FOUNDERS SERIES: TOM KAY // FINISTERRE
Mad To Live are so excited to announce an all-new series of compelling interviews. In FOUNDERS SERIES, we will shine a light on the progressive entrepreneurs making waves in their respective industries.
Mad To Live have been long-term fans of British born brand Finisterre, which since its inception over 15 years ago has spearheaded industry-shaping product development and innovation, sustainable best practice, coupled with a bonafide sense of adventure, fun & company camaraderie at the nucleus of the brand. We chat to prodigious founder Tom Kay seaside at the Finisterre St Agnes Wheal Kitty Workshop about Finisterre’s bold approach to strategy and innovation, life for the brand post-B Corp Certification, innovation with their upcoming material recycling “Wetsuits from Wetsuits” programme and how fun and heart will always remain at the core of company ethos.
HI TOM! HOW ARE THINGS AT THE HQ?
It’s good! We’ve been going 15 years now, it feels like a 15-year-old human actually! Now we’re really getting into our stride with what we’re here to do. We became B Corp certified* last year which is a great thing to be part of. That’s really using business as a force for good. It’s really an affirmation of the last 3 years, the last 15 years really, and what the business is about. B Corp has been a big thing for us, our external customers and the guys and girls in here.
* Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
FOR CUSTOMERS, DO YOU THINK THAT FURTHER SOLIDIFIES THEIR COMMITMENT TO YOU?
I think when new people come across us and ask who’s this brand, what are they doing, are they really doing what they say they’re doing, for them to see a really strong third party, outside stamp on we are a business that its legally committed to have responsibility towards the triple bottom line, is a very powerful thing, for new and existing customers, for them to know the business is being run in this way and validated by a 3rd party.
WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH YOUR INCREDIBLY EXCITING NEW PRODUCT INNOVATION PROJECT, TAKING WETSUITS AND RECYCLING THEM INTO NEW WETSUITS (THE APTY NAMED “WETSUITS FROM WETSUITS”)?
The wetsuits from wetsuits programme has basically going a year and a half.
The real problem was that no one was thinking that on average, a wetsuit lasts 2 years. At the end of that period, you just leave it or throw it away, or leave it in the garage, not taking ownership about what to do with that product after its come to the end of its natural life. So, we were like there must be a way to work out how to make wetsuits from wetsuits.
(More from “Wetsuits from Wetsuits” full-time wetsuit recycler Jenny Banks, who is full time at Finisterre but splits her time between the Wheal Kitty Workshops and Exeter University. “It’s a great partnership because we’re bringing together design innovation, science and engineering and commercial know-how to design for sustainability.”
“It’s got some really heavy weight scientific backing behind it. And we are looking to test a wetsuit that can be recycled in about a month so that’s quite exciting.”
“We are looking to effect change and get people to think about how they are making stuff, and what happens to it in it’s life.” Tom Kay
THE SURF INDUSTRY HAS BEEN WORKING IT’S WAY THROUGH MANY TRANSITIONS OVER THE LAST DECADE. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRIES APPROACH TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY?
I think the whole industry, not just surfing, is changing around recycled fabrics. There's a lot more awareness about making stuff in the right way, so that’s a good thing. We’ve been here 15 years, and 15 years ago having this conversation, no one would know what we were talking about, or didn’t understand it. So it’s great to see the whole awareness industry that has really grown up.
CONSUMERS ARE SEEMINGLY MORE SAVVY NOW WHEN IT COMES TO THAT CALLING OUT COMPANIES. DOES IT STAND YOU IN GOOD STEAD HAVING SUCH A GREAT REPUTATION?
We’re not doing it to stand in good stead, we’re doing it for what we believe in. If it does that, cool, but we’re not doing it to stand us in good stead. That’s why we’re here and that’s what we do. If more people come to us because we’re doing it, well then, that’s great. And were not saying we’re perfect either, we have a lot of things we ned to get better at and evolve at and improve at, so it’s still a massive learning journey.
THE WAY YOU BRING THINGS TO MARKET IS ALWAYS HEARTENING AND COOL, WITH BRILLIANT PARTNERSHIPS SUCH AS WITH THE RNLI. IS THAT SOMETHING FINISTERRE WILL CONTINUE TO DO?
“If you do it from the heart and passion, it comes across in how you communicate it and how you activate it and so there’s a legitimacy and authenticity there.”
People pick up on it, so I think with this brand and the way it’s gone people have picked up on that.
LOOKING BACK 15 YEARS AGO, YOU STARTED FINISTERRE IN YOUR BEDROOM, YOUR FIRST OFFICE. DID YOU FORESEE THIS IS WHERE THE BRAND WOULD BE TODAY?
Yes, I think so. I’d always had a vision of where the brand could go and what it could become, and this is very much how imagined it. I’m not sure I imagined how it would get there, but that was part of the journey.
It’s been a real journey and everyone has helped us get here. It is the brand I imagined it be and in some cases, better, because there’s things that have happened that you can’t foresee. It’s an exciting place for us to be right now,
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR BUDDING ENTREPrENEURS WHO MAY HAVE A GREAT IDEA?
“Resilience is the best characteristic you have because all of the knocks and setbacks. It’s about how you deal from them, learn from them and then move on.”
IT ALWAYS LOOKS LIKE YOU HAVE SUCH A BLAST AT FINISTERRE. WHAT HAVE WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LAST 15 YEARS?
How long have you got haha! It was always about the journey. The adventure, the fun stuff along the way. The people I’ve met along the way without a question have been the highlight, and all the memories… The people, their role, there's many of them, some are here, some are not here, that’s been the key common denominator in what we’ve been doing.
FINALLY, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM FINISTERRE IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
More of the same, but better! CONSTANT evolution in terms of making better products, better fabrics, innovating to achieve sustainablity we've still got a lot to go. So yeah …. Always strive to make what you do better and we are pretty proud of what we do now!
Find out more about Finisterre, and stay tuned for the next in the FOUNDERS SERIES.