Turning sorrow to success: How two tsunami orphans got back on their feet


The Forkan brothers set up their flip-flop company to turn a negative experience into something good.


By Helena Hickey

“If you don’t take risks, you won’t get anywhere in life.”

Rob Forkan and his younger brother Paul were orphaned when their parents died in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Less than ten years since the life-changing events, they have set up their own successful flip flop business, turning the most negative of experiences into something good.

Gandys, a name derived from Rob’s hungover quip that he had a “mouth like Gandhi’s flip flop”, only became a full time business a year ago, but the range is already stocked in major retailers including ASOS, Selfridges and Topman.

“We signed up every major retailer from our lounge in Brixton,” said Rob. “Although I don’t think they knew that at the time!”

Life has always been a bit different for the brothers. As teenagers their parents decided to take them and their two younger siblings out of school and on a journey to travel the world. They were in Sri Lanka,  four years into their adventure, when the tsunami struck.

“Obviously what happened in the past was bad, and even now we still have bad days in terms of the business, days when it’s just one big headache. But you have to expect these things in life and deal with them,” Rob said.

The charitable nature of their parents as well as their own personal experience, means their brand has a clear ethic of wanting to give something back. With each pair of flip flops sold, a percentage of the profits goes towards charitable projects across the globe, as part of their ‘Orphans for Orphans’ initiative.

“Our current goal is to set up an orphanage in Goa, something we will be able to do by 2014 if our projections are correct. Eventually, we want to set up an orphanage on every continent. This sounds bold but we never imagined we’d be able to get into every major retailer and a year on, look where we are. You have to think big,” explained Rob.

“We always knew we wanted to help those less fortunate than us, especially after the things and people we had seen in the past, but we wanted to do something a bit different from the usual route of volunteering. That does help to a certain degree, but we want to support community projects so that people can help themselves, which as long as it is run properly has more impact.”

For most people, setting up their own company during an economic downturn, with no business experience and one GCSE between them, might seem like quite a gamble. But the boys had no doubts about their decision.

“It never really felt like a risk or the wrong thing to do,” said Rob.

“What’s the worst that can happen? If it hasn’t worked out in six months you find a new job.”

He believes that actually daring to do something is one of the reasons why the brand has been so successful.

“Both our product and our ethic is different to what else is out there, which is key. You have to be bold and creative, otherwise why would people convert to you from other brands?” he added.

They may be lacking in experience, but Rob believes that even if they hadn’t been through such tragedy, they would still have set up their own business one day.

“We had jobs when we were younger, I had a paper round and used to wash cars to earn a bit of money, even though I didn’t really need to. So I think it was natural for us to do this. But the brand itself, the desire to give something back to those less fortunate as well as the bold approach to the company, is probably a result of what we’ve seen and been through.”

The flip flops, which  are 100% rubber and have a unique rope design, have been selling quicker than they could ever have imagined. Now they are dreaming of being as successful as Havaianas, a company which sells more than 200 million pairs of shoes a year.

“What we’ve been through has taught us that you can do what you want in life, you don’t have to follow any rules. Nothing is impossible.”

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