Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 2, Page 20
Winter 1992
Alumni Profile; Flipping over Flapdoodles fashions
     What is Flapdoodles? A dictionary definition is "nonsense," but
for millions of children across the United States and Canada,
Flapdoodles means soft, loose-fitting, brightly colored, everyday
     Started six years ago by Marc Ham, Delaware '85, and Carole
Bieber, Delaware '76, Flapdoodles has rapidly developed into a leading
manufacturer of children's clothing, as kids and parents seem to like
the relaxed design and colorful prints. And, the catchy name of the
Newark, Del., company even attracted the attention of artist Johnny
Hart, who defined flapdoodle in his BC comic strip as "the little logo
on the seat of your designer Dr. Dentons."
     Bieber and Ham first met in March 1985 and officially started
Flapdoodles during the summer of that year. Bieber, who was recovering
from self-proclaimed "teacher burnout," had left her elementary
teaching job in Maine. Ham was wondering what he could do just months
after his graduation from the University. In a small apartment, the
couple decided to launch their own line of children's clothes, based
on the premise that kids need "everyday, fun, functional clothing."
     At first, they placed Bieber's designs on ready-made clothing and
dyed solid color cottons in their washing machine. After about five
months, Bieber and Ham decided the quality of ready-made garments was
so bad that "we had to start making our own things." Today, the couple
controls the manufacture, design and marketing of a line sold in more
than 800 stores. Flapdoodles clothes range in size from infant to size
     During the company's first year, some University of Delaware
students earned extra money helping the couple fold their creations
for shipping. By 1987, Flapdoodles hired its first full-time employee
and moved to a space above a restaurant on North College Avenue. Tom
Carr, Delaware '87, who began folding clothes with Flapdoodles during
this time, now works as the company's credit manager. Today,
Flapdoodles employs 18 University of Delaware graduates, several of
whom started out folding clothes.
     Last November, Ham and Bieber bought a 67,000-square-foot
building in the Delaware Industrial Park. The popularity of
Flapdoodles has also forced the couple to formalize what had been the
family-like atmosphere of a smaller company, although they still try
to keep an open-door policy for their 130 employees. Bieber, who is
the vice president, now has a merchandiser as well as assistants who
suggest design possibilities. Ham, the president, is in charge of what
he calls the "day-to-day operations" in the production, sales and
accounting departments.
     Despite the company's rapid growth, Bieber and Ham recently found
out that Flapdoodles is still small enough to run from one telephone.
About a year ago, a violent storm knocked out the power and phone
lines in their Newark office-all the phones, that is, except for a gag
gift telephone designed like a shoe. The whole company ran on a shoe
until the power was restored.
     Flapdoodles styles are simple. The colors are brilliant. Each
Flapdoodle line, based upon 17 different colors and two prints,
consists of soft cotton pants, dresses, jackets, shirts and headbands.
The dresses are tailored to fit without restricting and have the same
prints as the boys' corduroy pants.
     Flapdoodles prints-the unisex geometric designs and uncomplicated
plaids-are designed and marketed with extreme care because Bieber and
Ham view the prints as integral to the success of the line. The prints
"aren't just silly lollipops," Bieber says. Ham says the children's
fashion industry dictates a need for more than juvenile patterns.
     Bieber has firm notions about how Flapdoodles clothing should
look. Although she says that she now can attempt more daring designs
because of the financial security and the solid reputation of the
company, she hesitates to call herself a clothes designer. "It's hard
to say 'Oh, I'm a designer' when I consider it personal taste," she
says. "I put things together personally that I would like to wear. If
that's a designer, then I guess I am one."
     The pair has now started to produce a Flapdoodles line for
adults. Ham says that the expansion in the clothing line is for "older
kids-kids who have grown out of the Flapdoodles line, or the parents
of kids who buy Flapdoodles." Since mid-July, Bieber and Ham have been
shipping adult Flapdoodles to the boutiques and the major department
stores (such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's) that previously
only offered Flapdoodles for children.
     Now adults, as well as children, can flaunt a Flapdoodle logo on
their designer clothes.
     -Marceline A. Bunzey, Delaware '92M