If you’re a frequent visitor of Long Island or Jersey Shore beaches, odds are you have seen people wearing vibrant, fashionable swimwear. There is a litany of brands out there, but none may be as unique or experienced the surge in popularity as Fair Harbor Clothing. What began as a college junior’s pitch to a Shark Tank panel morphed into a multimillion-dollar company that provides a solution to the ocean plastic problem.
Let’s give a little background on Fair Harbor’s origin. The company was founded by Jake and Caroline Danehy, siblings from Westchester, NY, who took family trips to Fair Harbor, a small part of Fire Island.
”Sustainability isn’t just a marketing buzzword for us. Environmental consciousness is at the heart of Fair Harbor and the very reason for our existence. In 2014 we launched our family brand as an homage to our childhood beach town on Fire Island,” Jake and Caroline told Consensus. “Every year, we saw more and more plastic wash up on its shores, so we decided to create ultra-comfortable beachwear made from recycled plastic bottles to mitigate the waste entering the waterways. Today, we make our clothing with an average of 11 recycled plastic bottles.”
When Jake attended Colgate University on a lacrosse scholarship while majoring in geography, he noticed the problem of other retailers. While some top swimsuit brands were making board shorts out of plastic bottles, the price to purchase one was rather high. So Jake decided to start Fair Harbor Clothing to share his love of the beach and how he wanted to keep it beautiful while offering a product everyone could appreciate.
In 2014, Jake and Caroline made a pitch to a Shark Tank panel that traveled to colleges across America to hear pitches from young entrepreneurs. In the presence of celebrities like MC Hammer and Jessica Alba, the Danehys explained how their company uses upcycled water bottles to create lightweight and waterproof fabric for Fair Harbor swimwear. The exposure was significant — public figures endorsing an up-and-coming brand.
What stood out to the Shark Tank panel was the affordability, only charging $65 compared to brands like Patagonia, which charged around $130. This first impression would prove to be the impetus for Fair Harbor’s gradual rise in the fashion industry.
Although the endorsement from MC Hammer and Jessica Alba certainly helped Fair Harbor, they still needed to grow organically. After Jake graduated from Colgate, he and Caroline began working out of their family home garage, heading out to East Coast beaches to set up stands where they could sell swimsuits to patrons on the boardwalk. They were filling out orders by hand in their kitchen, and with each summer, their popularity would gradually increase.
It would not be until 2019 that the Danehys’ fortunes would change forever. Fair Harbor made its first profitable fiscal year, and by 2020 the company had made over $18.1 million in gross profits. In 2021, Fair Harbor reached $45.1 million gross profit, signaling they were here to stay.
The business was lauded as one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. In 2021 the brand was honored as the No. 26th fastest-growing company on the Inc. 5000 list, and earned both EY Entrepreneur of the Year for 2021 and Reuters Responsible Business Award. You can find their products in major retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. They have also collaborated with celebrities like singer Vance Joy for his line of Fair Harbor swimsuits.
“As we expand and grow our brand to include lifestyle apparel, every piece is still made from recycled plastic bottles and earth-friendly materials. Keeping waterways and beaches cleaner has always been our mission, and in the process, we’ve earned B Corp Status and repurposed more than 27 million recycled plastic bottles,” Jake and Caroline commented. “As we continue to organize local beach cleanups and team up with other like-minded sustainability partners, we’re excited to think about how many more opportunities lie ahead.” Women’s suits are now available for purchase.
With the company’s massive growth in seven years, Jake and Caroline couldn’t keep running the business out of their garage. Since 2019, they have moved into an office and have grown from 10 to 25 full-time employees. The brand also repeatedly appears on lists for the best products for summer and spring break trips. More collaborations are coming with restaurant chains and liquor brands, and the sustainability measures are still strong.