- Jake Danehy, 26, and his sister Caroline, 23, are the founders of Fair Harbor, a company that makes swimsuits out of recycled plastic bottles.
- The two are working to become leaders in the push for a more sustainable fashion industry.
- Caroline told Business Insider that Fair Harbor is on track to have recycled over 3 million water bottles by next year.
- In 2019, both siblings made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, receiving recognition for their efforts in fashion and sustainability.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Jake Danehy, 26, and his sister Caroline, 23, grew up vacationing in the small town of Fair Harbor, New York. As children, Jake said, he and his sister didn’t think much of the plastic waste that would wash up ashore when they were surfing and fishing.
In fact, it wasn’t until Jake majored in geography at Colgate University and learned about global ocean currents and climatology that he started to reconsider the time he spent in Fair Harbor.
“I spent an entire year really digging down into the nitty-gritty newness of the plastic waste [problem] and its effect on our environment,” he told Business Insider. “I turned to Caroline, who was a senior in high school at the time, and I was like, let’s do [something].”
So, in 2014, the siblings came up with Fair Harbor: a company named after their favorite vacation town that makes swimsuits from recycled plastic bottles, part of the initiative to reduce single-use plastic waste. Caroline, who always had an interest in fashion, began studying geography at Colgate University as well, and together, the siblings participated in the university’s mock “Shark Tank” competition, where Jessica Alba, Jennifer Hyman, MC Hammer, Dave Fiago, and Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker judged the projects of nearly 2,000 students.
Jake and Caroline pitched their idea for Fair Harbor and won the competition, earning the grand prize: $20,000 in grant money. From there, a unique new fashion enterprise was born.
Fair Harbor’s goal is to help curb fashion’s 2.5 billion pound waste problem
After Jake and Caroline received the grant money, they quickly got the ball rolling with their new company. The pair had private early rounds of funding through friends and family and started doing trunk shows, hoping to get the word out about their burgeoning brand. They also sought to speak to potential customers about their products and Fair Harbor’s mission. This, Caroline explained, was the way they did market research, and they ended up creating their products based around customer feedback.
“Our parents are amazing and they always joke that, you know, when you hear about entrepreneurs starting up in the garage, it’s a lie, because it actually takes over the whole house,” Jake told Business Insider.
The fashion industry has been grappling with its sustainability problem and trying to figure out how to be more environmentally friendly in recent years.
As Business Insider previously reported, the entire fashion industry creates over 150 million pieces of new clothing each year. Nearly 2.5 billion pounds of used clothing, in addition to 87% of all textiles, end up in landfills annually, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found in 2019. Fashion emits almost as much Co2 emissions as the automotive industry — 1.2 billion metric tonnes (1.3 billion tons) of Co2 equivalent per year, Business Insider previously reported.
Fashion is also the second-largest polluter of water, according to Business Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen; 20% of the world’s wastewater comes from fabric dying. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the industry dumps nearly a half a million tons of plastic microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
“We’ve recycled over 500,000 plastic bottles, and next year, we’ll do over [3 million],” Caroline told Business Insider, noting that they receive the plastic bottles from recyclable facilities around the world. “We’re weaving these plastics back into our shorts to give them a second life.”
Fair Harbor is the next generation of sustainability
Last year, the duo launched the Round Trip Initiative, where they take any old swimsuits from their customers and give them a discount code for future Fair Harbor purchases. This initiative, similar to Madewell’s denim recycling program, is meant to discourage people from throwing old clothes into the garbage, where it will end up in landfills and increase pollution.
The siblings also host beach cleanups, aiming to bring communities together so they can raise awareness about the importance of reducing waste in the oceans.
“We believe in progress, not perfection,” Caroline said. “These small little movements and these small little improvements can really have a huge impact on how all industries — and how companies — really approach sustainability.”
Millennials have been at the forefront of the sustainability movement, creating a shift in a consumer culture where people now buy products that have a purpose, from companies with a stated mission their customers believe in. There is a clear interest in this new and improved retail model: Fair Harbor has spent the last five years scaling their business and opening pop-up shops throughout the country, with the brother-sister cofounders (both Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees) reporting a 40% year-over-year growth.
“It takes grit. It takes persistence,” Caroline said. “We’re fortunate to be in this together. We definitely lean on each other. Being siblings, it’s been an incredible partnership.”
The Fair Harbor team’s hope is that others in the fashion industry will take note of their business model, turning sustainability into a real priority and not just offering up a one-off initiative here and there for good optics.
“We would like to see, [and] what we are kind of seeing now, is more and more brands understanding [the importance of sustainability] and it needs to be a holistic thing, not just with the launch of one sustainable product,” Jake added. “Let’s actually get behind something and start a movement.”