How we beat the odds: Gandys Flip Flop founders Paul and Rob Forkan

Paul and Rob Forkan, founders of Gandys Flip Flops, were orphaned by the 2004 tsunami and have started their own flip-flop business.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 27 Jan 2014

Our parents were both entrepreneurial. They had a fashion business but got fed up with the rat race and, when we were teenagers, we all moved to India and lived like hippies for four years, travelling around the subcontinent.

Ten years ago, we had popped over to Sri Lanka for a holiday when the Boxing Day tsunami hit. It took both our parents. We survived by climbing a tree and our younger brother and little sister clung onto our hotel roof. We all hitched a lift back to the embassy in Colombo with no passports or money and were flown back to the UK in just a few clothes and no shoes, where we lived with our elder sister, who had stayed in the UK.

We both went travelling after leaving school but we'd always talked about setting up a business together. We came up with the idea of flip flops because we have lots of happy memories of running around in them when we lived in India. We chose the name Gandys after Rob went to a festival and woke up with his 'mouth as dry as Gandhi's flip flop'.

The business was started from our flat in Brixton in January 2012 with a few thousand pounds in savings - but we ran out of cash really quickly and could barely afford to pay our rent.

At first, we developed an eco-friendly product but, when we pitched our product to retailers, shopkeepers would chase us out, calling us vegetable-lovers. So we changed the material to 100% rubber and later came up with the slogan 'Orphans for Orphans'. Ten per cent of our profit is put into building orphanages and we plan to have our first children's home built in India this year.

We started handing out flyers at Tube stations and got a little bit of local press; then we started growing and got more and more attention. Our first big deal was with Topman, after we ambushed Philip Green on his first day back in the office after a holiday in Monaco.

We persuaded Richard Branson to get involved by offering to change the name of our red flip flops from Tokyo to Necker red after his private island.

We brought an investor into the business by doing something called 'Brothers' Den', where we invited seven self-made entrepreneurs into a pub in Brixton to pitch to us why they would be a good investor, and that's allowed us to go international.

This year we're launching in countries including Cyprus, Greece, New Zealand and Russia. We also recently signed a major deal with Accessorize, which will stock our flip flops from spring, with a percentage of profits going directly to Sri Lankan charities.

Gandys is forecast to turn over £1.2m in 2013 and it's difficult to predict this year. We're now talking to the whole world and it's all going a bit crazy.

We want to get in the best department stores and our aim is to be the biggest flip flop brand in the world. By doing that, eventually we'll have children's homes being built in every continent.

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