Jun 19, 2023
Sibling Entrepreneurs Turn Plastic Waste Into A Sustainable Lifestyle Brand
Sibling entrepreneurs Caroline and Jake Danehy, cofounders of Fair Harbor Clothing For one woman entrepreneur, youth has its advantages. Caroline Danehy, cofounder and chief brand officer of Fair
Sibling entrepreneurs Caroline and Jake Danehy, cofounders of Fair Harbor Clothing
For one woman entrepreneur, youth has its advantages. Caroline Danehy, cofounder and chief brand officer of Fair Harbor Clothing, and her brother started the company in 2014 when she was in high school. She had passion, youthful exuberance, agility, curiosity, grit, a willingness to be coached, and an attitude to do whatever it takes.
Fair Harbor has gone from selling board shorts made from recycled plastic bottles from the family garage to becoming a sustainable lifestyle brand in less than a decade. Flagship stores have opened in Soho and Palm Beach Gardens. The brand is sold in Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue, specialty stores, and online through its site and other sites.
Danehy spent summers fishing, swimming, and surfing in Fair Harbor with her family. Fair Harbor is a small summer community on Fire Island, off the southern coast of Long Island, New York.
"It's a magical place with no cars and a simple, minimalist living," Danehy said. The life there inspired the siblings to form a company that transforms harmful plastic waste into comfortable beachwear.
"We started to notice more and more plastic waste washed up onto the shores," sighed Danehy. She became interested in sustainability, insisting that her family turn off lights, bring reusable bags to the grocery store before it was mandated, and organize park cleanups.
Caroline Danehy, cofounder and chief branding officer at Fair Harbor Clothing
At the same time, Danehy developed a strong love for fashion. She wrote a fashion blog from middle through high school, "Cakes, Cookies, and Cardigans," which focused on consignment and vintage shopping. It was a way for her to make old fashion new again by repurposing clothing.
In 2014, Danehy's older brother, Jake, a junior in college and a geology major, was learning about plastic waste and its impact on the environment, particularly oceans. Danehy was a senior in high school. He told his sister, "We should start something that matters."
They began conceptualizing the mitigation of single-use plastics by creating awesome products people love wearing. The first product was a pair of board shorts made from post-consumer plastic bottles turned into polyester. These shorts are worn in a wide range of activities, such as surfing, bodysurfing, diving, swimming, and sailing.
They entered a Shark Tank-like pitch competition—TIA Entrepreneur Showcase—at Colgate University, where Jake was a student. Judges included Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal, and Jennifer Hyman. They were awarded $20,000 plus mentorship.
The siblings traveled up and down the East Coast doing trunk shows and fulfilling orders from their parent's garage.
Selling at trunk shows gave the brother-sister team clear insight into customers' values and how to position the brand. They were scrappy, determined to succeed, and able to figure things out. Still, naysayers said they were too young to start a business and needed more experience. Boy, did the siblings prove them wrong!
Since then, Fair Harbor moved from selling at trunk shows to e-commerce on their site and others, wholesale (including Nordstrom and Saks 5th Avenue), and opening two retail stores. "We've revolutionized the [board shorts] category by replacing mesh lining with our ultra soft breeze knit liner [that is chafless]," stated Danehy.
They expanded from board shorts to other men's beachwear and have a line of women's and kids' wear. Fair Harbor has recycled over 30 million plastic bottles by turning them into our apparel. "We closed our first institutional round of funding," said Danehy. The dollar amount was not disclosed.
Early-stage founders—especially inexperienced ones—can save time, money, and aggravation by finding mentors and advisors with knowledge, expertise, and connections. Based on their experience, mentors provide guidance and advice that help entrepreneurs avoid mistakes and shorten the time to success.
As young entrepreneurs, the brother-sister cofounders knew they had much to learn. "My dad always taught us to surround ourselves with people who have more experience and know more than we do," said Danehy.
They took advantage of the mentorship provided through the TIA competition. Since then, Danehy has learned to look for people she has a natural connection with from various industries and who have complementary skills to hers. She meets them everywhere, including industry events.
"What Jake and I lack in experience, we make up for in grit, determination, flexibility, and staying agile," said Danehy. "But I couldn't imagine a better time to start a business than my late teens and Jake's early 20s when you have a fresh perspective and an incredible focus to ensure it works."
Still, as a young founder, Danehy finds it challenging to maintain a work-life balance. She puts her entire being into Fair Harbor. Over the past nine years, she has worked hard, kept her head down, pushed forward, staying very focused on product, customer, and brand.
Over time, Danehy realized that having a perfect work-life balance isn't the goal. It's anxiety provoking. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough, so she is grateful for the moments of calm she does have.
Whether it's cooking on Tuesday nights with her boyfriend, going vintage shopping on the weekend, spending time with her family, or meditating, she needs outlets to take a breath. "I need to put it in my calendar; otherwise, life gets away from me," said Danehy.
What fuels your entrepreneurial passion?Passion For Sustainability Becomes A Lifestyle BrandThe Benefits Of Mentors And AdvisorsTo Avoid Burnout, Schedule Downtime