Stab Magazine | Finisterre Knows Exactly Who They Are

Finisterre Knows Exactly Who They Are

Identity, Romance, Authenticity: neglect at your peril

style // Mar 23, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You grow up and go to University because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Then, you end up in a city, employed somewhere that doesn’t align with who you are (read: were) as a person. The scourge of adulthood, the death of hope. But it doesn’t have to be. Surfing’s an antidote to the poison because it’s a tangible thing to love. One that informs who you are as a person.

After Tom Kay read Biology he found himself in exactly this predicament, in London. What did he do? Moved to Cornwall to make knits and jackets. What did he know about fashion or business? Not much.

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Gold Coaster turned west coast of Ireland inhabitant Noah Lane is one of Finisterre’s premier R&D men. Here he puts the flex and warmth of the brands’ wetsuits to work. (Photo by Jack Johns)



Finisterre, the brand that Tom started 15 years ago, has been on my radar for a number of years. Mainly due to nostalgia. I grew up surfing in the south west of England, a hopeless dreamer, and anything that touches on misty coves, roaring fires and drizzly adventure gets me reaching for the Daphne Du Maurier.

The UK’s a romantic place. And given the history of the seafaring nation, one that sits in the middle of the notoriously unpredictable Atlantic Ocean, it’s not surprising that a brand’s embraced the narrative. Surfers are merely the modern continuation of an entire civilisation based around the oddities of the sea. Finisterre has captured it, through their curation of films, garments, and advocates, flawlessly.

Tom’s a busy man, and Finisterre’s really starting to move. Overcoming time differences and his increasingly busy travel schedule (he’d recently been in the US giving talks on sustainability after his company’s recent Bcorp certification), Tom and I managed to link up on Skype to run through how it all came to be.

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What more can a man want from a knit?

“The first six pages of the surf mags at the time was all boardshorts and bikinis,” Tom explains. “Whereas the product that I needed was knitwear and jackets, baselayers, that sort of thing. So I started to build a brand around that sort of product, with a functional element. And I was also really keen to address the sustainability agenda.”

The brand that Tom started to build had a manifesto, and 15 years later, it hasn’t altered: “Product, environment, people.” Being able to sum up your company in three words is something that Tom doesn’t overlook.

“When I look back on why the brand started, I think it took us a bit of time to get our heads around the language,” Tom tells me. “But ultimately it started because I couldn’t get my hands on the relevant products that I needed as a cold water surfer.”

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Team Finisterre on location with shades of Shackleton. (Photo by Al Mackinnon)

Hearing a company founder put emphasis on “language” gave me a serious kick. It is the most important element of anything, commercial or otherwise. Sure your product needs to be tasteful and of quality, but how you communicate with your consumer, and convey what you’re trying to do, is paramount. The neglect of language and 90% of start-ups failing, is no coincidence.

The garments that Finisterre make aren’t fashion forward, but you wouldn’t want them to be. They’re designed so that you buy one, and it lasts. Think solid, fitted jackets, quality basics, and tasteful shells. The knitwear in particular, is unparalleled in terms of price, quality, and putting a modern spin on classic styles. They also make wetsuits, damn good ones that, along with the rest of the range, Tom’s striving to make as eco-friendly as possible.

“The real problem is that everybody has a pile of wetsuits in their garage or their car that they don’t know what to do with,” he tells me excitedly. “So we’ve set a flag in the sand, a vision of being able to make wetsuits from wetsuits.”

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If you’re even thinking about dipping a limb into a lineup like this then you damn well better have the gear for the job. Both pre, during and post surf. (Photo by Jack Johns)

Whether it’s a sign of ageing or education I’m not sure, but I’ve become increasingly tuned in to the fact that we haven’t been terribly kind to our planet of late. Moving house recently and seeing all my unnecessary, inexpensive crap headed to landfill—either directly or indirectly—made me feel a little sick. Avoiding contributing to landfill is one of Finisterre’s founding principles, and it was one of Tom’s passions long before Al Gore tried his hand at documentary film.

“We calculated that in the UK there are half a million surfers. So that equates roughly to 250,000 wetsuit purchases a year. Then that’s 380 tonnes of neoprene a year potentially going to landfill, which is a shitload,” Tom tells me, getting worked up.

Making wetsuits from wetsuits isn’t merely something that Finisterre’s tinkering with on the side as a nice PR exercise. They’ve got a fulltime “Wetsuit Recycler” on staff, who splits her time between Finisterre HQ in Wheal Kitty, just outside St Agnes (perched on a cliff and housing fifty-odd employees), and the Materials Engineering Department at Exeter University, where she works under a Professor who specialises in finding the best material solutions to problems. “I get excited when you’ve got a big problem, and a brand that’s willing to commit to do something about it,” says Tom.

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It’d take a determined element indeed to penetrate this coat/knit combo.

After a lengthy, animated chat, searching for a fitting climax, I asked Tom to go back to the beginning and describe what being a surfer in the UK’s really like.

“You get storms coming in and they can either swing this way or that at the last minute,” he explains. “If they swing this way it’s howling onshore and raining, and if they swing that way the lows sit off the UK or Ireland and you just get pumping waves. So you have to be quite reactionary when the pressure systems are coming in. And tide’s a big factor. But I’m really proud of where I’m from. The camaraderie and the fact that it’s not good that often makes it really special. And for me there’s a romance to it as well. You can surf and then sit around an open fire having a pint. Those clichés are clichés for a reason. They’re great things. It’s fickle, but when it’s good, it’s great.”

As we signed off with a “duh-duhnk”, I couldn’t escape the strange cocktail of inspiration and homesickness.

Head here for all things Finisterre.


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