How This Sister and Brother Co-Founded an $45.1 Million Revenue-Generating Sustainable Business

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Venus and Serena Williams, and even Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have proven that great ventures can grow from sibling relationships. Unlike the business relationships between parents and children, siblings are more of a partnership on an equal footing.

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While the dynamics can be smooth or rocky (or a little bit of both), the alchemy of sibling partnerships can be magical at times. One example is sustainable lifestyle brand Fair Harbor, a sibling company founded by Caroline and Jake Danehy in 2014 when Caroline was a senior in high school and Jake was a junior studying geography at Colgate University.

The idea for Fair Harbor was pretty simple – using recycled plastic bottles to create an ultra-soft fabric for clothing with a fun, family-friendly brand that would evoke the feelings of summers spent on Fair Harbor Beach in Fire Island, New York. were spent. The two were inspired by seeing the impact of plastic waste on the shores of their beloved beach town and turned that frustration into motivation. They decided to find a way to not only prevent plastic bottles from polluting the water, but to honor their special community in Fair Harbor and preserve these places for future generations.

Also see: How Huda, Mona and Alya Kattan built the billion-dollar beauty brand Huda in Dubai

In its early years, the two-pronged operation of the family garage, with the help of family and employed friends, hand-shipped up to 1,000 units a day through 2019. Fair Harbor achieved profitability in 2019 and grossed $18.1 million in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. The company continues to thrive with gross e-commerce sales of $45.1 million in 2021 thanks to the rise of comfort clothing and the brand’s experimental approach to advertising. The swimsuits are now appearing in several retail stores such as Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue and more than 250 specialty retailers, although the company is maintaining its own retail presence entirely online for now.

While the line was based on men’s swimwear for its first seven years, 55 percent of its customers are women and buy suits for the men in their lives. In March of this year, the company launched its first nationwide TV advertising campaign. And in April, the brand will launch its first-ever women’s swimwear line with 25 additional pieces. This month, the company secured a strategic investment from Broad Sky Partners to fuel its expansion into new product lines, new retail expansions and sustainability initiatives.

Everyone in the family

In a joint interview with Jake and Caroline, I realize that the company was purely a family affair. While supplies and manufacturing were outsourced to various factories around the world, initial fulfillment was done from the family home with the help of several hired interns. The two had taken over the garage. The kitchen table became the company’s headquarters. Folding tables in the living room formed the conveyor belt for fulfillment, with a designated driver driving the mail between the tables and the post office. By 2019, the team was shipping up to 1,000 orders a day in some cases. On Fridays, the team packed up for weekend trunk shows; then the operation would start again every Monday morning

Several important lessons were learned during this time, says Caroline:

  1. “Grit would push us forward.”
  2. “No task was too big or too small.”
  3. “Trunk shows wouldn’t be able to scale them to the size they wanted to grow.”
  4. “We had officially outgrown our parents’ garage.”

The two moved to a shipping facility and office in New York in September 2019 and have continued to grow in the two years since. Today, the company has grown to 25 employees and occupies a loft-like floor of a building on the busy streets of Soho in Lower Manhattan.

Indelible memories

Some of the challenges have become indelible memories over time. For example, to celebrate their first production of 500 units, Jake and Caroline threw a Fair Harbor launch party on Manhattan’s Delancey Rooftop for family and friends and set up a table to sell the shorts at the event. The first challenge of the evening came when Caroline – not yet 21 – was almost denied entry to the facility.

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The second crisis occurred when Jake went into a restroom to try on a pair of the new shorts, only to find that the factory had glued the Velcro on instead of sewing it on. On at least some pairs, the Velcro stripped off the shorts. It was a near-disaster that forced the team to take back all suits sold and hire a local seamstress to sew the Velcro on each case.

“That night we learned the importance of customer service, quality testing and treating every customer like family,” Caroline said.

What’s the hardest thing about working with a sibling?

During a joint conversation, the two report many advantages, especially since the family is growing close together and the interests of the siblings – Caroline in fashion design and Jake in business – are very well coordinated. Both are interested in sustainability and the environment. Having separate focuses and clear boundaries was an advantage.

See also: How to start a business and a family at the same time

For the most part, the two “have each other’s backs” in a way few working partnerships could, they note. However, Jake did acknowledge that the 4-year age gap during periods when he graduated from college and worked 100 percent in the business created some friction while Caroline completed her senior years of college. Caroline admits she missed as many classes as she dared during busy periods and felt intense pressure to carry the full weight of her business role while still meeting the requirements of her university degree.

Where will Fair Harbor go from here?

In addition to being recognized in 2021 as the #26 fastest growing private company and #2 fastest growing private company in retail on the Inc. 5000 lists, Danehy’s has been recognized with the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Reuters Responsible Business Award. The company expects to achieve B Corp status in 2022. The first TV campaign based on a grim old sailor’s humorous horror stories about the chafing of bathing suits and the ravages of salt, sand, and annoying mesh fabrics has appeared on ESPN, Food Network, truTV, VICE, and Comedy Central and is doing well so far to develop.

Riding this wave of momentum, the company has a strategic plan for the future, including expanding into new categories and opening a retail location in the coming year. But as far as the all-in-the-family business model goes, the founders have no regrets and are grateful to have created a thriving business that not only represents a financial legacy but has also forged experiences and memories that fill them with joy to have.

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