Here’s a great idea: instead of disposing of plastic bottles, why don’t we just wear the materials instead?
Sounds crazy, but that’s what siblings Jake and Caroline Danehy of Fair Harbor Clothing have set out to do. Their clothing line involves making board shorts from plastic bottles, with each pair recycling 11 bottles which are shredded, spun, and woven into fabric.
Jake came up with concept for the swimwear collection while he was still studying at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. He found out that more than 50 billion plastic bottles are used every year, with plenty of it ending up in the oceans.
Alarmed, he teamed up with his sister Caroline, who had a passion for fashion, to start the company. Growing up in the small seaside community of Fair Harbor on Fire Island in New York State, the siblings spent their summers playing in the sand and swimming in the sea.
So it was a no-brainer when the time came for them to do something about the world’s garbage problem.
Since then, they’ve received a US$15,000 (AUS$19,800) grant from Colgate’s entrepreneurship program, as well as US$25,000 (AUS$33,000) from their own Kickstarter campaign. Jake has now finished school and runs the business full-time while Caroline is balancing work and her studies.
We recently caught up with Jake to find out more about their incredible work at Fair Harbor.
Where did you get the idea to turn plastic bottles into board shorts?
“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 everyone rides around on weathered bicycles. It’s a really small community that lives simplistically and inclusively.
“Situated between the bay and the ocean, we witnessed a lot of plastic waste wash up on the beaches of Fair Harbor. Once I had studied extensively about the negative effects of plastic waste in the ocean, Caroline and I decided we needed to do something to keep the oceans clean and protect special communities like Fair Harbor.
“Swimwear was a natural fit. After learning about the technology to convert plastic bottles into polyester, making swimwear spoke to our childhoods at the beach, wearing board shorts, and bathing suits all day to surf, swim, fish, lounge, and so on.”
You started the business in college. What was it like trying to balance entrepreneurship and your studies? What’s the most challenging aspect?
“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.”
Speaking of challenges, is it difficult trying to run a company with a sibling?
“Caroline and I have always gotten along. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever even argued. I’m the oldest of three. Our family is incredibly tight-knit and in terms of being in business with Caroline, she really complements me in a lot of ways.
“Caroline is the Creative Director of Fair Harbor, and brings a whole new perspective. As we spent our childhood summers together, we share the same passion and vision for the brand. While we’ve primarily been a men’s swimwear company up until now, she has spearheaded the upcoming women’s collection while I am now more focused on the men’s.”
What’s your vision for Fair Harbor? Where do you see yourselves in the near future?
“Our vision for Fair Harbor is to create a community around our brand and connect people with the Fair Harbor lifestyle. Whether it’s participating in beach cleanups or leading sunset yoga sessions, we see ourselves engaging with different people and bringing them together.
“The island of Fair Harbor is inclusive and brings together a diverse group of people to enjoy the simple summer life, and our goal with Fair Harbor is to encompass that feeling. As we launch new products, we are constantly thinking about unique ways to engage with our customers around this philosophy.”
Should we expect a new collection or a new product from Fair Harbor soon?
“We’ve just released a new performance board short and athletic short that use the signature recycled polyester from plastic bottles, but also comprise of upcycled coconuts. Fair Harbor also has a collaboration collection coming out with a local artist, Johnny Vacay, which feature his photographs digitally printed onto our signature boardshorts. They’re awesome, and really limited in quantity.
“We’re also gearing up for the release of Fair Harbor’s first women’s collection mid-May. That has been highly anticipated we’re looking forward expand into the women’s market. We’re always innovating and looking to create new products that relate back to the Fair Harbor lifestyle. Being so involved in our supply chain allows us to do so.”