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Features | 13 Oct 2020

From tragedy to flip-flop success: The Gandys story

We caught up with one of Vodafone’s small business customers, Gandys, to find out more about their story of survival, both personally and professionally.

Brothers Rob and Paul Forkan lost their parents in the brutally destructive Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis of 2004. More than 200,000 people lost their lives.

“It’s not often you see something where almost a quarter of a million people are wiped out,” Rob told Vodafone UK News. “That was one of the biggest challenges ever.”

The brothers left school aged 13 and 11, and travelled for five years, volunteering around the globe in slums and orphanages. Their experiences gave them the idea of setting up a business that honoured their travel-passionate parents.

So in 2012, they founded Gandys, a retailer specialising in products for adventurous travellers.

“We started in our bedroom with a couple of mobile phones and a laptop,” says Rob, “and it just grew from there.

“We set up the brand to create travel-inspired clothing. Initially we started by selling flip-flops.”

Our lives turned upside down, but luckily we survived it

(Paul Forkan, Gandys)

Eight years on, Gandys has now added backpacks, accessories and fashion items, such as ‘Yak jumpers’ and ‘Mongolian jackets’, to the roster of products.

The business ethos is to ensure that all their products are sustainable and ethically sourced, so this involves vetting all their global suppliers based in countries such as Turkey, Sri Lanka and India, and ensuring that the materials they use are non-polluting and recyclable.

The business sells direct to customers to keep overheads down and prices affordable, says Rob.

The Gandys Foundation helps children across the globe, including this village in Malawi

Giving something back

On their travels Rob and Paul developed a strong sense of social responsibility which resulted in the creation of The Gandys Foundation, a charity they co-run that helps underprivileged children and communities across the world.

“We wanted to help children by creating community centres – for children who can’t be looked after, need a roof over their heads or just need food,” says Rob.

“From what we sell, we’ve been able to donate 10% of profits back towards building kids’ campuses around the world.”

So far, the charity has built campuses in Brazil, Malawi, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Rob and Paul Forkan speaking to one of the children staying at their Sri Lankan kids’ campus

Creating ‘something special’

Reflecting on what Rob and Paul’s parents would have made of their success, Rob says: “My mum loved fashion, my dad was entrepreneurial, and both my parents loved to travel.

“For me, the business encompasses everything about them.”

But he believes there is much further the business can go.

“We’re still very much in the early parts of the business,” he says. “Some brands have been around for over 100 years – we want to create something special that is around for a long time – a brand that people value.”

We wanted to continue their legacy and do something positive

(Rob Forkan, Gandys)

Coping with COVID

It’s been tough for most businesses this year, and Gandys is no exception.

“At the start of COVID there were lots of different plans because every day things were changing,” says Rob.

They were aware that they had to improve the method and frequency of their communications with colleagues and customers during lockdown.

“In a bigger company, it may have felt a bit more distant, but we have kept our communication high, and are pushing hard to keep that going,” says Rob.

“We put in more meetings now, just to quickly touch base on different things – our colleagues have found it really useful, even if it’s just for a bit of clarification.”

Today’s improved connectivity has helped the business survive, Rob thinks. There’s been a rapid increase in people shopping through their smartphones – about 90% of their customers now use their devices to shop online.

Ten years ago “it would have just been unimaginable”, says Rob.

But this change in behaviour meant they had to ensure their e-commerce website was mobile- friendly and easy to use.

“This was crucial during lockdown”, says Rob, particularly for older customers perhaps less used to this way of shopping.

And now the boys say they can work pretty much from anywhere where there is a Wi-Fi or mobile connection.

“New technology means you can get everything done,” Rob concludes.

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