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Ep. 13 - How the Shopify Inventory System Adds Value to In-Person Sales with Caroline Danehy

Caroline Danehy is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Fair Harbor Clothing, a lifestyle brand that makes swimwear out of recycled plastic bottles. Caroline shows us that, although Shopify is an online platform, it is still valuable to merchants who do in-person sales. Fair Harbor Clothing does a lot of trunk shows, and Caroline says having Shopify has been a game changer for tracking their inventory with every sale they make, wherever they make it.

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [4:45] Riding the entrepreneurial roller coaster, as high school and college students
  • [7:30] Caroline’s advice for new and aspiring entrepreneurs
  • [10:00] Building the brand and community behind Fair Harbor
  • [15:15] Launching review campaigns for your products
  • [20:50] Book recommendations
  • [24:20] Creating their first sample

Resources:

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Transcript:

Caroline Danehy

And even just going and doing these trunk shows still and seeing people's faces light up when they see the possibility of changing plastic and transforming it into this swimwear. Having people feel it and touch it for the first time is still just an incredible feeling. And I don't think it's something that ever is going to go away.

 

Annette Grant

Welcome to Honest eCommerce where we are dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.

 

Chase Clymer

I'm your host, Chase Clymer.

 

Annette Grant

And I'm your host, Annette Grant.

 

Chase Clymer

And we believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.

 

Annette Grant

If you're struggling in scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us, visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more.

 

Chase Clymer

And let's get on with the show.

 

On today's episode of Honest eCommerce, we welcome Caroline Danehy of Fair Harbor Clothing, sharing with us her founder's story.

 

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of Honest eCommerce. I am sitting here with Annette Grant my lovely co-host and we are welcoming to the show today Caroline Danehy from Fair Harbor Clothing. And we're going to get an awesome inside scoop of her journey and her story as an entrepreneur. Welcome to the show today, Caroline.

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

 

Chase Clymer

I'm so excited to... I'm going to start doing these founder stories more. I feel... I love reading it from the agency side of seeing how people started their businesses and growing them up.

 

So I'm sure that our listeners will love to hear the story and the journey of these other eCommerce brands, their contemporaries. So if we could, let's introduce the audience to Fair Harbor Clothing and what's the brand about? What are you guys up to now? And then I guess we can go back to the beginning.

 

Caroline Danehy

Yeah, absolutely. So my brother and I... Actually, I'll kinda do the reverse. I'll give you a little backstory and then go to where we are now. Give you a better picture of our journey. So, my name is Caroline Danehy. And about four and a half years ago, my brother Jake and I started Fair Harbor Clothing. We make exceptional swimwear, made from recycled plastic bottles: An effort to protect the places that we love and beach towns around the world and the ocean. So basically, my brother Jake was a geography major at Colgate. He was a junior in college at the time. I was a senior in high school.

 

And just as a geography major, he was learning all about plastic waste. Its impact on our environment and the oceans. And while sitting in the classroom, he became frustrated by the issue and want to do something about it. So he called me up at the time. I was a senior in high school. I was still passionate and very interested in environmental issues.

 

So he called me up, we started brainstorming about ways to get involved in the issue. And we thought about starting with non-profit. And then all of a sudden, we came across this polyester directly made from plastic bottles. And with that, we really became fascinated with this new material that we found.

 

When we thought about the different ways to use this polyester, we thought back to the bathing suits that we wore --in a place called Fair Harbor, Fire Island-- growing up. It's a small beach town off the coast of Long Island.

 

During this time, it's where we really learned to love the ocean and connect with it. It's where we learn how to surf and swim. And we rode bikes on the island. And specifically in Fair Harbor, too because it's such a small island. It's only about 100 yards wide, 20 miles long, so any plastic that turned up on the island, in the waters, on the beaches, it really stayed there. So we connected both what we're learning in the classroom.

 

Fast forward 20 years later to our childhood experiences in Fair Harbor, Fire Island, and our brand was launched. With the idea to be as sustainable as possible and to use our brand as a platform to speak about the mitigation of single-use plastics. That's what the core values of Fair Harbor stand for.

 

And so since our first production run in 20... I guess 2015 now, we initially got started by pitching in front of shark... A mock Shark Tank competition through our university at the time through Colgate's entrepreneurship program called Thought Into Action.

 

So we pitched in front of a mock Shark Tank, with panelists such as Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal, Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway. And we used the funds that we raised in the Shark Tank competition to put towards our first production run. And since then we've just been going from production to production run, and constantly looking to improve the quality of our products and just go from one production run and just go from there.

