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  • MLCA

People Of The Coast: Shelley Frothingham, Owls Head

The Owls Head home of Scott and Shelley Frothingham shows all the signs of a typical lobsterman’s house. Brightly colored buoys are piled next to the garage. Inside, Scott and his sternman are constructing new lobster traps for his boat Rough Rider while the radio blares Eric Clapton. A dog barks excitedly when a visitor passes by on the way to the back door.

Inside the house, there’s also the hum of activity but of a different sort. Here, 54-year-old Shelley moves amid her eight sewing machines and reams of colorful fabric, thread and scissors. In 2017 she started a new business, Lockwood Totes, crafting her own line of one-of-a-kind tote bags. “I just love making them. I’d give them away if I could!” she exclaimed. Frothingham, like many fishermen’s wives in Maine’s small coastal towns, has always worked. She recounts her many jobs like a person ticking items off the grocery list. “I was a private homecare provider for many years. I was a lunch lady at the school. I had a successful catering business. I worked at the Brown Bag . I did interior and exterior painting. I painted buoys for Scott. I had a cleaning business for a while. Oh, and I made jewelry, too!” Frothingham laughed. But four years ago an unexpected diagnosis of lung tumors brought Frothingham’s busy work life to a screeching stop. “I had to give up my cleaning jobs because of lung issues,” she explained. “I was in the car that day crying because I knew I had to make some income.” She had always worked – what was she to do now? Two days later a friend asked her to create a bag commemorating the Red Sox and the Patriots sports teams. Frothingham hadn’t touched a sewing machine for 18 years. She had learned to sew as a child from her mother, who worked for many years at the old Van Baalen-Nautica clothing factory in Rockland, now the Breakwater office complex. “I used to make clothes for my Barbie dolls on an old treadle sewing machine,” Frothingham recalled. Because she didn’t like the dimensions of the pattern her friend had suggested, she took a piece of cardboard and created a design of her own. The resulting tote bag delighted her friend so Frothingham made a few more. “I was making them and giving them away and having fun,” she said. She gave the totes not only to friends but also donated them to local charitable events benefiting breast cancer survivors and Parkinson’s disease research. Slowly, through word of mouth, her reputation spread. “Some women I know came to ask me to make bags with the name of their husband’s boat and his buoy colors on the bag,” she said. “Those are fun.”

Last year, Frothingham’s father passed away after three years of battling lung cancer. Before he died he suggested a name for his daughter’s expanding business: Lockwood Totes. “It was his middle name, my son’s middle name and my grandsons’ middle names, so it really means family,” Frothingham said. Her business operates close to the bone in terms of expenses. This past winter she attended a business development class offered by TD Bank North in Camden to learn more about business practices. “They couldn’t get over that I had no debt,” she remembered with a laugh. Currently she sells Lockwood Totes through local fairs and festivals as well as a few midcoast retail businesses. The business has its own Facebook page as well. Her designs have won first prize at the Union Fair and other mid-coast summer fairs, resulting in more orders for the one-of-a-kind totes. At some point in the future Frothingham would like to open a storefront and have the opportunity to teach young women the old-fashioned and in her case, valuable, skill of sewing. In the meantime, she is building up her inventory for the summer months. “I believe if you don’t like where you are working, then get the hell out. Something will fall in your lap,” she said. “I love doing this. Every time I pull a tote out it’s like a Christmas present.”

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