It’s Transformation Tuesday! But instead of transforming yourself, how about thinking about how you can transform the world? Check out Fair Harbor Clothing (fairharborclothing.com), the company which is turning plastic bottles into boardshorts. Transformative, trendy and fun!
I talked to my friend, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Caroline Danehy to learn more:
1. How does one go about turning plastic bottles into swim suits?
Every year in the U.S. alone, 50 billion plastic bottles are used and discarded after just one use. At Fair Harbor, we are making it our responsibility to change the fate of these plastic bottles and give them a second life. The first step of our boardshort journey starts in North Carolina where the bottles are collected. Then the bottles are sent to Suzhou, China where they are broken down into small filament particles, heated and woven into polyester fiber. During this procedure, the bottles are transformed from tiny strands of recycled polyester thread into feather light, peach-faced fabric. (*All of our dyes and chemicals are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified). Next, the fabric is sent to Guatemala where the trimmings are assembled, fabric is cut, and boardshorts are carefully crafted into perfect pieces of swimwear. Once they are all finished being manufactured, they are sent back to our home base in New York.
2. You have two other co-founders. How did you all end up doing this together, and how has it evolved?
Jake, my brother, was a geography major at Colgate University, and as a geography major, he learned a lot about over consumption, garbage and how wasteful we can be as consumers. Every year, the 50 billion plastic bottles in the U.S. that are used and discarded after just one use end up in landfills, are incinerated, or end up in the ocean. Jake called me on the phone in spring of 2014 from school, explaining that he had an idea to start an environmentally friendly company, and I immediately jumped on board. After a brainstorming session and a lot of fabric research, we came up with the idea to make boardshorts out of a material that turns plastic bottles into a high performance swimsuit material. We then brought Sam, a close family friend who was an entrepreneur major at University of Southern California, to help with the financial side of the business. Jake and Sam both graduated this spring. Jake and I are working on Fair Harbor full time this summer, while Sam has taken a full time position at Jet.com. Jake plans on continuing to build Fair Harbor full time this fall, and I will work on it as well once I go back to school.
3. What is it like running a business while attending college?
It is definitely a challenge at times, but completely worth it. This past year was my first year attending Colgate, and while I loved it, and it was one of the best years of my life, it was definitely a much bigger transition than I ever imagined. In the beginning, I had a hard time balancing it all, but as the year progressed I became more comfortable at school, and it no longer seemed like a balancing act; it all fit together somehow. Even though it probably wasn’t the most ideal time to launch our Kickstarter Campaign during finals week(!), it all seemed to work out in the end. I absolutely love the work that we are doing with Fair Harbor, and my passion for the company and our mission motivates me to find the time to devote myself to Fair Harbor.
4. What impact do you hope for Fair Harbor to have on the environment?
At Fair Harbor, our main mission is to ensure that less plastic waste appears on beaches by turning plastic waste into boardshorts. This simple, concrete idea, however, lends itself to so many other important aspects of our business. In particular, I hope that Fair Harbor brings awareness to people that waste can be revitalized into a new product. When we tell people that our shorts are solely made from 11 plastic bottles, they can’t believe it – some even doubt us. This is one of the most rewarding parts of Fair Harbor to me, because we are helping people see a different way to approach consumerism. Our products don’t have to be made from new resources extracted from the environment, but we can transform what we have already used into new products, like our boardshorts. A few weeks ago, I spoke at an elementary school about Fair Harbor, and like most people, the kids were surprised, but their surprise got them thinking. They started asking questions about everything that they could make from plastic bottles – stuffed animals, fans, blankets, hair brushes, even a UFO. While some might think that what they were saying was silly, to me, it was incredible. Instead of thinking of plastic waste as something that they put in the garbage to go to a landfill, they began to think about it as a tool for new innovation. If elementary school students are begin to think like this, we have a brighter future than we think!
5. Where do you see the company in 5 years?
a. Right now we are focusing on selling our second line of men’s boardshorts and seeing where that will take us. We have heard incredible feedback so far and are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. We really hope to expand our brand into women’s swimwear, which would include bathing suits, cover-ups, etc.
6. What makes you feel confident?
I always dreamed about playing college lacrosse since I was a little girl. Unfortunately, however, I started to develop stress fractures in both of my shins in 8th grade that became chronic. During the summer going into my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with my 6th set of stress fractures and had to hang up my cleats for good. This devastated me and lowered my self-confidence for a while. Lacrosse had been a part of my identity since I was 5, and all of a sudden it was gone. However, over time I started to realize that where one door closes another opens. Since I couldn’t do any activity that required running – or fast walking for that matter – I started practicing yoga. Slowly, I began to develop a deep passion for it. I became more aware of my body, and my confidence started coming back. I believe feeling confident starts from within and then radiates outward, and I found that yoga was the perfect environment for me to work on my inner self, while still exercising my body in a way that didn’t harm it. Since then I have wanted to get my yoga certification, and this spring, I realized that there was no time like the present. I found a yoga studio about 10 minutes away with a summer teacher training and signed up for it. I started my training in May, and it has been one of the most amazing, liberating and self-confidence building experiences I have had. One of the most incredible aspects of my training so far is realizing how much power we have over our thoughts, our bodies, and our energy – the energy that we release is the energy that we attract. Perhaps this came from the lack of control that I had with my fractures, but I truly feel the most confident when I feel like I have power over my life and my decisions. Other things include: after a yoga practice, being outside, around the people that I love, and eating the foods that I love. Also – a lot of my confidence comes from Fair Harbor. I am so incredibly proud of our work and how far that we’ve come with it. Being able to sell our product and help people become aware of transforming plastic waste into new products makes me feel like I am making a positive impact in people’s lives – which makes me excited and motivates me to continue with it.
7. Where did you all go to school? And what were your majors?
I went to Fieldston Ethical Culture School for High School. Now I am at Colgate University (2019), where I plan to major in Environmental Geography. My brother Jake went to Mamaroneck High School. He just graduated from Colgate where we majored in Geography. Sam also went to Fieldston for High School. He just graduated from USC with a degree in Social Entrepreneurship.
8. Who is your entrepreneurial inspiration?
Outdoor Voices: Tyler Haney – In 2012 Tyler started Outdoor Voices, a lifestyle brand that focuses on active lifestyle brand. They believe in “freeing fitness from performance and embracing activity with ease, humor, and delight.” Four years later, and it’s incredible and truly inspiring what she’s done with the brand (including raising close to $10M from investors). Check out:
Thanks Caroline for sharing the amazing power of transformation with us. Be sure to check out Fair Harbor’s website and instagram (@fairharbor) to learn more.