 

And it's been an incredible journey throughout the past. Four and a half, almost five years now. (laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

I've got one specific question. How many times at the beginning were you guys... There was some challenge, some hurdle and you guys were almost ready to give up but you pushed through it?

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, there's been a lot. This industry of entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. As a geography major, Jake had no experience in the fashion industry and as a senior in high school, neither did I.

 

So this whole thing has been an incredible learning experience. It's thrilling. It's definitely a test. You constantly... But you gotta just always push through it and look forward to what's coming next. Because you never...You got to always be on your toes because you never really know what's going to come up the next day. But it's definitely thrilling and exciting. But yeah, it's definitely (laughs) It's a lot going on at times.

 

Annette Grant

Were you the grand prize winner of your mock Shark Tank there at your university?

 

Caroline Danehy

Yeah, we were at that time. Just the experience of... This was, as I said, four and a half years ago and no one had heard of turning plastic bottles into polyester.

 

Even Jessica Alba, who is a huge sustainability advocate --and in the fashion industry-- even she didn't have the idea of turning plastic into polyester. So this was really at the forefront before. Plastic had really become a global conversation. So it was incredible to see the faces, and not only the panelists, but also our peers and the students in the crowd who we pitch in front of; just the possibility of turning plastic into products that people actually wanted to wear.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, you guys have a fantastic brand that you built here. Was this the first iteration of the brand? Did you have this vision in your mind from the get-go or did it evolve over time?

 

Caroline Danehy

It definitely started because we found this polyester and we wanted to turn it into something that our peers wanted to wear, as I mentioned. But it has really become a platform to change the way people view single-use plastics and to try to change that not only our generation but beyond that.

 

We just recently launched our first women's line last summer. So we're continuing to expand our products, but also stay true to why we started it in the first place and our core brand values. We have... It has kind of expanded a little bit. But at the end of the day, it has stayed true to the core goal of why we started their harbor to begin with; To transform single-use plastics into new products and give it a second life.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So, if you could jump in a time machine and go back to when you guys started this, what would be the number one piece of advice that you gave yourself?

 

Caroline Danehy

It's just something that we've learned is to fail quickly, and then to move on and to learn from your mistakes. I think that part of this industry is to test things and give new trials. But if they don't work and if things don't work within our company, change them quickly. For example, we first had Velcro.

 

But our factory actually didn't sew down the Velcro, they just glued-down the Velcro in the fly of our first iteration of board shorts. And you can imagine when (laughs) you put the board shorts in the washing machine a few times, the Velcro with the glue starts to wear down. So we had people having real issues of the Velcro coming off. And it wasn't great.

 

But we realized, "do we need to change the closure of our board shorts?" So, now we actually don't have a closure that doesn't even involve Velcro or anything like that. It's just automatic that no one even has to think about the closure. So with that example just thinking back: Fail quickly and fail fast and to move on from your mistakes and to learn from them.

 

Annette Grant

Yeah, you don't want a wardrobe malfunction on the beach. (laughs) That's probably the worst-case... (laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

Annette's been giggling. (laughs)

 

Annette Grant

Yeah. Probably, I went to another space there when I started thinking about that for your customer. Losing part of their flys... (laughs)

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, trust me. That's where our heads went. (laughs) We took them back immediately and gave people their refund money. But then also took them to our local seamstress and paid a certain amount of money just to fix the problem --because we knew that was our mistake-- and send them back with a brand new pair of board shorts that were actually sewn in the Velcro. So yeah, it was definitely an interesting hurdle. But one that we got back.

 

Annette Grant

I appreciate that. Because that pretty much is worst-case-scenario. What happened to you and your customers, and you guys, you fixed it. It's something that's going to happen there. You're in swimwear...

 

Absolutely. Look, we're a young company, we're going to make mistakes. But I think that one of the most important things within our brand that we've tried to incorporate into our brand values is transparency and honesty. And when we mess up, we're going to acknowledge it, we're going to fix it and we're going to pay you back or help you reimburse for that mistake.

 

Because we believe too, as a young company, we have to do that. We're trying to create these customers, these lifelong customers and not just a single, customer for one product. So that's incredibly important to us as a brand and as a company culture.

