. That’s in the works, it’s not done yet. We’re really trying to encourage kids to draw and be creative. It sort of goes back to my roots where I was exposed to something unknowingly and now I have the opportunity and the platform to actually bring change and affect change and help kids become creative. For every computer class that goes into a school it seems to be the art programs that are sacrificed. Therefore, one of our missions as a company is to spread the message for kids to make things: make things with their hands. It’s great that they can play on computers and be creative but also learn how to sew. We’re purveyors of those old nostalgic techniques of the hand craft. Things like sewing and making and patterns. That’s the cool thing: this company has provided me ultimately with a platform to give something back and affect change in the next generation, especially when it comes to my own kids.
Q: In what other ways has being a dad affected your day to day business decisions or aspects of the company?
A: Having a certain sensitivity to employees who might be pregnant or going through getting married or those types of things. The single version of me was probably a bit more insensitive and more “hey this is business, where here to work.” Then you get married and have a couple kids and all of the sudden you become a little bit softer in your work environment. You have a certain sensitivity all of the sudden to what a pregnant employee might be going through. As goofy as that sounds it’s true. You don’t know until you go through it. So I think this whole thing has been an interesting learning process for me as an employer and as someone who tries to be the boss around here but also be a friend and be understanding.
Q: You have 2 kids in diapers and you manage a huge global brand. How do you balance the two?
A: Well, in addition to that I’m training for a half ironman and a full marathon and doing all that stuff at the same time. But I think they all in a weird way counteract and balance each other out. Fortunately for me, I live 5 miles from my office. So, I’m in a fortunate situation where I’m able to go home and feed my kids lunch and grab something to eat on the way back. I get that midday interaction. I’m able to leave work on time relatively often, feed my kids dinner, go out hit my 10 mile training run, come back and spend some quality time with my wife. I think the training and some of the physical activity that I’m doing also helps relieve some of the stress that is created from running a global business like we do. I think one kind of compliments the other.
Q: What brands and activities do you look forward to sharing with your kids?
A: For one thing, I was a huge Lego fan as a kid and I’m really excited to introduce Lego’s to my son. We’re playing with the oversized ones right now but I think in time his excitement will be even greater as he understands how to build things. Whatever my son chooses to do in terms of his outdoor activities is going to be great. Selfishly, I would like nothing more than to be able to run with him. I’m already pushing him in the jogger stroller right now and I would hope that he has a love of running and cycling and maybe even swimming or the sports I played as a kid; soccer and baseball. I would love to show him those worlds. At the same time if he wants to sit outside and be a painter that’s fantastic too. I’m just really going to expose him and my little girl to a wide variety of things.