Gandys Flip Flops: Footwear with soul

Paul and Rob Forkan of Gandys Flip Flops Paul and Rob Forkan have a strong sense of social responsibility

If you want to know what motivates the founders of sandal-making firm Gandys Flip Flops, try standing in their shoes.

Brothers Rob and Paul Forkan are only 26 and 24 respectively, but they've already seen more tragedies and triumphs than most people manage in a lifetime.

Nearly a decade after losing their parents in the Asian tsunami of 2004 and almost getting killed themselves, the pair are preparing to open a children's home in India, saying they want to help their fellow orphans.

In the meantime, their London-based brand of ethically sourced footwear, established in 2011, has begun to make tracks, with 150,000 pairs manufactured so far.

UK stores already selling their sandals include Selfridges, Liberty and Accessorize, as well as stockists in Germany and a number of other European markets.

Start Quote

Our parents gave us this confidence that we could do anything, that nothing was hard to achieve”

End Quote Paul Forkan Gandys Flip Flops

"We give 10% of our profits back to charity and we've got our own foundation on the side as well, " says Paul. "We're all about making profit, but a profit with a purpose."

Life skills

The Forkan brothers had an unconventional childhood, which they reckon has done much to fuel their current success. They were just 11 and 13 when their parents, Kevin and Sandra, took them out of the UK education system and moved the family to Goa in India.

Paul, who was hampered by dyslexia at school, welcomed the change. He remembers "living like hippies", with little formal learning but lots of voluntary work.

Gandys sandals Gandys sandals come in a wide range of colours

"We'd go to children's homes, play sports with the kids, help them out with cooking, teach them stuff, which was really cool," he says.

"We helped with fund-raising for the local charities as well. We learned some really good life skills. Our parents gave us this confidence that we could do anything, that nothing was hard to achieve."

Start Quote

In the long term, we'd like to have children's homes in every continent in the world”

End Quote Paul Forkan Gandys Flip Flops

The family were on holiday in Sri Lanka when the tsunami struck. The Forkans' parents died saving Rob and Paul's younger siblings, Matt and Rosie.

Although the disaster was a tough blow for the children, Paul says the way they were brought up made them strong enough to cope.

"Our parents gave us the attitude that if you get knocked off your bike, just get back on it. There's always people worse off than you," he says.

Fortunately, the children were then adopted by an older sister, Marie, who lives in Farnborough in Hampshire. Rob and Paul spent a couple of years living there before embarking on separate travels round the world.

Indian inspiration

By 2011, they were sharing living quarters in Brixton, south London, where they started their footwear business.

Paul says their inspiration came from the father of India's independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi.

"He was in all our schoolbooks as kids, he's on all the money over in India, he's famous for wearing his flip flops," he says.

Chest filled with Gandys flip flops Gandys is looking to expand internationally

"[And] there's a slang term in London. After a night out, you say that you've got a mouth as dry as Gandhi's flip flops. Rob was at a festival and woke up the next morning with a dry mouth.

"He told me about it and said, 'We're going to look to do a lot of social projects in India, Sri Lanka and then, eventually, open a children's home for the 10th anniversary of the tsunami.'

"That was what made me think, actually, this is a great business, doing good."

The brothers began the business with less than £10,000 in start-up capital, mainly from savings.

"We thought, 'That'll be enough to get us going,' not realising that you just burn through money straight away," says Paul. "It lasted six months."

Brothers' Den

To secure further funding, they decided to turn the Dragons' Den concept on its head, inviting several wealthy potential investors to a Brixton pub and asking them to compete for the chance to invest.

"We did this thing called Brothers' Den," Paul recalls. "These guys came down in their suits. We were in our shorts and flip flops."

Fortunately, it worked, and the pair were able to obtain the investment they needed.

But that wasn't the only setback the firm faced in the early days. Initial batches of Gandys flip flops were hand-made in India using jute, but Paul and Rob were unhappy with the results.

Original Gandys flip flop The firm's initial flip flop had quality control problems

"If you brought in 100, you could only sell 10 of them, because of poor quality control," says Paul.

The sandals are now factory-made in China, and Rob visits the premises regularly to monitor production.

Gandys now has a full-time staff of 14, including a designer and a brand manager, as well as marketing, sales and press personnel. Its headquarters is in Southfields in south London, near Wimbledon, with a further office in Stoke.

About 70% of the firm's sales so far have been in the UK, but later this year, the brothers will launch the brand in Australia and the US.

