As kids, Jake and Caroline Danehy spent their summers on Fire Island, a quaint beach community off the coast of Long Island. So when they noticed plastic washing up on the shores of their favorite childhood beaches, they decided to do something about it—in an unexpected way. Caroline was just a senior in a high school, while Jake was a sophomore in college. But their passion was enough to bring to life a fully-formed lifestyle brand that helps solve the plastics problem, Fair Harbor. Caroline speaks with Musings about the process of launching the brand and Fair Harbor’s work to build a more sustainable future for both local communities, and the world.
When did you first have the idea for Fair Harbor Clothing?
Jake was a geography major at Colgate University, and as a geography major he learned a lot about the allocation of resources, overconsumption, environmental justice, and sustainability. During his sophomore year, he learned about plastic waste—and how much of it goes into the ocean every year.
Upon learning about the great danger that Fair Harbor might be in, and other small beach towns like it, he became obsessed with figuring out how to solve the growing plastic problem. That spring, Jake called me and explained that he had an idea to start an environmentally friendly clothing company. I immediately jumped on board.
After many long nights researching plastic waste, we decided that we wanted to create a swimwear company that made all of our products out of recycled plastic. On top of that, we wanted to use some of the profits to remove even more plastic from the oceans and clean up beaches.
Jake and I were inspired to build a lifestyle brand that epitomized our childhood summers of living in Fair Harbor. The goal was to raise awareness not only about our plastic problem, but also about how we can transform “trash” into durable, stylish clothing.
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far regarding the power of individual impact on the environment?
People are constantly making decisions without necessarily thinking about their long-term implications. For example, it’s become almost instinctual to throw away a Gatorade plastic bottle after just one use, because it’s been labeled “disposable.” But how disposable is it really? Waiting 450 years for that one Gatorade bottle to biodegrade shouldn’t be the norm.
We actually do have the power to change the fate of plastic waste—which should be the new norm. It has made me become conscious about the possibilities that exist to to find a way to amend our past mistakes and find new ways to give plastic a second life. Overall, it has made me become more optimistic that we can be the change that we want to see in the world and that we shouldn’t wait for someone else to do it someday—but do it ourselves right now.
What did you find challenging about launching your brand?
The biggest challenge we faced was developing an efficient supply chain and finding factories that we were able to communicate with. Neither Jake nor I have backgrounds in sourcing fabric or materials, but we were fortunate enough to find an experienced consultant. Since our first production run, we have been working with Diane Walker of Sweenie Manufacturing.
What is the main message you hope customers take away from your brand?
Many millennials have shown an increased awareness for the environment and sustainability, but still do not know where their plastic goes when they recycle it. When we tell people that our swimwear is made from recycled plastic bottles, most people can’t believe it. They are shocked by how soft the fabric is, and how quickly it dries. Our goal is to raise awareness not only about our plastic problem, but also about the amazing things that we can make out of recycled plastic.
Do have any advice for others on how they can pursue a similar mission?
Instead of living in a world of excess, we focus on living minimally and to our absolute potential, while being conscious about how our individual choices could have a long-term effect on our planet’s health.
What would you say to someone interested in launching an entrepreneurial endeavor to benefit their local community?
Just take a leap of faith and go for it! Our brand started from a small thought during a geography class. We had no idea how it would turn out, but we had to trust our instincts because we believed in what we were doing.
As long as the passion is there, that’s all that matters—the rest will organically follow.
After Jake graduated from Colgate in May 2016, he made the decision to work on Fair Harbor full-time. While this was a risky decision, entrepreneurs need to take risks in order to reap the benefits. Instead of looking at the possibility of failing, it’s key to emphasize the reward of succeeding. We don’t know where Fair Harbor will take us in the future, but we are excited to find out.