Alumna takes passion for prints from small idea to big business

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Alumni Profiles | Erin Flett

For graphic designer Erin Lesh Flett, a single pillow provided all the inspiration she needed to launch an entire textile and home-goods brand—and change the trajectory of her career.

Shortly after graduating from KU with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Flett, f’01, and her husband, Maslen, ’97, loaded up their belongings and drove from Lawrence to Portland, Maine, where Flett took a job at an advertising agency. When she became pregnant with their first child, Flett transitioned to freelance design, thinking it would give her greater flexibility and more creative control. But the daily grind of meeting client demands continued.

“I was probably three or four years in, and my heart just wasn’t whole,” Flett explains. “I knew that there was more in me. So, I started drawing stuff on the side.”

Flett’s distinct illustrations soon drew the attention of friends, one of whom asked Flett to create a custom gift for her wedding. She came up the idea for a handmade pillow, sketching a unique pattern and hiring a local T-shirt company to print the design on fabric. “As soon as I printed one pattern on a piece of cloth, I was hooked,” she recalls. “I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Alumni Profiles | Erin Flett
“We hand-print and sew everything we make,” says Erin Flett, owner of Erin Flett Textiles and Home in Maine. “It’s really important to me to stay the course on that.”

Flett immediately followed that pattern with six more, and her first textile line was born. By 2009, she was selling her handcrafted pillows on the e-commerce site Etsy and could barely keep up with demand. “I was really taking over this poor guy’s T-shirt company,” Flett admits, adding that after almost two years, the shop owner kindly suggested that she take on the printmaking herself.

With her husband’s help, Flett learned the multistep, silk-screen process, first setting up a workspace in their kitchen and eventually moving to the basement, where the couple toiled for hours after putting their daughters to bed. “That’s what we did in the middle of the night after our day jobs,” she says. “We were literally like little elves downstairs for a good two years.”

As her business blossomed, Flett was featured as an up-and-comer in several national magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine; Better Homes & Gardens; and Real Simple. The exposure—and the influx of orders that followed—gave her the confidence in 2013 to move business operations out of her basement and into the Dana Warp Mill, a historic waterfront property with a rich tradition in textile manufacturing in downtown Westbrook, Maine. With 1,400 square feet of work space, Flett expanded her business to include a variety of bags, tea towels, glasses, wall art and other accessories, and she hired additional staff to help bring her bold, vintage-inspired ideas to life.

More than a decade after creating her first designs, Flett hasn’t wavered on her brand’s dedication to local craftsmanship and high quality. Now in an even larger space with a retail area, she still employs a team of about 20 Maine residents and continues to source her canvas and bark cloth from a textile weaver in North Carolina. To this day, she maintains a small-business mentality, despite the fact that in recent years she has teamed up with major retailers like Anthropologie and L.L. Bean for collaborative collections.

“I just really, truly love what I do,” Flett says. “I really enjoy doing my art and seeing it on different products. … Even in the hardest weeks, I still feel so much passion and excitement for what’s to come.”

Photographs courtesy Erin Flett

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