Tom Kay is a British surfer who is used to the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic waters. Unable to find the appropriate technical clothes for cold water surfing, he eventually decided to design and make them himself. That’s how, in a little flat above a surf shop in 2003, the surfwear brand Finisterre was born, with the objective of providing quality products that respect both the environment and people.
Tom, where did you grow up?
The coast of North Norfolk is where I spent much of my childhood.
Where did you get your passion for the ocean?
My parents. They wanted to pass their love of the sea onto my sister and I and so we were in it – or on it – from an early age.
What did you do before Finisterre?
“Back then I couldn’t find the sort of functional product that I was looking for as a cold water surfer […]So I set about starting a brand that would address this.”
What’s the story behind Finisterre?
Finisterre was born fifteen years ago from the needs of British cold water surfers. Back then I couldn’t find the sort of functional product that I was looking for as a cold water surfer; not only this, but there were no brands that had any environmental or sustainability agendas. So I set about starting a brand that would address this, committing to product, environment and people. Our first product was this waterproof fleece that you put on after a cold surf – it was something nobody had seen before. You still see them around today!
You’ve made respecting the environment and individuals a priority. Can you tell us more about that?
Both are really important to me. As well as founding a brand with sustainability at its core, I also wanted to create a really exciting and fun place for people to work, with a real sense of purpose behind what we do. We’re lucky in that we have an unbelievable workshop on the cliffs above St. Agnes and we can get in the sea whenever we want. I also consider myself privileged to have met and worked with so many great people on the journey.
What product are you the most proud of?
I think the Commodus Parka in our True North range is truly representative of the brand ethos – innovation and sustainability. It has a fully waterproof recycled polyester/organic cotton shell and is insulated with British wool.
Our wetsuits are something that I’ve been closely involved with so am very proud of – they are super warm and last a long time – the feedback has been great.
“We wanted to engage with the cold water surfing community and find out what they wanted from their suits.”
You tested and developed your first wetsuit within the surfing community. How was that a key element?
It was a major factor. We wanted to engage with the cold water surfing community and find out what they wanted from their suits. Our wetsuit tester programme was unique in that it saw us work with 300 field testers for a winter; it was their direct feedback that ultimately helped us build a better product the following season. It was great having a direct dialogue with these surfers. This winter we have just launched our women’s wetsuit tester programme, so am looking forward to seeing how that goes.
Do you believe that open innovation is key when launching and developing a brand?
For us yes. An honest dialogue with your community is essential. Realising that you may not have all the answers, but have an open mindedness to challenge the status quo, looking to innovation for solutions and then letting people know how things are progressing along the way – to me that’s exciting and what we really do. Our recent appointment of a full time wetsuit recycler is a good example of this; we’re trying to make wetsuit from wetsuits.
What is a typical day like for you?
From a work point of view I could be involved be anything from a range review, visiting a store or working on a new film project, but I’ll always get a walk with the dog in and try and get in the sea!
“It’s great to see people pushing boundaries and ending up finding waves in some remote, far flung place.”
How do you see the future of cold water surfing?
It’s great to see people pushing boundaries and ending up finding waves in some remote, far flung place. I love that, it gets me fired up. I’m excited to see people going off on trips, studying weather maps and charts, trying to find waves in the most unexpected places – that’s exciting and a real experience. There’s more to come.
When will we get to see a Finisterre shop in France?
Hopefully soon, we have a great following in France and I love Brittany.
Tell us a story from your experience as an entrepreneur
My favourite story is the Bowmont story. It is how we ended up working with a rare breed farmer from Devon to resurrect a flock of sheep and a 100% British based supply chain. The breed is a British Merino – a fine fibre sheep that lives in the UK. There were only 26 sheep when we started working with Lesley (farmer) and there are now nearly 300! From this beautiful, fine wool we make our Bowmont jumpers and shirts. It’s a really good example of the brand coming together; product, environment and people.
“If you really believe in and go for something it’s amazing where you can end up.”
What did you learn from that experience?
If you really believe in and go for something it’s amazing where you can end up. As well as that, the journey and who you meet on the way is the really rewarding bit.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs about to start their business?
I think the main thing I have learnt is to get on with it and keep momentum. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never get started.
Where do you see Finisterre in 10 years from now?
The same brand ethos that has seen us through the last 15 years, a few more stores in some overseas location and still with that sense of adventure in the brand.
Interview : Stéphanie Godin
Photos : Finisterre