Paul and Rob Forkan of Gandys flip flops

We chatted to Rob Forkan who along with his brother Paul was orphaned after loosing their parents during the 2004 tsunami. The parents had taken their four children out of school to give them a different kind of education through travel and the family were in Sri Lanka when the tragedy hit. The surviving brothers turned their tradegy into a driving force for helping orphans in Sri Lanka with the aim of opening up a children’s home - all in the form of the mighty flip-flop!

Now stocked nationwide at the likes of Selfridges, House of Fraser, Office and Topman and on the tip of launching stateside through Nordstrom in America, we caught up with the Gandys designers in their Clapham office (and home!) about the work ethos infused by their parents and their recipe for success.

 

Things have moved so quickly for you - when did you first launch?

Well, eight or nine months ago we were in a little room in our flat in Brixton with us working out of it and one of us sleeping on the sofa and then we signed up every major retailer out there and now…here we are!

So neither of you came from a design background at all?

No, we came up with our original product as a fair trade product and we wanted it to look different in comparison to anyone else’s, so I spent hours... literally every night looking for a flip-flop that looked different and that nobody else was selling. That's when we got our own retailer because they were like, you've got your own individual look now.

I love the footprint icon as part of the design…


Everyone loves it because it's all about a journey, making a mark, taking steps forward. Our Mum's favourite poem was footprints as well so it just worked. That's how the logo started but then we escalated it to include the holy festival theme and the kingfisher because it was our Dad's favourite beer when we were travelling.

What is the most unexpected problem you've encountered?


There have been loads. It's not been plain sailing by any means. Now everyone's like, “Ah you've done it - you're in every major retailer.” I’m like no - now, more hard work is created and you have to keep pushing it. You're in but that doesn't mean you're in forever so we don't take that for granted. There's constant problems but we kind of just deal with them as quickly as possible.

Rob Forkan of Gandys in Sri Lanka

What advice would you give to someone trying to start off on their own?


A lot of people say, "I can't start because I haven't got loads of money." Paul and I started taking pictures on an iPhone in a bath for a white backdrop on our product and we got samples fedexed over. A lot people try to find excuses as to why you can't do it. We try and find what does work. Don't get deflated by problems that’s another major thing. The amount of problems Paul and I have gone through well…a lot of people would have given up. We have constantly gone and gone and gone. You just keep developing, just keep pushing forward - try and innovate and go one step further. We've got a flip-flop, we've not claimed that we've reinvented the wheel, however we try to be the best at what we do. Just touch-wood we get a bit of good weather as well!

I guess you're so dependent on that?


Massively - it makes a big difference. If it's super sunny it will just go mad. Trying to do snow and flip-flops doesn't go – it doesn't matter if Kate Middleton wears them out!

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How is it working with your brother?


Pretty cool. We're both on the same wave-length. He's pretty motivated and driven. He's got the same vision and goals as me. We're both adamant on opening up this children's home so... We argue here and there but not really. We both just get on with it. Funnily enough we used to fight a lot as kids but now we don’t at all. We are both very, very similar it just seems to work really and whatever I’m thinking he’s thinking and we both usually are pretty much in tune with what needs to be done. In meetings I might forget something but then he’ll remember it. There have been bad days but then because of our journey of what we had to do in Sri Lanka as kids together we’ve got quite a strong bond - in terms of pulling each other out of rooms or helping carry our little brothers and sisters. We’ve got this respect for each other and we know when the other one is a bit deflated and I’ll know not to nag him or I’ll know he needs a pick up or vice-versa.

And do you think that came from your experiences travelling with your parents?

We definitely learnt a lot travelling, like common sense and negotiation - we became street wise. We learnt loads of things that are actually useful in the world of business. With our situation as well I think it also gives us the approach of being fearless in what we do. You can put us in a meeting room with whatever major buyer, with whatever major retailer and we just go… it’s not really comparable to other things that we’ve done.  You get yourself in trouble, you get yourself out of trouble – you have to think on your own feet. It’s all stuff you can learn from.

What’s next for you guys?

We've literally got every retailer asking us for children's flip-flops as well - give us a break! So we'll be doing that as well at some point. I'm like just let my list empty a little bit!

230,000 people were lost in the tsunami so Rob and Paul are aiming to sell 230,000 pairs to be able to open their first children's home next year. They need brand ambassador’s – people to spread the word of the Gandys movement – to do so you just need to sign up to their website. Once the target has been hit two brand ambassadors will be picked at random to attend the opening of the children’s home in India.

By Bernadette Cornish

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