How Gandys Flip Flops' founders built a meaningful brand out of personal tragedy

Driven to do something in memory of their parents, who died in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Rob and Paul Forkan started Gandys Flip Flops with the aim of building a children's home in Sri Lanka.

Gandys Flip Flops: founders Rob and Paul Forkan spoke at Havas' Meaningful Brands conference
Gandys Flip Flops: founders Rob and Paul Forkan spoke at Havas' Meaningful Brands conference

Of all the brands presenting at yesterday’s Havas Meaningful Brands conference, most delegates would agree that Gandys Flip Flops was the company with the most compelling backstory.

The conference, held at Channel 4’s headquarters, heard from Rob and Paul Forkan who relayed the emotional story behind Gandy’s creation as a brand.

After being pulled out of school in the UK, aged 11 and 13, they travelled the world with their wanderlust parents before disaster struck in the form of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

While the boys survived along with their younger siblings, their parents Kevin and Sandra, were not so fortunate, perishing in the disaster which took 230,000 lives.

The tragedy galvanised the brothers into doing something in memory of their parents and in 2011 Gandys Flip Flops was born, with a mission to support their foundation, Orphans for Orphans, which aimed to support the building of a children’s home.

Speaking at the conference resplendent in flip flops, Rob revealed that they had: "Made our brand personal to ourselves."

He said they didn’t initially put their story out there but had people asking them whether they were "backed by a big corporate", so they opted to simply "tell their story".

Paul told of the "tough times", how he would stick postcards on cars and "stand outside cold tube stations", then rush home and wait for the orders to flood in, followed by disappointment when no orders were placed. They also doorstepped Arcadia boss Philip Green in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to get listed in TopMan.

Postcards have been abandoned as a marketing tool and now the brothers primarily use PR and social media to promote the product.

"If you do good, you should get PR off the back of it and people will find out about the brand," said Paul.

The brothers are now focused on expanding into sunglasses and backpacks but, in line with their purpose, having achieved their aim of getting one children’s home up and running they are eager to open more.

In his introduction, Havas Media Group CEO Paul Frampton had said his company’s ‘Meaningful Brands’ study showed that it was "no longer enough for brands to focus on building brand equity alone".

"The brand valuations of the future are more likely to be built on customer loyalty than brand equity, this is why the Gandy brothers’ business model works so well," he added.


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