When Tom Kay decided to start a company he wanted to inspire a love of the sea. As a surfer in cold, wet, Britain, he felt a need to connect with other like-minded ocean adventurers in his home country, who weren’t represented by the surf magazines featuring bikinis and boardshorts.
“The surfing I knew was dark skies, early starts and freezing conditions,” the 45-year-old says. “So I started making products for the people in our cold water community; durable, practical, innovative gear that was built sustainably.”
Finisterre was founded in 2003, entering, as Kay puts it, a “very competitive market”. But, driven by his passion for the water, and a desire to connect people to the sea, the company has stuck around.
The company focuses on making sustainable outdoor clothing inspired by the sea. Not only are its products made from innovative materials – making wetsuits from old wetsuits, wrist warmers made from old jerseys, backpacks made from leftover factory scraps – the company also has social impact projects on the go. Finisterre’s “into the sea” project focuses on designing culturally appropriate gear for women in countries where they can’t wear bikinis or swimsuits to surf. In order to make its recyclable wetsuit – a world first – the company teamed up with the University of Exeter to come up with a design that would save the 380 tonnes of discarded wetsuits sent to landfill each year in the UK.
Finisterre also offers a repair service, which costs £20 ($24) for common wear and tear patch ups, including shipping.
Getting up and running was hard, though. Sustainability, and considering the impact of clothing production on the environment, wasn’t on people’s radars.
“Starting a business out of my bedroom was always going to be hard and we faced all the usual start up challenges. Cashflow issues, late deliveries, low marketing spends, etc. As well as the usual teething problems, I was starting something that was also setting out to challenge the status quo.”
Finisterre founder Tom Kay
Revenue is now growing 30% year on year, and the company has 10 stores across the UK, employing more than 70 people.
“It’s a pretty bad industry,” Kay explains. “but there have been some changes of late, which is good to see. Generally, there’s a lack of transparency and accountability, and not enough sustainable innovation. It’s actually one of the reasons I founded Finisterre.”
“Consumers are now demanding more sustainable alternatives, and some brands are making the changes, but as an industry there is still a long way to go.”
Kay attributes his company’s B Corp certified status and responsible ethics for its success.
“We are using business as force for good. We also are committed to a circular manufacturing business model where our products are created with the least possible environment impact.
“By creating products that allow people to get out there and experience the sea, we believe we will spark this connection, encouraging people to become active guardians of our oceans.”
Kay is determined to continue pushing, innovating and redesigning his company’s current systems and methods by which he produces his products.
“The impact we have on the behavior and buying habits of our customers and community is also central to the work we do. Our product is built to last, made from recycled and recyclable, natural or organic fibers. We also we encourage repair and re-use of products over consumption.
“It’s up to us to lead the way.”