Maine Designer Erin Flett’s Whirlwind Year

Winning $100,000 was just one highlight.

Erin Flett bag
By Sarah Stebbins
Erin Flett bag

When Erin Flett launched her bag and tote collaboration with L.L.Bean last May, “my people showed up,” the Gorham designer says of her more than 17,000 social-media followers (many of whom write her daily “just to say hi”). She estimates 50 superfans sent her pics of their purchases on launch day. Others posted their snaps on Bean’s website: there’s one of Flett’s mustard-colored, zippered pouch in abstract camo with a coordinating top and sandals; another’s a selfie with a blue-and-white tote in a wavy-lined grid print inspired by buffalo plaid. Bean’s sold the majority of her spring line in the first six weeks after it was released and debuted her fall collection, featuring new bird and pine-bough patterns, in September. 

The fall launch capped a heckuva summer for Flett. In June, the judges of News Center Maine’s Greenlight Maine — in which 26 entrepreneurs vie, Shark Tank style, for $100,000 — crowned her the winner. Two months later, business journal Mainebiz named her one of its 2020 Women to Watch, the latest installment of a 12-year-old program honoring female entrepreneurs. “People believe in our story,” Flett says — that is, her plucky tale of growing a side hustle hand-printing textiles in her basement into a national brand with more than 200 wholesale clients and a 4,000-square-foot shop and factory.

With her winnings, Flett expanded her staff from 18 to 24, purchased an industrial “walking-foot” sewing machine, and invested in printed-canvas yardage with a matte, water-based coating she hopes to turn into totes before Christmas. “People have been waiting a long time for a tote from me that is utilitarian and life-proof,” she says, adding that the new line’s small-scale patterns pair easily with a range of outfits — pairings her fans will undoubtedly be eager to share.