Celebrating 7 Years
They say it doesn’t feel like work if you’re doing what you love. Caroline and Jake Danehy founded Fair Harbor in 2014 inspired by the lessons of their own family and a deep desire to protect the shores of their childhood beach community on Fire Island. Through bootstrapping the brand, they gradually grew their collections and a Fair Harbor Family that shared their core values of comfort and sustainability. Here, the siblings who transformed passion into purpose look back gratefully on their Fair Harbor journey together.
Thinking back to the beginning, what’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received about starting Fair Harbor?
Caroline: The worst advice that I’ve received is that we were too young and inexperienced to start Fair Harbor. However, some of the best advice I’ve received was from a close friend and mentor, Durand Guion. He said, “When you combine a problem you’re frustrated with and something you’re passionate about, you can do anything you set your mind to. It’s the perfect combination for success.”
Jake: The best advice that I received was from one of my professors in college. During a lesson he read a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground.” I always loved this quote, and it has helped me through every stage of the business. It helps me to remember to keep my eyes on the future and the broader vision, but to never lose sight of the moment. The worst advice I ever received was that the only way I could live a successful life is if I was to become an investment banker.
Some of the best lessons are taught from our biggest challenges. Was there a disaster early on that you learned from?
Caroline & Jake: We had our Fair Harbor launch party Summer of 2015, with our first production, consisting of 500 shorts. We brought together our family and friends at the Delancey Rooftop in Manhattan, set up a table and sold our product at the event. Besides Caroline almost not being let in because she wasn’t 21 yet — a small detail that they failed to mention was a contingency of the night — it was off to a great start. But then when Jake went to the bathroom to try on the shorts, he realized that the factory glued on the Velcro closure instead of sewing it on — and in this case the Velcro was peeling off the suit. Contemplating different ideas of what to do, we knew there was only one option: We had to take back all of the suits we had sold and have a local seamstress sew down each and every closure. That night taught us the importance of customer service, quality testing, and treating every customer like family.
Speaking of family, your brand was inspired by your childhood summers spent at your family beach house on Fire Island. What is your favorite memory from those days?
Caroline: It’s hard to pick just one, but one of my favorite memories on Island was early on — I couldn’t have been older than 5 or 6. Each summer we had our bike pedals changed to have a flat bottom so we could ride it barefoot — so I hopped on my bike and rode down the block. As I got home, I started rinsing off in the outdoor shower, when it finally dawned on me that I was home alone. No parents, no siblings, no friends. Just me, and I felt a sense of freedom. Without the dangers of those on the mainland, our parents used to let us roam wild and live free. There were no worries. As long as we returned back when the barbecue started up for dinner, we were in the safe zone.
Jake: My favorite memories of Fire Island growing up were snapper fishing in the morning. We used to leave our house at 5am and ride our bikes to the local dock to go fishing. We would use bamboo fishing rods with bobbers and minnows as bait fish. Our mornings were filled with crumb cakes, sunrise, the ocean breeze, and the thrill of catching fish. We would then bring the fish back to the house and make snapper and eggs for breakfast.
These days, where do you draw inspiration for the current collections from?
Caroline: If COVID taught us anything, it’s that computers can only form as a replacement of real life to a certain extent. We as humans need to live, and be with one another, and revel in life’s experiences. I feel that I get inspired most when I am disconnected from technology and connected with others. When I can let go and fully enjoy the environment, I’m in — the colors, textures, conversations, energies.
Jake: I draw most of my inspiration from being outside and active in the environment. I spend a lot of time thinking about the functionality of our products and why they should exist. We ultimately started Fair Harbor because of our frustration with the ocean plastic problem and our passion for surfing and being in our environment. Seven years later, I am still finding new inspiration every time I am in the water and at the beach. It is my happy place and with that comes inspiration, creativity and motivation.
What are your go-to Fair Harbor pieces to wear?
Caroline: The Saltaire Crewneck has become my favorite fall staple. It’s easily packable, not too heavy, yet the perfect layering piece to keep me warm. It also wears incredibly well — it truly reminds me of my dad’s crewneck that inspired the collection.
Jake: I truly wear everything we make, it really depends on the environment and need. My go to piece this fall has been the Dunewood Flannel. It is a great all-around shirt and super comfortable! I also love the Kismet Tee as it has an awesome fit and looks great both dressed up and dressed down.
Running a family business has plenty of pros and cons. What are the best and worst things about working with a sibling?
Caroline: It’s been an incredible journey over the last seven years with Fair Harbor and I feel really blessed to be able to experience it with Jake. Through the ups and downs, and everything in between, we have each other’s backs and are there to support one another. Always. BUT there aren’t many boundaries between the two of us. Family dinners are never just family dinners, but most likely a continuation of a work conversation. And then when we were living at home, Jake would happen to walk into my room while I was sleeping to ask a question and turn the lights on. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly a happy camper.
Jake: It has been awesome to work with Caroline. Not only do we have shared memories of growing up in Fair Harbor together, but we are also very fortunate to have grown up with complementary skill sets. We balance each other out well and it has been incredible to share our family’s stories with the world and the experience with each other. I have the tendency to be eccentric at times and don’t really have an off switch. So mostly Caroline has to put up with me, which I value.
What are you looking forward to most for the future?
Caroline & Jake: Throughout the last seven years, we’ve worked to build the foundation of the brand and core product assortment. Now looking to the future, we are really excited to continue building our team and vision forward. That includes launching new categories and collaborations. We can’t wait to share it with each and every one of you. Stay tuned!