 

Annette Grant

Did you sit down --often before you build the brand-- and talk about the type of community that you wanted to build? I mean, obviously you're gonna have like-minded individuals with your product, but how much time and energy --not only went into the product-- but thinking the brand all the way through and the community that you were going to build?

 

Caroline Danehy

No, that's a great point. Thank you for bringing up that, too. So Fair Harbor, Fire Island, as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast... So Fire Island is basically an island and it's composed of several different towns. And something incredibly unique about this island is it brings people from all walks of life. You can be... All the houses are basically similar from one another.

 

And it's a place where firefighters living next to bankers from the city and families and single people just looking to go into the island to have a good time together. Basically, it brings people from all walks of life. It's this incredibly inclusive culture.

 

And we try to bring that to our brand as well. So we're based-off of inclusivity and trying to find a way to bring in people from all walks of life. What that does... We're not trying to look just to bring together like-minded people, but also people from different walks of life. Come together around the brand of Fair Harbor and this timeless, endless summer mentality, too.

 

But also the idea that we want to conserve and preserve these beach towns and that also brings another community of activism around these beach towns and actually creating change. Picking up waste and plastic and trash wherever you see, an effort to create a cleaner future.

 

So I think there's two components to that community: Both the inclusivity of the island and also the community around... Actually the activism of picking up plastic and trash in the places that we love.

 

Chase Clymer

So I've been a fan of the brand. We've talked before. There was another iteration... Before the podcast, there was an interview and that's actually how we met. But I'm glad it's a podcast now because we definitely get a lot more out of it. So I'm on the website right now. These shorts, The One Short... This looks so comfortable.

 

Caroline Danehy

No, they are. They're actually one of our best-selling products. So we call it “The One Short For Every Sport.” It's actually a cotton and poly blend, so it feels like a normal cotton short when you pull them on. Super soft. Just lends itself for every type of thing throughout the day. You can swim in them, you can work out in them, you can go to dinner them, sleep in them, (laughs) you can really do anything. They've been great for us, and they've been a huge hit. We're actually...

 

Sneak peek, we're coming out with three new colors this upcoming season two, which we're really excited about.

 

Chase Clymer

That's fantastic. So I this is actually a good tipping point here. So hopefully those of you following along, hopefully you're not driving, go to the website, check out The One Short. And there's some cool stuff on this webpage here to get a little more nerdy. Yeah. So I see that you have 105 reviews here on The One Short. How do you find that social proof helping you guys out with your business?

 

Caroline Danehy

Absolutely. Reviews have been incredible for us. Because at least, from myself, as a consumer too, I want other people's validation that they like the product, the fit is good, the quality of the actual fabric is there. And I personally want that validations and our customers want that, too. And I think we can speak to the exceptional swimwear that we produce but I think it just brings so much more validation, too when our customers write a review. It's really exciting to actually see these reviews pile up.

And my brother, too, he just constantly --and our partner, Jon-- he gets their views constantly coming into their emails. It's exciting for us to see, too, as a small brand, the validation of our customers both the customers that we've had for years --that have seen the improvement of the product and kind of the lifeline of them-- but also the first customers to buy a pair of board shorts the first time and love them automatically. So it's cool just to see the 2 different types of people do that right the reviews.

 

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Chase Clymer

So I've got a question. Do you know, when you guys launched, the review campaigns for these products? Was it when the product went live itself? Or was it... Did you add it in after the fact? I just kind of want to set some expectations for our listeners. You gotta start somewhere.

 

Caroline Danehy

Absolutely. We just actually installed the review, I believe, last spring so they've only... It's only been live for about a year.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, absolutely. That's the one thing that I find a lot when talking to brands. They're like, "Well, we want reviews but we don't want our products to not have reviews. We feel like that is doing a disservice." I was like, "Well, there aren't reviews now. It having no reviews is the same amount of disservice." You gotta start somewhere.

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And those are just compiling up throughout the year. And we definitely... We wanted to, as I said before, that validation. We wanted to give that validation not only for ourselves but for other customers to see the product. It's worked very, very well in our benefit. I've been looking forward to continuing to grow that platform as well.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. I also see here that you guys have a... What is the proper term here? You got this QuadPay on here. So it breaks the price of the short into 4 interest-free payments. Have you found that to help the business as well?

 

Caroline Danehy

We haven't seen as much engagement with that. But it's a nice offer... Nice featured offer, as well.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. It seems like a hot topic these days. We've talked to quite a few people about those alternative payment methods and how they empower the customer, their buying power to be able to split it up. But it definitely, I think it's marketed at younger people. College students don't really have credit cards. They just have checking accounts, sometimes.

