“My design is my life, my life is my design,” says Erin Flett, the Westbrook-based textile designer who was named HGTV Magazine’s Designer to Watch 2016, the top award from among thousands who responded to an open call. “People always tell me that I need boundaries. But I’ve never worked that way,” Erin says. “This is not just my job; this is my life. I’m doing what I love and am passionate about.”
Erin’s entrepreneurial success story starts off sounding like so many Maine women—a degree (in graphic design), children (two girls) and self-employment. She started her graphic design business 12 years ago when her oldest daughter, Breshia, was an infant, because she wanted a flexible schedule and the opportunity to work at home. But Erin also listened to her own artistic voice and started making things with her art in the evenings. “One fed the other for a really long time,” Erin says. “And I still take on graphic design projects that are really amazing and I can’t say no.” But these days, she’s largely consumed by pillows.
Several years ago now, someone saw Erin’s hand-printed cards in a flower shop in Portland and said she’d love to see her work on fabric. Right away, Erin made a pillow for a friend’s wedding present. That one pillow was the start of everything.
Before long, Erin and her partner and husband, Maslen—a carpenter by trade—were printing pillow after pillow in their basement in Gorham. And as Erin Flett the artist designed more and more products, erin flett the company developed a coherent line of hand-printed art—from bags to wall art to glassware to (most recently) rugs.
Erin is known for iconic lifestyle elements like pine trees, crabs, squirrels and frogs—inspired by her life in Maine with her husband and daughters. But even more distinctively, erin flett hand-prints modernistic design aesthetics—bold colors, patterns and composition—on custom-woven bark cloth that has rarely been used in the past half a century. The flood of orders coming in over the past couple of years is testament to the appeal of her designs for the stylish soul.
Even before she moved her studio from her Gorham basement to Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, national media started calling. Over the past five years, erin flett has been featured in more than 30 magazines including O, The Oprah Magazine, Country Living and Family Fun.
“We’re growing truly crazy town right now,” says Erin, who was featured in the Better Homes and Gardens Stylemakers 2016 issue last month.
Hiring the right local people—silk screeners, stitchers and others to help with everything from ironing to shipping—makes all the difference.
“The work is intertwined with their lives, just as it is with mine,” Erin says. “I want people to truly enjoy working with me and to believe in the brand. We weave and print and manufacture everything here, and we all stand behind that. We are a Maine-made story.”
Even with a well-designed life, fitting everything into the day isn’t easy. Erin gets up at 4:30 a.m. to get a head start on things at home before her girls wake up, and she leaves the studio at 3 p.m. to spend the rest of the day with them. “When I come to my studio, it’s my sanctuary,” she says.
For more about Erin and her company, see erinflett.com
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.