“Know The The Importance of Bootstrapping” 5 Startup Strategies with Caroline Danehy, Co-Founder of Fair Harbor Clothing

“For over three years we have been bootstrapping and working extremely hard to get in front of as many people as we can. Through this technique, we have learned how to thoughtfully engage with our customers, talk with them about our product and share our passion for Fair Harbor. I have learned the importance of patience through trunk shows, long days of standing on our feet and the reward of selling to a new customer.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Danehy, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Fair Harbor Clothing. Caroline is currently a junior at Colgate University and started the company three years ago with her older brother, Jake Danehy. The duo created Fair Harbor, a swimwear company making its products out of recycled plastic bottles, to instill change within their generation and reduce plastic waste in the oceans. They launched the company after pitching and winning funding from Colgate’s mock Shark Tank competition, with a panel of celebrity entrepreneurs including Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal and more.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

As kids, Jake and I spent our childhood summers in Fair Harbor, Fire Island, where we first learned how to surf, ride bikes, and connect with the ocean. This is also where we initially witnessed waste on the beaches. As the island is extremely small, any garbage that washes up on the shores stays on the island. During Jake’s junior year at Colgate (‘16), he was learning about plastic’s impact on the environment and became really frustrated with this issue. He researched innovative ways to transform plastic waste into functional materials and products, while also altering how people view it.

For a long time, I’ve had a strong interest in fashion and launched a fashion blog while in middle school, that I would contribute to weekly. At the same time, I’ve been particularly passionate about the environment. Therefore, I was immediately intrigued when Jake came to me with the idea for Fair Harbor, which marries both. We then brainstormed ways in which we could personally have an impact on this global issue and discovered a polyester directly made from recycled plastic bottles. During this process, we kept thinking back to our summer days spent in Fair Harbor and wanted to connect people with the simple, minimalistic, island lifestyle.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

When Jake and I first started Fair Harbor, he was a geography major and I was a senior in high school. That being said, neither of us had any experience in fashion or communicating with overseas factories. However, we knew we had to start somewhere. One hot, July day, Jake and I walked all over Manhattan’s Garment District, talking with small factory owners while trying to get a sample of a pair of shorts. It was the first time I felt like our vision was coming to fruition, as we started describing the cut and style we wanted. Fast forward a few weeks and few hundred dollars later, and we were left with a completely see-through, non-waterproof pair of boardshorts that were…well, revealing. While we knew right away that we couldn’t continue with our first fabric, or NYC’s Garment District, we knew we had a starting point, and the only way to go was up.

Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We started Fair Harbor based off of our childhood experiences and love for the ocean. Reflecting back on those summer days has motivated us to preserve beach towns like Fair Harbor and make sustainable clothing the new norm. We are unique because our entire brand is focused on sustainability, without sacrificing quality or style. Additionally, while Jake and I share the same vision and love for Fair Harbor, we each have our own style and voice within the brand. We are able to give the men’s and women’s (releasing soon!) lines their own personalities, respectively, within the greater lens of Fair Harbor’s brand identity.

Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I was introduced to Durand Guion, the Men’s Fashion Director of Macy’s, several years ago, and since then he has become my biggest role model. His passion for his profession is inspiring and his kindness towards others is contagious. Since he was a young boy, he knew what he wanted to do, and was determined to make sure that it happened. When Jake and I approached Durand with our idea for Fair Harbor, he didn’t doubt us, but rather encouraged that we follow our own hearts and develop the Fair Harbor brand. He has been an incredible sound board for Fair Harbor and I feel so fortunate to call him a close friend.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? (This might be used as your “hero statement” under the heading of the article.)

We are hoping to help make people aware of the tremendous amount of plastic waste in the oceans, and open up their eyes to the possibilities of how we can work towards a cleaner planet. From toddlers to grandparents, people are constantly in awe of how soft our material is when they feel it. With expanding into women’s, I am really looking forward to offering stylish, feminine and functional swimwear out of recycled plastic bottles, as well. Something unique about Fair Harbor is that the island itself unites people of all walks of life; our aim is to bring that same philosophy to our brand and company culture.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The importance of bootstrapping: For over three years we have been bootstrapping and working extremely hard to get in front of as many people as we can. Through this technique, we have learned how to thoughtfully engage with our customers, talk with them about our product and share our passion for Fair Harbor. I have learned the importance of patience through trunk shows, long days of standing on our feet and the reward of selling to a new customer.
  2. Trust your gut: Throughout this whole process, people have questioned us and our vision. Since I was only a senior in high school and Jake a junior in college, neither one of us had much experience. However, our devotion to the cause drove us to succeed. While we second guessed ourselves a little in the beginning, we had confidence in our vision, which was the most important part.
  3. Make a lot of little mistakes in the beginning and make them fast: It’s easy to get caught up on mistakes; however, we’ve learned to quickly adapt, improve, and move on. For example, our first factory that we worked with glued on our velcro. As customers started reporting that velcro was coming off, initially we were frustrated, but soon realized that being frustrated wouldn’t solve the problem. We quickly reacted and offered to sew each pair of shorts’ velcro and send them back to the customer, free of charge.
  4. Know your strengths and weaknesses: Jake and I have been great partners because we balance out each others’ strengths and weaknesses. While he oversees all of production and branding, I focus on the creative side of the company.
  5. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do: Acknowledging when you don’t know something and asking for help can be hard at first but is incredibly important. When we started, we were acting on intuition. However, overtime we’ve learned the importance of turning to professionals for advice. We’ve developed a board of advisors who have had a lot of experience in their fields, and frequently turn to them for help.

Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Gwyneth Paltrow: Before wellness was “trending,” Gwyneth Paltrow was a pioneer in the industry by starting Goop. Through her efforts, she has created a company culture that promotes feminine empowerment and body positivity, both of which I am a strong advocate for. She’s done an incredible job keeping Goop’s content authentic and staying true to her beliefs. As we launch Fair Harbor’s first women’s line this May, I am focusing on giving it its own voice within the lens of our existing brand.

Yitzi:This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.