Thursday, 28 February 2013

Best foot forward

Buying a pair of flip flops rarely has a global impact, but it soon will if the Gandys brand continues to grow. As well as having an attractive product to sell, the company’s founders – brothers Rob and Paul Forkan – have an incredible story to tell.

After spending a wonderful year travelling around India, the Forkan family moved to Sri Lanka in 2004. They spent a few days in a small fishing town called Weligama over Christmas before continuing their travels; but unfortunately for the family, their trip was tragically cut short when the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami struck.

Kevin and Sandra did everything they could to keep the two youngest from drowning, and Rob was able to save himself and Paul. But unfortunately, the four children would never see their parents again; they were swept away by the powerful waves. Lucky to be alive, but devastated and shocked by what had happened, the siblings spent a horrendous week desperately trying to make it back to the UK without documents, money or protection.

We caught up with Rob to find out about the flip flop business that grew out of the brothers’ Brixton bedrooms. A percentage of each pair of flip flops sold is set aside to for their Orphans for Orphans initiative, which helps to build orphanages and care for the millions of children around the globe who are struggling to survive.

Was travelling a great experience before the tsunami?
It’s hard to put into words, it was literally incredible. Travelling around India experiencing different cultures, playing cricket on the beach and volunteering; trying out different foods… It was a long way from being a ‘normal’ classroom situation over here.

You and your three siblings had a torrid time getting help after this tragic event. What kept you going?
I still don’t know how anyone managed to do it. We just kept our heads up, kept motivated and made sure we got back to safety. We had to stay calm so we could deal with what was in hand.

How did you and Paul come up with the idea of Gandys?
We were at a festival and we kept hearing this urban term – “My mouth’s as dry as Gandhi’s flip flop” – and it escalated from there really. We changed the spelling because we didn’t want to make it controversial. We built the brand based on our own beliefs and on everything we had learnt as children.

I know your parents ran their own fashion company, but how qualified were you to set up your own shoemaking business?
They had a similar business model; it’s the way our family has always worked. It’s a little bit outside the box, but it’s nice because we are able to do our own thing. We’re not sat at a desk all day: we do a lot of university talks and travel quite a bit, and we do quite a lot of creative stuff as well.

When we told people about our England-based flip flop idea they thought we were crazy, but attitudes have changed towards it. A lot of people just follow the system and don’t think about stepping outside the box. It can be daunting, but it goes back to the life we had as children.

Tell us about Mango House...
We went to school and travelled all over India and we spent time in Goa, where there is this really good children’s home that provides education, medication and nutrition to children in the surrounding areas, including the slums. I’ve been out a few times and Paul has been a few times. It’s a smaller charity but it’s very transparent about its costs.

We set up our business so that it will be sustainable and can support projects like this. The more it grows, the more we will be able to continue to give this support.

What’s your long-term plan for Gandys?
We want to be a global brand, and we want our message to be global. Orphans for Orphans is quite a powerful statement, and it’s not just about orphans; it’s for any children in need. We’ve been in a third-world country with no food and no money so we understand.

We want to have global projects all over the world as well.

You can buy Gandys flip flops at Selfridges, House of Fraser, ASOS, Topman, Soletrader, USC, Schuh and many other retailers, as well as online at

Read the full story in the May-June edition of Sorted magazine.

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