Freeport, ME, April 28, 2020
A Conversation with Erin Flett, The Bold Textile Designer Behind L.L.Bean’s Newest Limited-Time Collection
Iconic heritage prints and bold color come together in L.L.Bean’s limited-edition collection with Maine textile designer Erin Flett. The collection – L.L.Bean x Erin Flett – is comprised of colorful, hand-printed original patterns inspired by some of L.L.Bean’s most iconic prints, including our signature buffalo plaid and camouflage. The result is a dynamic line of one-of-a-kind bags and totes that were hand-cut, silk-screen printed and sewn in Maine with imported materials.
L.L.Bean x Erin Flett consists of three styles available in three colorways and will be featured on llbean.com beginning April 28, 2020.
We had a chance to sit down with Erin to talk about her inspirations, her process, and why running a local operation is so important to her.
Hi Erin. Thank you for taking time to talk with us. I want to start off with hearing about your first L.L.Bean memory. Take us back.
Erin: My mom grew up in Maine, and I was born in Colorado, so we spent a lot of time outside as a family. My mom always talked about her childhood in Maine – she had the most amazing stories, and to me, Maine seemed like such a magical place. As you can imagine, L.L.Bean and the outdoors were always a part of those stories. The woods, the ocean…they’re part of the reason I moved here as a young adult after college.
How did your partnership with L.L.Bean come about?
Erin: The product creation team at L.L.Bean reached out to me, and we started simply: I gave them a tour of my silk-screening and sewing studio, and we talked about my designs and made-in-Maine process. It was very informal, and we didn’t talk about a collaboration right away. After a few months, they came back and we started putting together ideas. Since my studio makes everything here in Maine, we knew it would be an easy transition from conception to production. We could dream up something unique that could tell both our stories.
Photo credit: Erin Little
Tell us about your business and what it is like to be a Maine-based designer.
Erin: I have been growing a small design-cut-sew operation for 10 years now, and this is a moment that feels like everything is coming full-circle.
For those who don’t know my brand, everything we make is cut, printed and stitched in Maine, and that’s key to our brand DNA. My design process is just as important as the finished product. For this limited-edition collection, each bag that we designed passed through the hands of least a dozen Mainers to make it a work of art.
The collection is your take on some of L.L.Bean’s signature patterns and prints. Tell us about how you found the perfect equilibrium of both brands.
Erin: The designs for L.L.Bean x Erin Flett were inspired by classic patterns that have been part of L.L.Bean’s apparel and gear for 108 years, including the iconic buffalo plaid and camouflage. We worked with L.L.Bean’s design team to reintroduce these patterns through imperfectly hand-drawn illustrations, a signature of our designs at Erin Flett.
I love old things – anything with a story and a soul – and L.L.Bean’s Americana history and nostalgia live and breathe in this collection. Our way of life here in Maine is simple – made-by-hand is what we do. This collection is a beautiful merge of our two stories, and my deep connection with L.L.Bean is intertwined in this collaboration.
You’re making hundreds of pieces for this collection in a variety of colorways and sizes. Tell us about some of the most unique patterns.
Erin: Like all of my patterns, I started with a painting process using gouache, which is similar to watercolor. The camo print was painted and then carefully layered using an abstract single-color design, which distinguishes it from the military and hunting camos we traditionally see.
The buffalo plaid is the perfect neutral. I loved painting simple worn lines and putting them together in a way that made me think of waves washing up on Maine’s shoreline. The purposefully inconsistent painted stripes produce a fun, bold, geometric pattern, but that – like your favorite jeans – match whatever you pair them with.
What’s your favorite piece?
Erin: For me, the most exciting bag in the collection is the Meghan Tote Bag, which comes in an exclusive shape that I have been working on for two years. L.L.Bean’s team noticed it while I showed them around my studio, and they asked if it could be part of the collection. It’s inspired by a vintage Japanese basket shape with a wide, textured webbing strap sewn together for detail and comfort. The heavy canvas has a wonderful organic texture with a frayed worn edge, which is my favorite detail and is by far my favorite bag I have ever designed. It has an inside pocket with a gold zipper and contrasting pop of color we are known for. It’s an extremely versatile, durable and modern take on the everyday tote.
Which design was the hardest to nail?
Erin: In order to elevate the collection and ensure these beautiful designs were also durable and utilitarian, it was all in the details. To complement the unique colorways and hand-drawn patterns, we added key details like hand embossed veggie tan leather tags, zipper pulls and brass rivets to give them a clean modern look. We worked with durable heavy weight canvas fabrics and added in rip-stop lining for easy cleaning to ensure that these bags will last just as long as your favorite L.L.Bean Boat and Tote.
Tell us about your team and how you ensure your vision comes through.
Erin: We are a relatively small team of 18 people, mostly stitchers. Our operation is compact, flexible and smart. It’s important to me that we stay true to our mantra to make high-quality, sustainable, hand-made, local products at an affordable price. But most importantly, to bring joy while doing it. We’re constantly working to reduce our environmental impact and to improve resource efficiency in everything we do.
What were you most inspired by as you made this collection?
Erin: Vintage L.L.Bean.
What is the one thing that you hope people remember about this collection?
Erin: There is passion and integrity in everything we made in this collection, and we hope our customers feel that sincerity.
If there’s one piece of advice you would give to a young designer, what would that be?
Erin: Don’t give up. Keep going. Always find a way.