Thoroughly Modern Maker: Erin Flett
Maine artist Erin Flett gives Oprah Winfrey some of the credit for helping her finally get out of her basement. Six years ago, when Erin started silk-screening her designs on fabric, she and her husband, Maslen, ran the company from home, squeezing in designing, printing and marketing around being the busy parents of two little girls and maintaining his carpentry business and her freelance graphic design work. “After three years working out of the basement, we got a full-page write-up in O, The Oprah Magazine, and that kind of put us on the map,” recalls Erin. “We’ve doubled our business every year for the past five years.”
Thanks to that success, Maslen has been able to return to carpentry full time. “He still comes to all the trade shows and helps with the big decisions. But it’s been a transition because he’s always been my go-to, my partner in crime,” says Erin, who has also been able to move to her dream office. She, three full-time employees and a rotating group of part-timers now work in a lofty, 1,500-square-foot space in a renovated cotton mill. “It has gorgeous vaulted ceilings and nine massive, old mill windows, with that Maine light pouring in,” she says. She painted the entire space bright white and decorated one cozy corner as a living room where her daughters, Breshia, 12, and Aryana, 9, can hang out after school and between dance lessons.
Flett’s husband, Maslen, lends a hand printing fabric.
Their daughters, Aryana and Breshia, in a cozy fort of her bark cloth pillows.
The white and light are the perfect showcase for Erin’s patterns. Screen printed onto bark cloth and fine linen and velvet, the patterns are somehow both fresh and familiar. In the strong graphics and exuberant use of color, there is a hint of inspiration from fabric designers Marimekko and Orla Kiely, but the prints are recognizably Erin’s own. “My favorite quotation is ‘My life is my design; my design is my life,’ ” she says. “I’m inspired by the Maine woods, my kids’ drawings, vintage finds. I’m inspired by everything.”
Navy Art Deco Geometric Lumbar Pillow (10" x 20", $65)
Daisy Deco Lumbar Pillow (10" x 20", $65)
Erin is a formally trained graphic designer, but her informal training began when she was just a kid in Colorado (originally from Fort Collins, her family moved to Littleton, then Windsor), tagging along with her mom on junk-shop excursions. Her mother, an antiques dealer, had a passion for midcentury bark cloth, while Erin fell hard for classic Vera Neumann scarves.
Mod Tulip 20" pillow in golden rod ($85)
Erin’s parents retired to Maine, so after graduation from Kentucky University, Erin and Maslen loaded up a U-haul and headed north too. “We just basically followed them. I love and miss Colorado, but Maine is similar in the trees, outdoor activities and lifestyle. I don’t feel a huge difference. Except that here we have the beautiful ocean.”
Mr. Nut, a design inspired by antique illustrations and “a squirrel in our backyard we called Mr. Nut,” (10" pillow, $35)
Erin found plenty of work in Maine but felt increasingly dissatisfied with the ephemeral nature of her graphic design work. “My designs didn’t have a very long life, and I felt depleted about that,” she says. Then, serendipity: “A random woman I was selling some cards to on Etsy said, ‘I’d love to see this on a pillow.’ A couple of weeks later, a girlfriend had a wedding, and I said, ‘How about I make you a pillow?’ A lightbulb went on, and that’s how it all started. I had no idea what silk screening was. No idea. So I just found people to help me. The instant gratification of putting my pattern on fabric was like a floodgate opening; I completely dove in.”
Silk-Screen Mix-and-Match Glasses (4 for $35)
Hot-Pink Linen Lumbar Pillow ($115)
The dive paid off. Last year, she was named one of Better Homes and Gardens’ Style Makers and won HGTV’s 2016 Designer to Watch Award. “Energetically, it’s been one of the best years,” she says. “But the big story for me personally is how we make our product. We are homegrown, American-made. Our bark cloth is woven for us in North Carolina. We buy our materials from local businesses. We print and sew right here in Maine. I can call most of my vendors and know the owners by their first name, and their children’s names. We really have that as a goal. We produce as orders come in; we are making it for you. Nothing that I’m doing is the most economical way to do anything. But it’s all about the integrity of the product.”
Modern Tote with skinny straps and rivets (15" x 13", $84)
Erin has added rugs to her list of wares, and next up she hopes to expand into wallpaper. “I want to create a design line that allows people to pick up a rug and coordinate accents that all work together,” she says. “That seems so luxurious.” And there’s no end in sight: “I’m a pattern maker, and there are lots of fun things
to put patterns on.”
Blue Linen Apron in navy blue dot pattern ($95)
See more of Flett's work at erinflett.com.