Sustainable Style

Finisterre: the company making swim shorts out of fishing nets

It was Tom Kay's love of the sea that prompted him to found Finisterre, and push for a more sustainable approach to making surfwear

When Tom Kay founded Finisterre in April 2003, sustainability really wasn’t on the fashion agenda. He spent the first few years traipsing around trade shows with his one product: a waterproof breathable fleece that raised money for Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society. Sixteen years later, and Finisterre is a certified B-Corporation company, dedicated to improving and promoting sustainability in its business, community, consumers and supply chain. It’s been a long and stormy sixteen years, but one thing has held true: Kay’s emotional connection with the sea.

‘Finisterre started out of my love of and relationship with the sea,’ he explains, over a crackly phone line from his headquarters-cum-studio high on the cliffs in St Agnes, on the north coast of Cornwall. His degree in marine biology prompted his knowledge of the problems associated with the sea, and his love of surfing made him aware of the huge gap in the market for a brand that catered to the freezing temperatures, cold waters and pelting rain that British surfers know all too well.

Since that first fleece jacket, the undercurrent to Finisterre’s quest for sustainability has always been a focus on innovation above all else. From its engineered insulating down jackets (made from recycled materials (and never actual down) to its in-house merino wool blend (breathable, durable, warm) and fluorocarbon-free (these end up polluting the water system) waterproofs, ‘every single product in our Spring/Summer collection has some sort of innovation to make it more sustainable,’ explains Kay. The brand’s particularly passionate about using recycled materials in its collections – this season, its swimwear is made from old fishing nets, which are repurposed into high purpose nylon to make trunks and bikinis.

One area where Finisterre has shown particular innovation is wetsuits. Historically, these have lasted two years before going into landfill; in the UK alone, it’s estimated that surfers discard about 400 tonnes of wetsuits each year. To solve this problem, Finisterre hired the world’s first full-time Wetsuit Recycler, a position dedicated to finding ways to re-engineer old suits to make new ones. Its ‘Wetsuits From Wetsuits’ programme is still a work in progress, but the brand is hopeful it’ll have a 100 per cent recycled wetsuit within a few years.

‘It’s about acknowledging there’s a problem in your industry and doing something about it,’ says Kay of Finisterre’s approach to sustainability. ‘It’s looking at your impact on your planet, and mitigating that, and changing it into a positive through the social and environmental decisions that you’re making as a business.’

As a B-Corp member, as Finisterre became last autumn, the brand now has to push itself to be ever more innovative, and ever more sustainable. Being part of B-Corporation means Finisterre has to use its business as ‘a force for good,’ as the organisation puts it. This means being dedicated to  having a positive impact on its workers, customers, community, and environment, and aspire to ‘to no harm and benefit all.’

It’s a tough set of criteria to meet, by Kay isn’t perturbed. ‘We live and breathe the B-Corp ethos through the business,’ he explains. ‘But there’s a lot we can get better at, so we’re constantly improving what we’re doing, constantly growing and innovating. On the one hand we’re proud of what we’re doing but, on the other, we’ve got a lot more to do.’

But, more than anything, Kay’s love of the sea is what powers everything that Finisterre does, from its recycled wetsuits to its material innovations. As well as being a surfer, Kay is also a RNLI volunteer, heading out in the St Agnes lifeboat several times a week to rescue surfers, swimmers and sailors from the unpredictable Cornish coast. ‘Sustainability for me is more than just a name – it’s a way of life,’ he says.’ I look at what I get from the sea, and what it gives me, but it’s a two way relationship. It sustains me and I will sustain it. For Finisterre it’s an emotional connection to the sea and nature, that prompts our drive for sustainability. It’s more than just a label on a jacket.’