 

Caroline Danehy

Right? (laughs) Yeah, definitely nice to give that option for sure.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. Go ahead, Annette.

 

Annette Grant

Besides selling online, where else do you sell your product? Do you have wholesale accounts? Or...

 

Caroline Danehy

Yeah. So we're actually in about 40 wholesale accounts, primarily in the Northeast and up and down the East Coast. And we've been continuing to grow our wholesale, but our main point of sale is our website. So that is where we do most of our sales and everything. Our retail business, our wholesale business is still kinda young, but we're looking to grow that in the future as well.

 

You know, primarily too, Jake and I, we started the company on trunk shows. So, we have done, basically about 150 trunk shows, a year since we started this company. And that was extremely helpful, too, in just getting the word out, meeting new customers, getting feedback face-to-face, and just kind of growing the brand organically. And as we expand the company, continuing to grow, our website has been our main channel of commerce.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, I've got a note here from you. You said that Shopify and its ability to sync that inventory for you at those shows was like a game-changer.

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, absolutely. That's primarily why we switched to Shopify, to begin with. We're using another platform before, which didn't have the inventory and just between our website sales and what we're doing in person, it made it basically impossible to keep track of our inventory. So this was incredibly helpful and useful for us as a young company, constantly going in many different directions. So that absolutely was a game-changer. And it helped us out tremendously just to be more organized. And yeah, absolutely.

 

Annette Grant

Do you think that getting on the ground, doing the trunk shows has really catapulted the brand much quicker than just having an online presence?

 

Caroline Danehy

So basically, Jake, and I would go to small towns and do trunk shows and pop up shops, in surf shops and retail spaces, and really just tell our story. Tell why we started it, where it's going, explain our product. And I think that it really did bring the brand to life for people who had never heard of us. Which for as a small brand, was many people. Yeah, it definitely was instrumental in starting the brand. And you know, as we grow, it's still always going to be a part of our business, maybe just not as big, but it will always be part of our business model for sure.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. I mean, I just want to point that out, you got to put in the work. I mean, when people launch brands and they push it online, and then they just don't do anything. No one's going to come to find you and just give you money. You got to put in the work somehow. And you guys getting out there and actually hitting the pavement. I applaud you for that. That is definitely putting in the work.

 

Caroline Danehy

Oh, thank you. Yeah, we had a lot of long days you know, in the sun and in retail shops and stuff but they definitely were worthwhile in the end. Exhausting at times but definitely worthwhile.

 

Chase Clymer

I mean, you guys picked an awesome niche though. I'm not going to complain about going to visit a bunch of cool beach towns.

 

Annette Grant

(laughs)

 

Caroline Danehy

No, absolutely. We had fun while doing it. And you know, Jake and I and our partner Jon, too. That's why we all started this company and continue to push it forward is because we love what we're doing. We love the places that we go and the impact that they're having, the people that we're meeting. And it really is just inspiring to see the change start to happen not just within our own company, but outwards. And even just going and doing these trunk shows still and seeing people's faces light up when they see the possibility of changing plastic and transforming it into this swimwear. Having people feel it and touch it for the first time is still just an incredible feeling. And I don't think it's something that ever is going to go away.

 

Chase Clymer

Oh, absolutely. Now, we spoke about this last time that I talked to you. You had quite a few book recommendations and I've --actually since then-- I think I've read one or two of them. But let's share those with our audience. What are you reading these days?

 

Caroline Danehy

I actually just finished the book Swell by Liz Clark. And I don't know if any of the listeners have heard of it, but it was amazing. So basically, it's about this female captain and she set sail to travel the world on her own sailing boat. And she basically... She has a few crew members come on and off the boat just when she's going from point A to point B or B to C.

 

But basically, she's doing this world trip by herself and the experiences that she has and the people that she meets, just kind of how she develops this relationship with nature and her surroundings is incredible. And you know, not only that, but how she discovers herself and these times of turmoil where she's at sea for days, and she's stuck in a storm. It's just really inspiring.

 

And I think too, with modern-day culture, where our senses get diluted a lot of times and we're just kind of numb to not only just like the weather around us but how we feel internally in our bodies and our breathing.

And just reading this book, I think, is a reminder of why we need to be in tune with nature and our surroundings. And, just what we do with our bodies to and on an individual basis, as well. That goes to what we eat, what we drink, what environments we put ourselves in. And I think it's just like a really great book to become in tune with that again.

