Local Teen Entrepreneurs Turn Plastic Waste Into Trendy Bathing Suits

Westchester natives and siblings Jake and Caroline Danehy, of Larchmont, teamed up with family friend, Sam Jacobson, and are making big waves in the men’s bathing suit industry. Their newly launched business, Fair Harbor Clothing, appeals equally to trendy swimwear lovers and the environmentally friendly activist crowd.

The three have found a way to make board shorts from recycled plastic bottles (11 bottles are used to make one pair of shorts). The idea sprouted last year after Jake, a junior geography major at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY, discovered that about 50 billion plastic bottles are used and discarded carelessly each year, with many ending up in the ocean. This hit home for Jake as he thought fondly about his past summers spent on Fire Island with co-founders Caroline and Sam. In the town of Fair Harbor, their company’s namesake, “there are clean beaches, no cars, and the smell of salt water fills the air,” says Caroline Danehy. The concept of this ideal beach community is exactly what they wanted to help preserve.

While the trio had never run a clothing company before, they each had some entrepreneurial experience that came in handy when turning their idea into a business. Caroline, who had previously maintained a fashion blog, had connections that helped them find, in late 2014, a manufacturer with the technology to convert plastic bottles into polyester. From there, Fair Harbor Clothing was born and the product-developmental process began.

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Jake honed his startup skills in high school by running a lacrosse goalie camp—which he grew from one to 25 goalies—and offering weekly individual goalie lessons. Sam, an entrepreneurship major at University of Southern California, was brought in to help with the financial side of the business. His startup experience includes founding a small business in South Africa that offers a safe environment and weekend entertainment for children, while also providing an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to sell food and other homemade products.

Money for the fledgling company, as with many start ups, has come out-of-pocket from all three, but they also had assistance early on in the game. Jake enrolled Fair Harbor Clothing in Colgate University’s entrepreneurship incubator called Thought Into Action (TIA), where they pitched the company in front of a “shark tank” including panelists Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal, Jennifer Hyman, and Greg Coleman along with 3,000 audience members. They received $5,000 from the incubator, and an additional $15,000 from E-Fund, an event also hosted by Colgate.

Caroline joined her brother in these events to promote their business, but since she was not yet a student there she had to take more of a back seat during the meetings. She will be attending Colgate in the fall as a freshman and will enroll in the TIA program alongside her brother to take a more active role in the company.

While Jake and Caroline were pitching their board-short prototypes to the shark tank panelists, Sam was in Suzhou, China, visiting the factory that now manufactures their products. “Sam got to see, from start to finish, the process that our board shorts go through—from tiny strands of recycled polyester thread to the durable, peach-face polyester fabric,” Caroline explains. “He visited the weaving, dying, printing, and finishing factories to see the current process in action and to learn more about what future developments we could adopt. We tested different fabric blends, alternate dyes, and new fabric-testing options.”

Jake, Caroline, and Sam launched their product line in the namesake town on July 4, 2015. They set up a booth at Fair Harbor’s annual Pinewalk Fair and watched people walk away sporting their products. “As we were packing up, we saw a bunch of people riding bikes and walking around town in Fair Harbor gear, which was unbelievable,” Caroline says. “It gave us chills!”

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Caroline reports that the Fair Harbor community seemed excited to have a brand representing their town and dedicated to being environmentally friendly (the company is donating 5 percent of its profits to efforts to rid beaches of plastic waste). So far, Fair Harbor Clothing has sold 220 board shorts—currently one style of board short is available in five different patterns, retailing for $65—and has generated $17,000 in revenue. In addition to the board shorts, they sell t-shirts and hats made from organic cotton and recycled polyester.

For now, the three will be focusing on getting their products into pop-up shops at places like Rothmans, whose New York City and Scarsdale locations recently sold Fair Harbor’s clothing. They have just started working on new board short designs so that they can launch a new product line due out by February 2016, just in time for Spring Break.

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