Shaper: Rob Forkan

Show aired on 13th December 2014

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Walking In Rhythm from the Blackbyrds. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. What is Jazz Shapers I hear you ask; it is of course the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a Business Shaper. We are very fortunate today to have Mr Robert Forkan, one of the brothers behind Gandys Flipflops, you probably would have heard of them, if you haven’t you will definitely know all about Rob and his fantastic business after hearing this. In addition to hearing from Rob, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your burgeoning business and on top of all of that of course some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Somi, Etta James and this from the one and only Jamie Cullum.

That was Walking from Jamie Cullum. You are listening to Jazz Shapers and as I said earlier, Rob Forkan, one of the brothers behind Gandys Flipflops is my Business Shaper today. Rob thank you very much for joining me. Many people listening would have heard about Gandys Flipflops, would have heard about these two brothers, these intrepid brothers, Rob and Paul. The book came out recently and I have read some of the book, I am holding it now just to prove the point. Tsunami Kids, Our Journey From Survival to Success. For those people who don’t know the story Rob, just fill me in a little bit about how you came to be a founder of a flipflop business? From your perspective?

Rob Forkan
So myself and brother Paul spent many years travelling as children. We were pulled out of school in South London when I was thirteen and when Paul was eleven along with our younger brother and sister as well and we had just come back from a holiday to India. It was the first time we had ever been anywhere like that and our parents and you know and ourselves fell in love with the place and the culture and they just randomly said ‘who fancies moving to India’. The house was on the market, it had gone through and they were kind of a bit tired of the rat race and just thought there was more to life than working 24/7. So they decided to take us out of school and that was it. We went off on a big journey and we spent years volunteering and experiencing different parts of the world. Unfortunately we were caught up in the Tsunami in which we tragically lost our parents and since then myself and brother have spent years trying to rebuild our lives and we went travelling and then we kind of had been looking for an idea where we could try and do something where it would be sustainable and we could you know, kind of use that negative situation to try and make something positive from it and we came up with the idea of Gandys and creating flipflops; something that you know, everyone wears around the world and that was it and we thought that that it was a perfect way to you know, try and you know, continue their legacy and you know, kind of hope to build children’s homes all around the world. So you know, that’s what we have been doing.

Elliott Moss
Now we will talk about the size of the business around two or three million pounds and building and hopefully half a million pairs of flipflops will be sold in the coming year and so on but people talk in, and I ask many of my guests, what made you decide to set up a business? In your case obviously a life defining moment ten years ago or so was there. Many people would have reacted very very differently. What is it do you think within you and your brother that made you decide to as you say, kind of repel the negative and do something positive? What is it about the Forkan family that genetically pushed you to that end conclusion?

Rob Forkan
Well I think you know it was such an alternative upbringing you know and we were always taught that there is kids in a worse situation than us and you know, to make the most out of life and that was really what we wanted to continue and you know, and we just felt with Gandys you know that we could and you know we wanted to do something in life that we were passionate about and we enjoy you know because life is too short sometimes so you know, do what you can and that was why we created Gandys and that is kind of why we put all that we do into it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear much more from my fascinating Business Shaper, Rob Forkan. Time for some music, this is Love Juju #1 from Somi.

The delicate sound of Somi with Love Juju #1. Rob Forkan is my Business Shaper and he is one of the brothers behind the Gandys Flipflop business and if you weren’t listening earlier they set up the business, how long ago was it? A couple of years?

Rob Forkan
Two years ago yeah.

Elliot Moss
Two years ago and they tragically lost their parents in the Tsunami and this has been kind of a ten year journey. Now you didn’t start, you know obviously post the Tsunami there was many years of travel I understand. In that time and you were fourteen, is that right at the time?

Rob Forkan
My brother was fifteen and I was seventeen.

Elliot Moss
Seventeen okay. You know at that point before you decide what you are going to do with the rest of your life, the travel bug was instilled in you from your parents. Was that the kind of almost a safe retreat? Is that why you went off and did things or was there something else behind it?

Rob Forkan
I think you know we continued to travel because we enjoy it. You know, for the last ten years pretty much every year that I was working and you know, I spent a year kind of travelling around the world by myself but then I spent many years kind of just constantly going back on holidays as and when I could to volunteer or kind of travel through India and I think it was just you know, yeah it was kind of a natural thing for us to do. There was no – I couldn’t say that there was any kind of real thought behind it, it was just the case of that’s…

Elliot Moss
Just what you needed to do at that time?

