Surfing the wave of success: Co-founder Dane Barnes dives into the Shibumi Shade story

By Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – In the world of innovative, beach-centric products, one name stands out: Shibumi Shade. Founded in North Carolina in 2016, this lifestyle brand has experienced explosive growth, with its products now adorning over 800 beaches worldwide and being sold in more than 170 retail stores across the United States.

But what’s the story behind this remarkable journey? In an afternoon “fireside chat” at 79West at Mosaic at Chatham Park, Shibumi Shade’s co-founder, Dane Barnes, sat down to candidly delve into the brand’s inception, challenges, and future plans. He shared his journey of entrepreneurship, the birth of Shibumi, its mission, challenges, and the company’s remarkable growth. Shibumi Shade, a lifestyle brand focused on revolutionizing beach experiences, has become a beacon of innovative and thoughtful design, seemingly shaping coastal leisure worldwide.

Discovering Entrepreneurship

Dane Barnes, a co-founder of Shibumi Shade, didn’t always know he was an entrepreneur at heart. His path to entrepreneurship was indirect. In high school, he started a small venture involving photography and personalized thank-you cards. His real journey began when he studied entrepreneurship at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and later started a company with one of his professors. The desire for entrepreneurship was there, but the exact idea hadn’t yet crystallized. This marked the beginning of his entrepreneurial endeavors, eventually culminating in the creation of Shibumi Shade.

Dane Barnes, a co-founder of Shibumi Shade. (photo by Gene Galin)

The Birth of Shibumi

Shibumi, a Japanese word loosely translating to “effortless perfection,” served as the inspiration for the company’s name. For Dane and his co-founders, it embodied the essence of their products – elegant simplicity. Interestingly, Shibumi was also the name of a small apartment complex in Chapel Hill where the co-founders lived, adding a personal touch to the brand’s identity.

Discovering the Pain Point

Shibumi Shade was born out of a personal pain point. Dane’s fond childhood memories of beach vacations with his family at Emerald Isle, North Carolina highlighted the limitations of traditional beach umbrellas. Their lack of portability, tendency to break or blow away, and the responsibility of setting them up prompted Dane and his team to devise a more effective solution. Frustrated by the limitations of existing beach shade solutions, Dane and his co-founders decided to work with the wind rather than against it. Inspired by kite flying and clotheslines, they developed their first prototype. It was a leap into the unknown, but it worked better than expected.

Balancing Act: Day Job and Shibumi

Starting a business is a monumental task, and Dane understood the importance of mitigating risk. The initial stages of Shibumi Shade’s growth coincided with Barnes’ full-time commitment to another job. He maintained his day job at Optimize Hire while working on Shibumi in the evenings and weekends. This balanced approach allowed them to grow the company naturally, without the pressure of immediately supporting themselves from Shibumi’s earnings. This dual commitment allowed the founders to manage risk, avoid undue financial pressure, and foster a more natural and organic growth trajectory for the business.

From Prototype to Global Success

Shibumi Shade’s rise to prominence was marked by both incredible demand and a relentless commitment to quality. Early on, Dane and his brother along with his best friend sewed the shades themselves. As demand soared, they transitioned to collaborating with local sewing facilities while remaining in North Carolina, a testament to their commitment to local craftsmanship. The product’s visibility at beaches across the United States played a significant role in driving natural growth without a heavy reliance on marketing.

The Transition to Full-Time Entrepreneurship

Shibumi Shade’s trajectory eventually reached a point where Barnes and his co-founders made the pivotal decision to transition full-time to their entrepreneurial venture. This pivotal moment came in Halloween of 2019 when Dane, along with his co-founders, made the leap to full-time entrepreneurship. The business had grown beyond their capacity to manage it alongside their day jobs. It was a big decision, but one they were confident was necessary for Shibumi’s continued growth.

Funding the Venture

In the early days, Shibumi Shade was entirely bootstrapped. Their low-capital investment made self-funding feasible. Every cent earned from sales was reinvested into the business. As the business grew, they secured a line of credit from a bank to support their expansion. This blend of self-funding and strategic borrowing allowed them to manage their financial risk.

Handling Rapid Growth

Shibumi Shade’s rapid growth posed a unique challenge: keeping up with product demand. Unlike many businesses, they didn’t offshore production. Initially, Dane and his co-founders sewed the products themselves. As they outgrew their capacity, they found local sewing facilities, ensuring that production remained local. The shade is currently manufactured at facilities in North Carolina and Virginia.

Working with Friends and Family

Co-founding a business with friends and family can be a double-edged sword, but for Shibumi Shade, it’s been a strength. Dane emphasized the importance of putting their relationships ahead of the business. Communication, trust, and support have been key to maintaining healthy boundaries and productive collaboration.

The Road Ahead for Shibumi

Shibumi Shade’s vision extends beyond the United States. Their goal is to expand regionally and internationally, making beaches everywhere look like the Shibumi Shade covered shores of the Carolinas. In addition to their signature beach shades, they’ve recently launched beach towels, with more products in the pipeline to enhance the beach experience.

Protecting Intellectual Property

With success comes imitation, and Shibumi Shade has had to contend with copycats. They place great importance on protecting their intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade dress. They actively work to safeguard their brand’s uniqueness and integrity. Vigilance in this area has been critical to their continued success.

Shibumi fans who attended the chat gathered for a group shot with Dane after the presentation. (photo by Gene Galin)

A Glimpse into the Future

As Shibumi Shade continues to thrive, Dane Barnes envisions regional and international expansion. The brand’s aim is to enhance beach experiences across the globe, elevating the standard of beach products and design. While Barnes remains tight-lipped about specific upcoming products, he hints at innovations that will continue to improve the beachgoer’s experience.

A Magnificent Exit?

