Just as archeologists and anthropologists now refer to the Iron or Bronze Ages, it's possible the 20th century will be looked back upon as the "Plastic Period." The United States alone cycles through 50 billion plastic bottles every year, while recycling only 23 percent of that total number. The remaining 38 billion bottles are simply thrown away, with an exorbitant amount of plastic waste winding up in the ocean.
With more plastic than plankton at the center of the seas, marine life is consuming this waste. It not only causes obvious physical harm to those creatures, but also passes the chemicals from the plastic up the food chain. Realistically speaking, the amount of plastic waste in the open ocean will persist for many years due to the rate of production and consumption in addition to the inherent durability of the material. But plastics can and are being recycled and repurposed in various innovative and beneficial ways.
Cue Fair Harbor.
When Jake Danehy learned of the depth of the ocean plastic crisis, he founded Fair Harbor in the hope of creating stylish, durable, and functional swimwear out of recycled plastic bottles.
While growing up, Jake and his younger sister, Caroline Danehy, spent many summers in the small town of Fair Harbor on Fire Island. It was there the Danehys formed a deep appreciation for the ocean at an early age. These beach kids not only spent their summers barefoot, surfing, and sunbathing, but simultaneously became exposed to and enamored by a simpler, more mindful approach to life.
As a junior studying geography at Colgate University, Jake extensively researched the negative effects of single-use plastic on the oceanic ecosystem for his final thesis. In doing so, he adopted the belief of many industry activists that plastic waste is within our power to regulate and that we can address the lack of knowledge, poor waste management procedures, and societal neglect. So, Jake set out on a mission to reinvent how the consumer viewed single-use plastics. He hoped to introduce a new priority for the consumer: to actively participate in recycling plastic waste by supporting sustainable products and companies. Bringing his sister on board was a no-brainer, as Caroline's interests in fashion, wellness, and sustainability aligned seamlessly. So, the brother-sister duo developed their business concept for Colgate's mock Shark Tank competition in 2015 and pitched Fair Harbor to a panel of celebrity entrepreneurs, including Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal, Jennifer Hyman, and more.
Of course, the question that comes to mind is just how comfortable can swimwear made of plastic bottles be? Jessica Alba made it clear that she could hardly believe it herself, but became convinced once she heard the entire pitch.
Winning $20,000 in grant money from the competition funded the Danehys production of Fair Harbor's first collection of board shorts and swim trunks made exclusively of recycled plastic bottles. A Kickstarter campaign followed soon after, which netted 225 percent of the initial funding goal and allowed for an increase in production.
For Fair Harbor, as is the case with most ethical or sustainable brands, the mission to find the right factory was no easy task. It had to be aligned with the company commitment to fair labor practices and be comfortable working with innovative fabrics. That meant Jake needed to head oversees to China to meet with the factory owner and employees. Upholding a fully sustainable business model is just as important to the brand as producing the absolute best pair of board shorts money can buy.
Of course, like most startups, the company has faced obstacles along the way. "The biggest hurdle for Fair Harbor has been keeping our inventory stocked," explains Jake. "While it seems like a great problem to have, for a growing e-commerce brand, we needed to make sure we had well-made product available at all times."
Fair Harbor projects a revenue increase of 400 percent for 2018. This exponential growth comes at a pivotal time, as the brand is gearing up to release a number of new products made of both recycled polyester, the result of the breakdown of recycled plastic bottles, and upcycled coconuts. The company is also producing various collaboration pieces and debuting a Fair Harbor women's line. Moreover, the brand expects to repurpose upward of 100,000 plastic bottles into its swimwear this year alone. At a price point that makes this sustainable solution accessible to the average consumer, Fair Harbor board shorts are the perfect example of classic style with a eco-friendly twist.
"My goal in starting Fair Harbor was not only to create a superiorly made product that's comfortable, functional, and awesome in its own right, but to raise awareness around the issue of plastic waste." Jake explains, "We want to show our community what incredible things we can do with recycled plastic, to promote change that results in helping to keep our oceans clean."