 

So, I definitely recommend it. It was extremely exhilarating, I finished it within, I think, a day and a half. I was talking to all my family members about this trip on vacation. So this is a great book. I definitely recommend i.t

 

Chase Clymer

It sounds like it. I personally am scared of the open water. I mean of the ocean. I'm not scared of a lake. Because I don't know. That's a me problem, though.

 

Annette Grant

Sharks?...

 

Chase Clymer

It's not even sharks. It's like more of the void. What's down there?

 

Annette Grant

(laughs)

 

Caroline Danehy

I get that. (laughs) It's actually funny too, because I get extremely seasick, which is awful. I hate it. And I think this book was also very romanticized as well because I would love the idea of sailing in these open waters. But literally, looking at a glass of water jiggle. I get seasick. Whenever I go surfing. I take like Dramamine before I go out. (laughs) And stuff like that. So it's really unfortunate owning a swimwear company and getting seasick literally just swimming in the ocean.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, that is such a hilarious juxtaposition. Awesome. So let's get back to entrepreneurship. Your guys’ journey is fantastic. Were there any other parts of that journey that really stand out for you that you think that you could share with our audience?

 

Caroline Danehy

Yeah, absolutely. So when Jake and I first started, as I mentioned a few times, neither one of us had any experience in the industry/knew what we were doing. But we knew we had something and we knew we wanted to kind of push it through. Because at the same time, we started this as a school project since essentially, within the entrepreneurship incubator at Colgate. And we didn't really have anything to lose.

 

You know, we were both in school. We didn't have a lot of money invested at the time, but we want to see what we could make of it. So, I think a memory that really sticks out, in my mind, is the first time where Jake and I actually created our first sample. So as I mentioned earlier, neither one of us had any experience in the fashion industry/knew what we're doing.

But we knew we had an idea. We wanted to see where we could take it. So we ordered our initial sample fabric, we took it to Garment District in New York City. We were running around from sample factory to sample factory, trying to just convince someone to make us a short. We finally did when we gained a stupid amount of money, but it was a little too expensive for what it should have been. But you know, that's okay.

 

We placed our order and a few weeks later, we received a package with the first sample. And I think holding that concrete and actually in our hands was such an incredible feeling. To have an idea and create something with it. And so that night actually, Jake tried on the sample in the shower. And he can even come out of the bathroom that night because he's like, "Carol..." He yells from the bathroom like, "Caroline, you know, it's way too see-through. Can't really do anything about this but let's find a way to make this work."

 

So we did some more research, we found a fabric that (laughs) weren’t transparent when it got wet. That was a good thing. But that was, it was just so... The experience of it entirely, of having an idea going to the factory, having a sample made, testing the fabric, and then just kind of improving. It was just kind of this whole process. But it was incredible, just to kind of see it come into fruition. That was the toughest part of the journey that I think will always stand out in my mind.

 

Chase Clymer

Awesome. Yeah, that story is amazing. So before we let you go here, is there anything else that you think would be fun to share with our audience? Any last-minute tips or tricks that you've picked up along the way on your journey?

 

Caroline Danehy

Yeah, I think just a lot of the time... And I think, growing up, my parents just always taught me that if something didn't work, that didn't mean you failed at it, it just meant to find something... Find a way for it to actually succeed. And I think I've kept that lesson with me. And I know Jake has, too. Try something. If it doesn't work, fail fast, and look to improve and find a way to make it work. That doesn't mean to stop.

 

And it doesn't mean that you're a failure if it just doesn't work the first time. I think that's something that we've brought to our business model. And just to kind of find a way to keep improving and changing. And I think that's just something that is always kind of stuck close to us. It's been an incredible journey. We're excited to see where Fair Harbor takes us in the future. And yeah, I'm really looking forward to the upcoming months. We've got a lot planned. So stay tuned.

 

Annette Grant

And where can our listeners find Fair Harbor? What's the best place?

 

Yeah, so our Instagram handle is @fairharbor or just fairharborclothing.com.

 

Chase Clymer

Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us.

 

Annette Grant

Yeah. Thank you for your time.

 

Caroline Danehy

Thank you for having me.

 

Chase Clymer

We can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing the truth. Links and more will be available in the show notes. If you found any actionable advice in this podcast that you'd like to apply to your business, please reach out at electriceye.io/connect.

 

Annette Grant

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