Young Maine company with Lewiston connections scores L.L.Bean contract, sees sales grow

SCARBOROUGH — In one wing of a small, nondescript business park here, six millenials and three office dogs are having the sort of year a young company dreams about.

Since October 2015, Flowfold has doubled its staff, raised $200,000 to inject into the company and expanded its product beyond signature wallets made from super-lightweight, high-performance racing sailcloth.

This fall, part of that success includes an exclusive line with L.L.Bean.

“They wouldn’t bring on a product they don’t believe in, or work for a company they don’t respect — that’s invaluable to us,” said Lewiston native James Morin, Flowfold chief operating officer and president of sales. “They’ve seen good traction and they’ve actually done a reorder already. If that’s any indication, it’s starting on a very positive foot.”

L.L.Bean is selling Flowfold’s wallets, zipper totes and duffel bags in Beans’ traditional olive green color online and in its Freeport store. Getting to this stage was what CEO and co-founder Devin McNeill called a five-year process.

“We, basically since we started our business, wanted to be in L.L.Bean,” McNeill said. “During that time we were a growing brand. I’m sure they were (thinking), rightfully so, ‘Are these guys going to be around next year?’ It’s kind of demonstrating that you have the capabilities to scale (up) and deliver.”


Flowfold, named after a geological term for layered rocks, unofficially got its start in 2005 when founder Charley Friedman started a high school summer job at a Yarmouth sail maker. He grabbed sail scraps out of the trash and began sewing wallets as gifts for family and friends.

“Most people out there, whether they think they’re creative or not, when they learn how to make a physical object, it’s kind of this empowering process,” said Friedman. “It’s kind of exciting to take something that I sketched out or in my head and make a product out of it.”

He kept it up, selling them informally, until a chance meeting during his college summer job teaching kiteboarding classes in North Carolina.

“One of the people I happened to teach to kiteboard was a leading sail designer for an America’s Cup racing team,” Friedman said. “He basically made the right connections for me to take that Dumpster-diving approach to the next level. He was key to finding the partners that we needed to turn this into more than a garage thing.”

Flowfold uses cloth that isn’t ideal for a massive sail. There might be a color blemish or yarn within the fabric may stop or start in the wrong place.

“You can’t make a 10-by-25-foot-high intensity sail (from the outtakes), but you can make thousands of wallets out of it, so we’ll still keep it out of a landfill,” said Morin.


It’s one of the company’s core aims, reducing waste. In another of its new products, Flowfold works with Sterling Rope Co. in Biddeford, which makes high-performance climbing rope.

“Whatever’s excess, they can’t do anything with, we buy it and cut it into five-foot strands and we make dog leashes out of it,” Morin said.

Two years ago, the company, which started in Friedman’s mom’s Peaks Island home in 2010, moved to the business park. His mom is the seventh employee, still helping with packing.

Friedman, McNeill and Morin were college friends who graduated from the University of Maine in 2006. For them and Flowfold, the last year has been huge, starting with raising $200,000 through the Maine Capital Seed Tax Credit Program and having L.L.Bean do a trial test last holiday season at four of its stores.

“It was kind of a story of momentum, investing profits, bootstrapping for the first five years trying to do as much as we could with the resources we had,” McNeill said. “Getting some big wins, L.L.Bean, getting some capital and really exploding through that with more profits, more people and more distribution.”

In the last week, Eastern Mountain Sports also started selling Flowfold gear — which has a lifetime warranty — online and in its Portland and Portsmouth stores.


Half of Flowfold’s sales are direct to customers, half wholesale through several hundred accounts. Some sewing is contracted out within the U.S. Most of the company’s wallets, close to 40,000 last year, are made in-house.

Morin projects revenue to be in the low seven figures for 2017.

Friedman said one of the lessons he learned from courting L.L.Bean was to get his wares out in the world. Selling on and amassing customer reviews was big, he said.

The company’s slim front-pocket billfold has 4.5 stars and 421 reviews on Amazon. In the product description: “Designed by surfers and handmade on the coast of Maine.”

“Now more than ever before, consumers are basically guiding these larger retailers on what products are going to be selling well, because of the reviewing,” Friedman said.

McNeill said the company is about “creating gear that supports everyday adventure” — that will guide future product development and expansion.

Morin, who graduated from Lewiston High School in 2006, sees the company staying true to humble roots.

“We’re on a hot streak and we’ve seen a lot of success and we’re really excited about the future, but we’re still couch surfing when we’re going to trade shows and we’re still packing sandwiches when we’re going out for lunch,” he said. “Those are the things that we’re going to continue to do because we’re really putting all the proceeds we can possibility get into product development or into our great staff.”

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