Every founder dreams of a spectacular exit. When questioned about the ideal exit for Shibumi Shade, Barnes reflects on the brand’s mission to redefine beach time. For Shibumi Shade, it’s about raising the bar on beach experiences worldwide. Rather than a conventional financial exit, he envisions the brand making a lasting impact on beach culture and design, leaving a legacy of innovation and enhancement.

Dane didn’t elaborate on specific exit plans, but it’s clear that their journey is far from over.

Advice for Aspiring Founders

In parting, Dane offered valuable advice to aspiring founders. He emphasized the importance of identifying problems or inconveniences in your daily life and attempting to solve them. He acknowledged that the path to entrepreneurship is often uncertain, but it’s precisely that uncertainty that makes it an exciting and rewarding journey.

Surfing the Wave of Success

The “fireside chat” on a hot August afternoon with Dane Barnes provides a compelling glimpse into the world of entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainable growth. Shibumi Shade’s story is a testament to the power of identifying pain points, nurturing creative solutions, and creating a brand that enhances the lives of its customers while honoring the simplicity of design.

From its humble beginnings to its global presence today, the brand continues to evolve while keeping the beachgoer’s experience at its heart. With their commitment to innovation and the beach lifestyle, it’s safe to say that Shibumi Shade is well on its way to making beaches around the world more effortlessly perfect.

Quick Notes

  • 🏖️ Shibumi, a lifestyle brand, was founded in North Carolina in 2016.
  • 🚀 Shibumi has experienced significant growth and is known for its innovative beach-related products.
  • 🕶️ Shibumi’s main product is beach shades found at over 800 beaches worldwide and in 170+ retail stores across the U.S.
  • 🎓 Dane Barnes, a co-founder, previously worked as a managing director at Optimize Hire before dedicating himself full-time to Shaboomi.
  • 🏖️ Dane Barnes is a UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School graduate and currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • 💼 Dane shared insights into his journey as an entrepreneur and the challenges he faced in balancing his day job with Shibumi.
  • 💰 Shibumi initially bootstrapped its business and reinvested profits into growth.
  • ✂️ Shibumi’s product, beach shades, was inspired by working with the wind rather than against it.
  • 🌐 The company eventually outsourced production to sewing facilities in North Carolina and Virginia.
  • 👥 Shibumi was co-founded by Dane Barnes, Scott Barnes, and Alex Slater, who are close friends and family.
  • ⚖️ Maintaining boundaries and supporting each other personally has been crucial to their successful partnership.
  • ⏳ Dane discussed the challenge of balancing work and personal life, especially in the early stages of the business.
  • 💡 Shibumi’s main challenge now is expanding to other regions and replicating their success.
  • 🛡️ Shibumi has invested in intellectual property rights, including patents, to protect its products.
  • 🌍 Shibumi’s future plans include regional and international expansion and the development of new beach-related products.

Watch the Chat with Dane Barnes on YouTube.

00:07 Shibumi is a lifestyle brand focused on innovative and thoughtfully designed products.

  • Founded in North Carolina in 2016, the company has experienced significant growth.
  • Shades are sold in over 170 retail stores across the U.S. and more than 800 beaches worldwide.

03:09 Shibumi is a design concept and the name of an apartment complex in Chapel Hill

  • The concept represents the elegance of simplicity
  • The apartment complex is where the co-founders of Shibumi lived

05:47 Shibumi was started as a side project while the founders kept their day jobs.

  • They utilized materials they could find and taught themselves how to sew to create the first prototype.
  • They worked on Shibumi in the evenings and weekends while maintaining their full-time jobs.
  • The founders felt it was important to not rely solely on Shibumi for income and to gradually transition.
  • When Shibumi grew beyond their ability to manage alongside their day jobs, they decided to go full-time.
  • All three founders transitioned to Shibumi full-time on Halloween of 2019.
  • Initially, Shibumi was bootstrapped without pursuing funding.

08:36 Bootstrapped business with no financial support for 4 years and fueled growth through visible product

  • Managed to fund the business ourselves while working full-time at other jobs
  • Invested all profits back into the business
  • Took on financial risk and got a line of credit from a bank to support growth
  • Sales were not hard to come by due to the visibility of our product
  • Did not rely on extensive marketing efforts to fuel growth
  • Kept up with production by initially sewing products ourselves

11:11 Started with a sewing facility found on Google, expanded to three facilities in NC and VA

  • Using Google, found a sewing facility locally in Raleigh
  • Outgrew the facility and worked with three sewing facilities in NC and VA
  • Maintained healthy boundaries and strong relationships with co-founders, who are close friends and family
  • Prioritized supporting each other and putting the relationship ahead of the business
  • Balancing time between owning the business and having a life outside of it

13:38 Finding work-life balance is challenging, especially in the early years of a business.

  • Initially, working all the time was required to get the business off the ground.
  • Hiring more employees helped achieve better balance.
  • The biggest challenge now is figuring out how to replicate success in different regions.
  • The team is excited to continue growing and developing new products.

16:14 Shibumi is focused on protecting their intellectual property and expanding globally

  • Shibumi heavily invests in patents, trademarks, and copyrights
  • They take their intellectual property rights seriously
  • Shibumi actively works to combat copycats
  • Co-founder Jimmy did not have a specific career path in mind after graduation
  • Shibumi plans to expand outside of the U.S. and develop new products
  • They track where their customers visit and use that information to plan expansion
  • Shibumi is working on product development while also expanding their reach

18:40 The founders are focused on growing the business and are excited about the road ahead.

  • They don’t think about a magnificent exit or value their company based on that.
  • They believe in tackling problems in their mission and seeing what happens.
  • The most valuable advice they provide to founders is to identify a problem and come up with a solution that others can benefit from.
  • They also highlight the intense amount of work and stress involved in starting a startup.