Rob Forkan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Now the business idea you apparently, you were at a festival.

Rob Forkan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And apparently your mouths were parched and someone, whether it was you or your brother.

Rob Forkan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Said actually my mouth feels like Gandys flipflop or words to that effect. Now many people, you know we all… many of us have been to festivals and we’ve all had a laugh and we all say things in a jokey manner. What catalysed at that moment though was it genuinely an epiphany or was it like a bit later you went ‘hold on a minute there’s something in this’?

Rob Forkan
I think it was just it niggled away over a period of time and it was one of those where the idea came around, I’d heard other people say ‘I’ve got a mouth as dry as Gandys flipflops’ etc., over the years and it just kept bugging me and I wondered if anyone had ever made flipflops called Gandys. We’d spent years travelling in flipflops you know, it was very much part of our DNA so it just felt like the right thing to do and when we came home from Sri Lanka as well, from the Tsunami we came home with no shoes so it was just lots of different things that resonated with us as to why to do it and you know, we thought if we set up a flipflop brand we can go chasing the sun again. So…

Elliot Moss
I knew there was a proper reason. Now you are being honest, basically Elliot I just wanted to get back in the sun again.

Rob Forkan
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
So from that idea and then obviously wanting to chase the sun and all that, you’ve created a serious business Rob, you now have fifteen or so people that work with you in the head office. You’ve, we’ll talk about the huspa that you have exhibited recently to try and you know, get distribution for your flipflops. What did you do in those early weeks, those formative weeks of okay we are going to create a business. How would, you know you were obviously a bit older then, but how would you have known where to go, what to ask for, what to know was the right answer, I mean these are a bunch of stuff to get your heads round.

Rob Forkan
Yeah, no there has been a lot to get our heads round and even now you know, there is – every day we are learning and we are trying to push ourselves and you know we are constantly outside our comfort zone but we just try and follow our gut and do what we think is right and then we’ve been you know, trying to surround ourselves with good people and try and you know, try and seek advice where you know we can get some help but you know it was a case of we simply got on Google and started trying to find out how you make a product and trying to find a manufacturer and I went out to India and that was kind of just how it got going and before we knew it we had prototypes and then we started knocking on the doors of retailers trying to get it in there.

Elliot Moss
There you go anyone can do it right? We’ll find out why actually not anyone can do it. Much more coming up from Rob my Business Shaper today. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some choice words of advice I hope from our program partners for your business from Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp you can catch me talking to a brilliant and interesting Business Shaper, someone who is shaping the world of business, their own industry, their own category. If you have missed any of the programs just go into iTunes and you can find a whole bunch of really cool and smart people there. If you are flying on British Airways, BA Highlife is your destination. My Business Shaper today more importantly is Rob Forkan and he is one of the brothers behind Gandys Flipflops and they are now a few million pounds, they have now got some distribution but we were listening earlier to you Rob telling us that ‘well I went on Google, worked out what, how we could start sourcing some material, popped on a plane to India’ – Bobs your Uncle and all the rest of it. But from a serious point of view when you start to create a product, a real product that people have to wear that is made in a way that you are comfortable with ethnically, not easy?

Rob Forkan
No.

Elliot Moss
And I believe that your first distributor, your first manufacturers actually rather than distributors, didn’t quite work out?

Rob Forkan
No.

Elliot Moss
Was that the first real business problem you had within the business? I mean it sounds like that’s a pretty fundamental issue to have?

Rob Forkan
That was yeah the first issue which, there has been many but there has been many things have you know been brilliant as well so…

Elliot Moss
How did you deal with that first problem?

Rob Forkan
You know we tried re-addressing to find someone else, we tried persisting with them but you know, we put a lot of time and effort into it and it just didn’t seem to develop but you know a lot of people liked the design and the concept of what we created in terms of they were hand woven with a rope strap but the problem was you couldn’t scale it, the product quality control was never good enough and consistent enough and you’d ask when would it be ready, they’d say two weeks and in two weeks you would ask and they’d say four weeks, four weeks later is it ready? Sorry we can’t make it any more and that was kind of you know a constant battle so you know we had to move away from that unfortunately. But you know we then kept persisting and you know there has been a lot of times where you know myself and brother you know there would have been many people around us that probably would have given up at that because you know, we got a load of product it was no good then we were like what do we do with this now you know, but we’ve just kept battling through it.

