The young creators behind swimwear brand Fair Harbor are up to something creative and eco-friendly. Brother-sister duo Jake and Caroline Danehy may only be 24 and 21 years old, respectively, but they started their own sustainable fashion line while in college. Each pair of boardshorts and swim trunks in their New York-based company’s collection is produced from 11 recycled plastic bottles.
Richard Magazine recently caught up with Founder and CEO Jake Danehy to hear the story behind the label, their commitment to recycling and upcycling, and plans for the brand’s future. Check out the exclusive Q&A below.
Richard Magazine: Why did you choose the name Fair Harbor?
Jake Danehy: Fair Harbor is the name of the beach town on Fire Island, off the coast of Long Island, where our family spent summers. It’s essentially a glorified sandbar, where no cars are allowed and everything is built in the sand. It’s a really small community that lives simplistically and inclusively. Regardless of who you are off the island, we’re all equals there. We wanted our brand to embody that, coupled with a commitment to ethics. On the beaches of Fair Harbor, we witnessed a lot of plastic waste. Once I had studied extensively about the negative effects, Caroline and I decided we wanted to do something to keep the oceans clean and protect special communities like Fair Harbor.
Richard Magazine: What inspired the creation of using plastic bottles to create these swimwear pieces?
Jake Danehy: While studying geography at Colgate University, I wrote a thesis on the effects of plastic waste on the oceans. Realizing the detriment to the ecosystem that plastic causes over such a long expanse of time, we felt compelled to do something about it. By using recycled plastic bottles to create high-quality, functional, good looking swimwear, we’re not only playing our part, but (hopefully) reshaping the way consumers view single use plastic waste.
Richard Magazine: What was it like juggling both school and a startup business?
Jake Danehy: It was definitely difficult juggling my studies at Colgate University, my role on the men’s D1 lacrosse team, and starting Fair Harbor. But, honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without lacrosse. The sport gave me structure. I started this company as a junior when I had to wake up at 6am for practice, allot a certain amount of time to school work, and devote a separate block of time to Fair Harbor. I learned quickly how to budget my time effectively. Having so much going on forced me to have a structured schedule and make the most of my time each day—no procrastination or time wasted.
Richard Magazine: What is the manufacturing process that goes behind creating the clothing?
Jake Danehy: Essentially, it starts with sourcing the bottles from mass recycling facilities around the world, which are then shred into poly-fibers. Those pieces are spun into yarn and weaved into fabric. We then work with a mill to dye and/or digitally print the colors and patterns onto those fabrics, cut and sew the styles, which then, finally, are sent to our fulfillment center in New York. Then, sent to you and taken to all ends of the earth, of course.
Richard Magazine: Can you tell us about your journey on pitching to a Shark Tank? What was it like and what were people’s initial reaction to the idea?
Jake Danehy: So, we pitched Fair Harbor as part of a mock Shark Tank competition at Colgate University called Thought Into Action. The panel of celebrity entrepreneurs included Jessica Alba, Neil Blumenthal, MC Hammer, Jennifer Hyman, and more—not to mention a 2,000 person audience.
The pitch, in 2015, came before anyone really knew that the technology to convert recycled plastic bottles into apparel even existed. I literally took a plastic bottle and asked if they could imagine turning that into these (as I held up a pair of boardshorts). People were in awe, including Jessica Alba and Jennifer Hyman who are in fashion. It was a really cool moment.
Richard Magazine: Can you describe the Fair Harbor customer?
Jake Danehy: The Fair Harbor customer is someone who lives for the summer. Our typical customer escapes the city on the weekends to release stress from the previous work week and relax with his friends on the weekends at a beach; playing spikeball, paddling out to catch a few waves in the surf, firing up the barbecue, and then going to the bar with a few buddies in the evening. That being said, the majority of our customers are women who buy shorts for their brothers, spouses, boyfriends, etc. We are looking forward to finally offering our female customers swimwear this spring/summer season.
Richard Magazine: If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself about creating this brand?
Jake Danehy: When we first came up with the idea to create a sustainable lifestyle brand, and make swimwear from recycled plastic bottles, many people told us that our idea for creating Fair Harbor wouldn’t work. Since we didn’t have a lot of experience in the industry and were (and are) young, we were judged by our age and our lack of professional background to start a company.
However, we both believed in our vision and our passion pushed us to persevere through those doubts. We realized that there will always be people telling us we’re wrong, but it’s up to us to trust our instinct. Looking back, we would tell our former selves to listen to the advice of professionals who have more experience, but don’t let the doubt of others get in the way of us making our vision a reality.
Richard Magazine: What can we expect next from Fair Harbor?
Jake Danehy: In the immediate future, we’ll be releasing all-new men’s products—new styles, colorways, and a new performance short made of recycled plastic bottles and upcycled coconut. We’re releasing a collaboration collection that’ll feature photography from Johnny Vacay digitally printed onto our signature boardshorts. And, lastly, come May, we’ll be releasing a debut women’s collection, which we’re really excited about.— Richard Editorial Staff