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Updated: September 30, 2019 / 2019 Next List Honorees

Dream weavers: Making high-tech wallets, packs and bags from discarded sailcloth

James Morin, Devin McNeill, and Charles Friedman File Photo / Tim Greenway Mainebiz 2019 Next list honorees, left to right, James Morin, Devin McNeill and Charles Friedman at Flowfold headquarters in Gorham.

Flowfold, founded in 2010 by childhood friends and University of Maine classmates Charles Friedman and Devin McNeill, is a growing brand of high-performance, minimalist outdoor and lifestyle bags, packs and accessories. Together with UMaine classmate James Morin, they run the company from Gorham, and project 2019 sales to be well above $1 million.

Mainebiz: How important is the Maine brand to Flowfold’s brand identity?

James Morin: There is excitement about Maine all over the U.S. and even internationally. In fact, our Japanese distributors specifically asked for us to include Maine on our packaging. But at the end of the day, this comes down to authenticity. Maine has been interwoven into our marketing since our very first wallet. Maine is intimately part of the brand identity and will be featured even more prominently soon.

MB: What are each of your roles and styles in managing the company?

Devin McNeill: We are fortunate to have a team with diverse and complementary skill sets. This is critical to our success. James is our COO and president of sales and is also in charge of PR. Charley is our chief innovation officer and responsible for our supply chain and product development. I am our CEO. Our success comes down to our team. My focus is to make sure that we have an environment that empowers everyone to solve problems and create customer value. As a company, our management style is all about focusing on the customer. We’ve done this by investing in company-wide lean manufacturing and kaizen training.

MB: Looking back to your early days in business, is there anything you would have done differently?

Charles Friedman: If you are in the business of distributing physical products, no matter how lightweight or small they may be, make sure to locate your business on ground level. We operated for our first eight years in a second floor space. Looking back now that we are on the ground floor in our new building in Gorham, I cannot imagine what we were thinking. Having to deal with the stairs was an unnecessary hardship.

MB: What was the hardest part of landing clients like REI and L.L. Bean, and the biggest challenge in keeping those relationships strong?

JM: We were asking billion-dollar companies to trust a few 27-year-olds selling wallets. So it wasn’t enough to be “cool,” we needed to prove that we were a legitimate and reliable company. Believe it or not, that was the easy part — maintaining a strong relationship takes constant work and communication. In order to stay relevant, we must continue to innovate, and in order to stay on shelves, we need to continually meet and exceed sales forecasts.

MB: Who’s your business role model or mentor?

JM: I’m pushed by my entrepreneurial friends. Owen McCarthy and Brian Harris [of MedRhythms], for example, were on the 2018 Next list and now that we are on it, too, I want to be better than them … I mean, make them proud!

DM: Our investors have been an incredible resource for us and personally have been mentors to me long before we decided to raise money. Nancy Strojny at SCORE is an invaluable mentor to me and so many others.

CF: When I founded the company in 2010, I had the opportunity to work with Steve Calder, an America’s Cup sail designer whom I met kiteboarding. He got me connected with all the right people in the industry to make our original business model work and off the ground.

MB: What’s next for Flowfold?

JM: On the macro level, we have fully optimized our new headquarters in Gorham, and are now solely focused on growth. On the micro level, you can expect to see continued product innovation, more exciting collaborations, new technical and sustainable fabrics, and a continued focus on product customization.

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