Elliot Moss
I mean without asking the obvious or sort of stating the obvious and I read the part of the book where obviously the Tsunami hits and stuff, what you have seen and experienced is probably almost unique in the sense that very few people go through that kind of level of trauma and that kind of level of emotional suffering. I imagine that nothing touches that in business. Is that right or do you sort of forget how bad that was and start thinking that now is bad? Because you know people will think well they have seen much worse but actually does it all just become annoying anyway? I mean is all quite difficult to manage?

Rob Forkan
No you know. Funnily enough I had a conversation with my brother the other day about just about your know, certain pressures and stress that we’ve got on at the moment and what was quite funny is he just kind of said ‘I suppose it’s just one of those things that we’ve got to deal with now’ you know and it was just the way that he said it. I kind of laughed as if to say you know ‘yeah I suppose you are right’, this is, you know, stress and pressure you know running a company etc., is not going to go away and it is only going to become greater and greater but you know, and sometimes you know we get quite down about it and we’re quite stressed out about it but we are kind of starting to learn just you know, that it is part of it and that’s kind of what we’ve signed up for so just get on with it and do the best that you can and you know, as you mentioned, you know with all that we have seen in life, that was kind of our attitude going into this that you know, we’ve seen so much, we’ve done so much and you know, the pressure and stress we had you know and the rollercoaster ride we had kind of trying to get ourselves home from Sri Lanka in comparison is kind of I don’t know, doing a board meeting or something like that in the grand scheme of things is not that big a deal.

Elliot Moss
That’s called perspective and you will be getting lots more of that from my Business Shaper Rob Forkan. Time for some music now this is Etta James and the fantastic I’d Rather Go Blind.

That was Etta James and I’d Rather Go Blind. I am talking to Rob Forkan who is my Business Shaper today and we were comparing a really difficult situation to a boardroom. Now the business is still pretty young and the stories go that you have gone and talked to people that you really ought not to have been able to talk to, you’ve literally accosted Philip Green though not physically I hear, you’ve got Richard Branson on side, you have a pretty high profile Michael Dominic List behind the scenes. You’ve just gone as you’ve said, as your brother was saying ‘well we’ve just got to get on and deal with it’. You’ve just dealt with stuff. Is there an energy that you get from being a little bit naughty and a bit anarchic in kind of not worrying about the rules? Does that fuel the momentum that you seem to be on? Or do you not see it as naughty at all? Because you are very naughty Rob, you’re breaking all the rules about making a business happen, which is good.

Rob Forkan
So yeah, no I have got friends that you know, have gone to Uni and have learnt business and how to do this or how to do that and that’s great and again we’ve got people in our company now like that but myself and brother you know, in terms of our parents’ education they gave us was to do things alternative, like the alternative way and I think that’s kind of what we are doing but there is no, I think there is no right or wrong way, it’s just what works for that individual and that kind of works for us but it is getting a balance. We need people around us that you know, can offer the other side of you know of skills so.

Elliot Moss
What the financial management?

Rob Forkan
Yeah exactly.

Elliot Moss
Making sure the distributor relationships are right, that your retail outlets are happy with you, that you’ve got products coming through and innovation. All those things, that balance do you think it is an ongoing thing or do you think every day you get a bit closer to achieving the alternative plus the kind of stable?

Rob Forkan
I think myself and brother are always are willing to push the boundaries and sometimes we don’t think about the you know, the stable you know to a certain degree we are just thinking no we want to be better at you know how that happens, we don’t know, just make it happen sort of thing.

Elliot Moss
But so far its working? You would argue, I mean you know, you’ve got some fantastic people behind you and it looks like your target next year is to kind of double, double the number of pairs of flipflops from last year. That’s a massive target.

Rob Forkan
Yeah but then you know, in terms of what we are doing you know, if you get it right in certain retailers you know, then you know, you knock on the door of Nordstrom and they’ve got you know ten times the distribution of a department store in the UK so if you are getting it right here, try and make it work there and you know and then those numbers don’t seem so unachievable.

