Global Executive Search within Fashion, Outdoor & Sportswear.

Question & Answer

Tom Kay, Founder
Finisterre

2 Mar 2016

Cornwall based clothing brand Finisterre combines sustainable thinking and technical know-how as well as a strong sense of style in its offer of outdoor, surf and urbanwear.

Here, founder Tom Kay gives Fusion Associates his thoughts on how his brand fits into the industry.

Tom Kay

What inspired you to set up Finisterre in 2002?

I‘ve been around the sea from an early age and was lucky enough to have developed a love of it and a passion for surfing. I went on to study biology at university and later wondered how I could combine all my passions – the sea, surfing and the environment into a brand. Finisterre was the answer. When we started out, there weren’t really any action sports clothing brands around with an environmental agenda, and we wanted to change that. The name of the brand comes from Radio 4’s shipping forecast and we initially focused on creating functional product for cold-water surfers that were built to last.
 
Much has happened over the last few years. Are you happy with the steps taken thus far by the industry to make itself more sustainable?
The awareness among brands and consumers has improved a lot; customers are better educated and can get access to information more easily, which means they’re making more choices about how they consume. Back in the early 2000s, we were among a small cluster of brands to use recycled materials, nowadays there’s a much greater awareness of the importance of a sustainable design agenda and use of fabrics. But I’d still question the extent to which some companies do this – genuine brand belief or market opportunity? In general I’d say the thinking from brands and consumer is going in the right direction, although it is something we are always working on.
Finisterre
Tell us about your latest sustainable offerings.
Right now we’re most excited about our waterproof jackets made with a recycled membrane and as from AW16, many will have Chlorofluorocarbon free finishes. All of our insulation jackets are made from closed loop recycled polyester and have a part recycled fill (non down). This summer will see us launch a board short and bikini line made from recycled waster fishing nets – a really good story and product.
 
Where do you source your more conventional materials?
We source a lot of our textiles within UK or Europe, working extensively with mills in Portugal for our Merino. Our jeans are made in the UK; we’ve blended some Merino wool into the jean weave to give a bit of warmth – combine this with the hard wearing properties of denim and you have a great product. Finisterre often has a strong fabric or product narrative, our ongoing work with closed-loop recycled polyester and the Bowmont Projects being two other good examples.
 
How have you managed to maintain a niche surf/ action sports identity as well as being a clothing brand with a strong following?
By sticking to what we said we’d do at the start, with a strong set of brand beliefs. We take time to design the best product we can, committing to product, people and the environment throughout the design process and business approach. It’s something we work hard on, and it has allowed us to maintain our legitimacy as a brand which we try to bring to life through the website and our stores in London, St. Agnes, Falmouth and Braunton.
 
What characterises the non-technical clothing? How would you define the look?
We don’t really divide the range – both the technical and non-technical products all bear the strong brand-style and handwriting. The style is slightly rugged and hardwearing yet has a sophisticated and refined feel to it. We take influence from our cliff top workshop here in St. Agnes. We work with a team of 7-8 designers, all with different specialities, to develop product that ranges from insulation jackets to knitwear and jeans.
 
Who is the consumer and what’s the male/female divide?
The Finisterre consumer is often an active one, interested to know more about what he or she is buying, as well as where the product is manufactured. At the moment the balance between male and female is about 65/35 and we’re happy to maintain that level, though a 60/40 divide would be ideal. We spend as much time developing the female collections as the male collection.
Finisterre2
You encourage customers to make-do-and-mend and offer a repair service. How does it work and do customers take advantage of the service?
They definitely do! Many have an emotional attachment to their garments and we invite them to send us their pieces for a ‘day Spa’ with our in-house seamstress who can breathe life into old favourites. She can repair anything and often adds a twist to repair with bespoke patches. Our repairs start at £12.50 and something we’re really proud to be able to offer.
 
You have four UK shops. Any more store openings in the pipeline?
Our first London store opened on Earlham Street in London’s Covent Garden about a year ago, adding to our existing three UK stores. We hope to open new stores in other key UK locations, possibly venturing overseas in the future, too.

Image Credits: James Bowden (collection shots) / Al Mackinnon (Tom's portrait)

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