"In five years' time, I'd like our flip flops to be seen in all the top shops in America," says Paul. "On the other side of the business, giving back, I'd like to have projects all over the world.

"In the long term, we'd like to have children's homes in every continent in the world."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    FRACKING LICENCES 07:27: Radio 5 live

    More on Fracking David Hunter tells Wake up to Money the industry will obviously will need to regulated properly. "It is right that we are clear on how tight regulation should be," he says, but "it's also clear we should be spending more time assessing the potential of fracking" given energy security concerns, he adds.

    Pushchairs on sale at a Mothercare store

    Mothercare has responded to the news US rival Destination Maternity has gone off the idea of bidding for it with a corporate shrug. A statement says it "notes" the offer withdrawal and also "notes" it has had no contact with Destination Maternity for about six weeks. It says under new boss Mark Newton-Jones it is now "fully focused" on its turnaround plan.

    OVERPRICED HEALTHCARE 07:13: Radio 5 live
    Bupa sign

    Private healthcare is overpriced, says ... private healthcare provider Bupa. Damien Marmion, its managing director of UK Insurance. He says the whole industry is to blame, especially the price charged by hospitals. He says prices need to go down by about 15%.

    Ryanair plane landing

    Irish airline Ryanair reports better than expected first quarter earnings. Pre-tax profits rose to 223.6m euros (I£176.8m) in the three months to 30 June up from 88.5m euros a year earlier. Full-year profit guidance is up, too, to between 620m euros and 650m euros for the full year.

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:49: Radio 5 live

    Fracking will not necessarily lead to lower energy prices, David Hunter from Schneider Electric tells Wake Up to Money. It is important that the UK assess the potential of fracking, especially given Europe's currently fractious [a-hem] relationship with Russia. It's more about energy security than lower prices, Mr Hunter says.

    GSK BREAK-UP? 06:40:
    Horlicks jars

    The Financial Times goes with the boss of drugs giant GSK is considering breaking up the company, should its consumer healthcare division be worth more as a standalone company. And yes, that division owns Horlicks, as well as mega-brands like Aquafresh and Corsodyl.

    ARGENTINA DEBT 06:32: BBC Radio 4

    More on Argentina's debt woes. It is risking falling into default for the second time in 12 years, says Carlos Caicedo, senior principal analyst on country risk at IHS Global Insight. In fact, this looks like the most likely outcome after the Argentine economic minister failed to arrive in New York for talks on Friday. Leading Hedge Fund NML Capital believes Argentina will definitely default on its loans, he adds, and the government's refusal to meet and talk with its creditors isn't helping matters.

    ARGENTINA DEBT 06:23: Radio 5 live

    It is more than 10 years since Argentina announced it couldn't pay back its debts. Most bondholders accepted a deal to get back a small percentage in exchange for writing off those debt. But some bonds are owned by US hedge funds who want full repayment. Argentina says no, but there's a court deadline on Wednesday. Deborah Zandstra, a specialist in debt restructuring at Clifford Chance, tells Wake Up to Money the move will have wider repercussions: "Essentially Argentina is being put into a position of defaulting on its bonds. That will trigger cross defaults on its other debts."

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:09: BBC World News
    Brenda Kelly

    Brenda Kelly from IG Index is reviewing the newspapers on World News. "It is interesting to compare the Guardian's coverage with the Telegraph. The Guardian says there will be drilling but the Telegraph says it won't. There are a huge amount of environmental issues - the amount of water used, the risk of small earthquakes, for example. All energy firms will have to provide an environmental statement if they are going to drill near sites of natural beauty."

    FRACKING LICENCES 06:03: Radio 5 live
    Barton Moss Results from test drilling for shale gas at Barton Moss, Salford are being analysed

    Energy companies are being invited to bid for licences to extract oil and gas from large areas of Britain, using the controversial process known as fracking. The technique will be all but banned from national parks and other environmentally sensitive areas. Mike Bradshaw, professor of Global Energy at Warwick Business School, tells Radio 5 live people are concerned: "We've got very limited experience of fracking in the UK. So we don't know the answer to many of the questions that people have about what fracking will look like under UK and EU regulations which are very different from those that exist in the United States."

    06:01: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks, as ever you can get in touch with us by email at and on twitter @bbcbusiness.

    06:00: Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    Monday morning. Here we are. Fracking is under the spotlight as companies start to bud for licences to drill for shale gas. Stay with us for the pick of the business news from the BBC and elsewhere.



From BBC Capital


  • A sun bearThe Travel Show Watch

    The Borneo sanctuary coming to rescue of the world’s smallest bear

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.