Unsung Hero: Rob & Paul Forkan, Founders, Gandys

After a traumatic experience, Rob & Paul Forkan started their flip-flop business Gandys to fund their charitable organisations across the world. A few years since its inception, they've managed to collaborate with some of the biggest department stores in the UK and one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

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From tragic origins, Rob and Paul Forkan started their flip-flop business Gandys to fund their charitable organisations across the world. Only a few years since Gandys inception they've managed to collaborate with some of the biggest Department stores in the UK and one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
Gandys' success has turned Rob and Paul Forkan's dreams into a reality.

Gandys, a trendy fashion retailer for travellers across the world, ethically sources materials and uses the profits for its charity efforts.

However, the retailer – which has collaborated with the likes of The Rolling Stones and luxury department store Liberty – has a unique origin story.

Inspired by the loss of their parents in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, combined with their love for travel, Rob and Paul Forkan created Gandys from their London bedroom in 2012 alongside The Gandys Foundation.

“When we first started, I was on the sofa for two years eating beans on toast,” Paul told Retail Gazette.

The beginning was simple – one of the first products included flip-flops that were made from environmentally and ethically-sourced materials.

The flip-flops were inspired by the family’s frequent travels to India – where they’d all be wearing them.

“We thought, ‘what’s a universal product that’s cheap, that everyone needs and wears but can also help people?’,” Paul recalled.

Rob & Paul’s experiences travelling as kids inspired them to build a business that encompassed their beliefs and  gave back to the community. (Image: Gandys.com)

He said “people laughed at us” when he and his brother first announced the launch of their flip-flop brand in a country notorious for rainy days. But they brushed off the comments and targeted young backpackers by creating designs that were stylish yet affordable.

Paul can still remember the challenges of the early days, recounting how “some of the cool designer shops” chased him out because Gandys was “too eco-friendly, too organic, yet now every retailer is basically trying to do this”.

“People are now starting to think about the planet,” he said.

“It’s nuts how things come on trend and then go, what will there be in seven years time?”

Paul revealed the key to Gandys’ success was being bold and taking the initiative to approach anyone and everyone.

“We didn’t take no for an answer,” he said.

The Forkan brothers opened their first couple of stores in 2014, including one in Spitalfields Market, London which helped spread the world and built up a loyal fan base in the UK.

That same year was an important year for them as they also opened their first Orphans for Orphans kids campus in Sri Lanka.

Gandys Kids Campus in Sri Lanka

The campuses provide a range of focus areas, including academic support, woodwork lessons and sports activities.

The brothers aim to support vital youth development in the community, but also ensure that children remain safe after school and parents increase their literacy skills.

At the kids’ campus, parents are content that children are away from the dangers of the streets while they are busy providing for their family.

Also in 2014, Gandys saw major success when Liberty of London’s then-managing director Ed Burstell responded to the brothers’ email about a bunch of ideas.

A collaboration soon took place, using the department store’s iconic fabric to cover the flip-flops which sold out three hours after launching.

Gandys X Liberty collaboration

“We didn’t expect them to get fully behind it,” Paul remembers.

The success led to many more collaborations with Liberty, which then prompted some work with the iconic rock band The Rolling Stones.

Rob and Paul then diversified Gandys’ offering by expanding into clothing – and it was around this time that John Lewis came into the fray.

“John Lewis helped launch our swim shorts nationwide,” Paul told Retail Gazette.

“They basically were the best performing swimming shorts in there.”

The brothers realised if they could beat out the top competitors in John Lewis, they could in fact expand Gandys’ clothing range.

John Lewis X Gandys swim shorts promotional image

“We basically started moving on to shirts and kind of went from there but we did it naturally,” Paul said.

Gandys’ winter wear, including jumpers and jackets is now its biggest area of product.

More designs followed, including the signature Bali backpack and round towel which are now regarded as staples for Instagrammers around the world.

A book deal soon followed when Tsunami Kids: Our Journey from Survival to Success was released, allowing the brothers to share their family and business story.

Rob and Paul Forkan with children at an orphanage in Sri Lanka. (Image: Lee Thompson / Gandys.com)

Such successes have meant that Rob and Paul were able to achieve their goal and donate profits to The Gandys Foundation.

The foundation supports the Orphans for Orphans initiative – working to provide underprivileged children with access to education, medication and nutrition.

Following the positive impact of the kids campus in Sri Lanka in 2017, the second Orphans for Orphans kids’ campus was opened in Malawi.

When speaking on the Malawi location, Paul said they were purchasing land on the campuses for kids to grow food and learn about agriculture.

“We get kids who aren’t academic so we’ll get a local plumber or carpenter to come in and they’ll do a talk to the children on that, then when the kids are 18, we like to try and get them interviews with big employers in the area,” he explained.

“We’re not going to ever save the world. But if we can just leave a little mark of what our parents instilled in us, then we’ll die happily.”

By 2017, Gandys started to experiment with pop-ups in Covent Garden, Camden, Clapham and Richmond.

The retailer continued going from strength to strength when the Duke of Cambridge was spotted in numerous designs during his trip to Sweden in 2018.

In the same year, Gandys collaborated with McLaren to create a limited edition flip-flop for the British supercar and F1 team’s opening race.

One hundred per cent of the proceeds from the limited edition flip-flops went back into The Gandys Foundation, helping to build more children’s homes.

More homes are currently being built in Brazil and Nepal, and its clear the brothers have no intention of slowing down.

They’ve said they want to do more and help countries, children and societies to “lead happy and fulfilled lives”.

Paul emphasised that without the success of Gandys, “none of this would be possible”.

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