Elliot Moss
Nothing is unachievable, I love it and I think you are probably right, if you think like that it won’t be. Stay with me for my final chat with Rob today plus we are going to be playing a track from Astrud Gilberto – that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was the inimitable Astrud Gilberto with the very calm Shadow Of Your Smile. Rob Forkan is my Business Shaper, founder with his brother of Grandys Flipflops and we have been talking about how young people who have never started a business before go and start one and then have the audacity to suggest that it is just going to be a case of knocking on a few doors and selling a few pairs of flipflops but guess what, in this case it is absolutely working. You work obviously with your brother, you set the business up with your brother. What’s the relationship like when you work together because I have interviewed many partners or parts of partnerships and they all have a different dynamic. In truth what’s the dynamic like? Who really rules the roost?

Rob Forkan
Yeah he just makes the tea.

Elliot Moss
Is it good tea though, as long as it is good tea its fine.

Rob Forkan
It’s average but no I think we’ve got you know, a good dynamic between us. I think you know we both respect each other. I think it has been pretty cool watching him grow and develop as well into you know what he does now. You know and he has done some you know, huge things and remarkable things that you know most people his age or even older wouldn’t achieve so I think we’ve both got mutual respect for each other and he focuses a lot on the sales you know I do part of that as well but I kind of – yeah I’ve got an overview of kind of more of the business and everything but that’s just – I’d say that’s because I am a bit older and I’ve been working a lot longer than him so.

Elliot Moss
Do you ever you know, when you are at Buckingham Palace and you’re being, you’re meeting Royalty and you are being you know acclaimed as young leaders and all these other things – do you ever kind of pinch yourselves the two of you and go ‘how did we get here’?

Rob Forkan
We kind of laugh about it yeah. No we do laugh about it but that you know, all of that side is, is cool but we get more of a buzz from you know, my brother was kind of, he’s got a collaboration with London Zoo this week and they’ve said we can use London Zoo for a party and we are going to put animal prints on the products and he is more, he is like super excited about that now that we are going to have like these cool lion prints and they are going to be in you know, you know lots of retailers and that’s kind of where we get our, you know our buzz and then again kind of building our kids campus at the moment. It’s things like that that we really kind of get excited about and you know just seeing people wear our product and people kind of inspired by what we do. That’s, that’s the real buzz over and above kind of any of the…

Elliot Moss
The superficial stuff. Because the other thing of course that you do for those people that don’t know is that ten percent of all of your profits go to the Gandys Foundation, you are supporting I think it is called The Orphans for Orphans Mission. That must make you feel good every day as well just know that literally the tie, the part of the field that you own is supporting a fantastic cause.

Rob Forkan
Yeah no for us we do lots of stuff here as well, we go into lots of schools, colleges and you know we just get so many students that are now studying, we get emails in all the time you know, social media messages where students are studying what we are doing, the model you know we are trying to create and you know they are the values and kind of you know, that we were taught as children and the vision that we’ve got and you know, we’re only just starting out we’ve got a very long way to go yet and by no means have we changed the world or saying that we can change the world, we’re just trying to do what we can and that’s what we are passionate about and we will just keep working towards it.

Elliot Moss
It’s been an absolute pleasure to have met you Rob. And just before I let you go, it would be remiss of me though not to ask you one more question which is what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Rob Forkan
So I have chosen Katie Melua Nine Million Bicycles just for the fact of all the time we spent travelling South East Asia and I listened to it whilst travelling and it just reminds of all those crazy days and kind of all the amazing cities we have seen across Asia.

Elliot Moss
That was Nine Million Bicycles from Katie Melua. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Rob Forkan. A positive guy, a guy full of vision, of resilience and of the values that you want in someone who is just setting up a business and that wants to make a proper difference in the world. Amazing stuff. Thank you so much for joining me today, I do hope you enjoyed it. Stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Rob Forkan

Rob and Paul’s parents, Kevin and Sandra Forkan, were compassionate, adventurous and generous people. As keen travellers themselves they wanted to raise their children with a deep understanding of the world. In order to expose their children to other cultures and see what life was like for children in other countries, Kevin and Sandra came up with a plan for their family to travel the world together. So in 2001 they took their children out of the traditional education system in England and enrolled their children in the school of life.

Kevin and Sandra had no exact plan of where the family would go or the duration in each place but they knew they wanted to work on humanitarian projects across India and the Sub Continent. Each family member packed one backpack and did away with any remaining possessions. They sold the family home that they had lived in for 20 years and in an instant swapped their normal, comfortable life in Croydon, South London for the uncertainties of the open road and an adventure of a lifetime.

Their first stop was India. After they had arrived the family quickly settled into their new lifestyle and began to soak up the country’s rich, vibrant culture. Kevin and Sandra regularly approached local charities and the family did lots of voluntary work from handing out food and medicine to organising sports days at children’s homes.

After a year in India the family said goodbye to the new friends they had made and bid farewell to the first country on their journey. Despite being sad to leave the communities they had become a part of they were also excited about their next destination, Sri Lanka. Little did they know that this trip was going to change their lives forever.

On Boxing Day morning the tsunami hit the coastline. Tragically, that morning would be the last time they saw their parents.

Fortunately, the Forkan children had support from family and friends, unlike so many of the orphans they had met on their travels. It was a long road to recovery but Rob and Paul finished their education, got jobs in London and saved up enough money to continue the journey that their parents had started. They put their flip flops back on and spent several years roaming the globe. They explored many countries including Laos, Bali, Fiji, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, America, New Zealand and of course returned to their favourite place, India.

Rob and Paul were determined to try to find a positive end to the tragedy they experienced in 2004. They wanted to do something that would honour the spirit of their parents and would also give themselves peace of mind in the process.

They wanted to help people in the developing countries they had visited. Specifically, they wanted to focus on children less fortunate than themselves like the ones they had played with when they were younger.

One morning at a festival with friends, Rob woke up with “a mouth like Gandhi’s Flip Flop.” And just like that, an unusual source of inspiration became the foundation for a business.
Rob and Paul recently returned to Sri Lanka for the first time since the tsunami in order to visit the various projects and children’s homes that The Gandys Foundation is supporting through EMERGE. Prime Minister David Cameron stopped by the projects and publicly showed his support for Gandys and the Orphans for Orphans mission.

The next step in the journey is to head back to Sri Lanka, where it all started, and where hopefully a new chapter will begin with the building of Gandys’ first children’s home. This is now in progress with the land secured just outside Colombo where our first children’s home will be built to mark this monumental occasion of the 10th Year Anniversary of the Tsunami.

Orphans for Orphans:

The brothers wanted to create a brand that represented the philanthropic values their parents had instilled in them and having spent years travelling the world in flip flops, a flip flop company seemed like the perfect tool. They decided that they would found the company on a commitment to using a percentage of profits to support disadvantaged children.

The Gandys Foundation is the registered charity of Gandys, and was set up in the Summer of 2013 following an overwhelming response from people asking how they could help.

10% of all Gandys profits go directly into The Gandys Foundation, whose sole purpose is to support children in need of basic essentials such as nutrition, medication, education and a safe place to live.

This is the “Orphans for Orphans” mission.

Still in its early stages The Gandys Foundation has already funded a teacher and school supplies for 100 children at Mango Tree, a children’s charity in Goa India as well as supporting EMERGE, an organisation in Colombo Sri Lanka supporting young girls in need of a safe place to live and teaching them business and life skills needed for self sufficiency.

The Gandys brothers personally ensure that all of the operational costs of the foundation are covered, so that every single pound donated goes directly towards the projects.

The fundamental goal of The Gandys Foundation and the “Orphans for Orphans” mission is to support the many underprivileged and disaster children who have no access to the most basic of sanitation, clean drinking water, medical supplies, shelter and education. Following their own experience Rob and Paul wanted to do what they could to help less fortunate children grow up with a standard of care that everyone deserves. The “Orphans for Orphans” mission is very close to their hearts and it is the driving force behind Gandys.

Follow Rob on Twitter @Gandysflipflops

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“…we were caught up in the Tsunami in which we tragically lost our parents and since then myself and my brother have spent years trying to rebuild our lives.”

“…we were always taught that there are kids in a worse situation than us, and to make the most out of life…”

“Every day we are learning and trying to push ourselves and we are constantly out of our comfort zone.”

“We spent years travelling in flip flops, it was very much part of our DNA.”

“We’ve got a collaboration with London Zoo this week and they’ve said we can use London Zoo for a party and we are going to put animal prints on the products…”

“I’d heard people say ‘I’ve got a mouth as dry as Gandy’s flip flops’ over the years, and it just kept bugging me..”

“…just seeing people wear our product, and inspired by what we do. That’s the real buzz…”

“We get emails in all the time, social media messages where students are studying what we are doing, the model we are trying to create….”

“By no means have we changed the world, or are saying that we can change the world. We’re just trying to do what we can, and that’s what we are passionate about, and we will just keep working towards it.”