Words by Rosie Cattrell
Flexi-Hex are finding a way forward in a seemingly endless sea of discarded plastic and damaged deliveries.
Out past the stretch of rocks below the wrestling fields of Porthleven, it’s not unusual to see a familiar group of frequenters to the popular local surf spot paddling out to wait for the next set, sharing knowing nods of recognition in anticipation of the morning’s rewards before work. Two such frequenters are identical twins Sam and Will Boex, who can often be seen returning bare-foot to their Porthleven office before work or during a well-earned lunch break, salt-water soaked, board under arm. Their world is one of balance, a vision that they share with their team, as the storage cupboard stacked to the edges with surfboards could easily tell you.
Born out of a love for the ocean that sits only metres from the office, not to mention the incredible environment that Cornwall provides for those of us lucky enough to live here, Flexi-Hex was founded by two brothers with a shared determination to find a new path in the world of sustainability. Being in business together was certainly nothing new for Sam and Will, who had been running the product and furniture interior design business, Boex Interiors, side by side for almost 15 years. Will joined Sam’s venture three years in, and since then the Boex brothers have capitalised on a partnership that has been destined for success from the start.
While Boex Interiors was a thriving business, Sam and Will were always on the lookout for something new, and little did they know that it would be delivered to them in a cardboard box, wrapped around a surfboard, as Sam explains to me: “I received a board that I’d bought online, and opening this box that was basically full of bubble wrap around this expensive product just felt like a pretty poor experience; surely there was a better way to do this? It was something that we just kept coming back to, thinking, is there a way of creating better packaging for surfboards, and can there be a more sustainable product than bubble wrap? After some crude prototyping of this sleeve, we eventually came up with a product that worked brilliantly around the surfboard, it was definitely a eureka moment. This is when we realised this was a product that could have applications in lots of different markets – this could work!
“So, we decided to put in some budget, time and resources across from Boex to really focus and develop this product. It was a bit of a gamble I suppose, because we already had quite a successful business, but equally we were looking for something new as well. As we were developing and mastering the product, Blue Planet was airing on the BBC, which seemed like serendipity in regards to developing this plastic-free solution for surf boards while David Attenborough heightened awareness of the plastic issue. Will and I have been surfing for 30 years, we’ve seen the effect of plastic first-hand. It was a stroke of luck that we had a product which was in the right position at the right time with regards to public awareness of plastic. Being acutely aware of pollution of all types affecting our ocean keeps us quite close and true to our cause.”
Open-ended and made from a paper sleeve that closely resembles the naturally repetitive shape of honeycomb, the Flexi-Hex sleeve allows products of all shapes to slip inside as it flexes and forms around it. While the product met success in the world of surfboards, it quickly became evident that Flexi-Hex had the potential to go even further. “We had some enquiries from companies who were interested in developing a solution for the bottle market and drinks products,” explains Sam. “So, we were refining what we had for the drinks market in the UK and trialled it with some companies which resulted in a really good success rate. After this, we started refining the product to make it more commercially available with regards to how quick it is to package. After the completion of our sleeve and box solutions, we began working with companies such as Tarquins, where we got their damage rate of bottles broken in transit down from 10% to 0.02%. In 20,000 bottles they sent out, something like 36 were damaged. So yeah, it really is an incredibly effective form of protection.”
Following such success, Flexi-Hex now works with Cornish companies like Tarquins, Tincture and Curio Gin, not to mention national names like Seedlip, Grolsch and Bombay Sapphire Distillery. While bottle protection now makes up for around 85% of their revenue, their original avenue of surfboard packaging still remains – supplying surf shops like Down the Line in Hayle, Escape Surfboards in Wadebridge, and Open Surf in St Agnes. With a multitude of possibilities attached to Flexi-Hex, they’ve found themselves supplying companies like Tom Raffield and Studio Haran for some of their more fragile products, and it doesn’t end there, with the team looking into markets like homeware, electronics, cosmetics, art; they are even involved in some projects with the online paint industry. Now selling to 22 countries globally, it’s becoming clear just how effective this product really is, and how easily it’s been able to fill the huge gap in the packaging market.
The best part is, every product that finds itself securely wrapped in the Flexi-Hex sleeve comes free of guilt, because while it’s physically protective, it’s just paper! “It’s made of the same materials that you would see in a cardboard box,” says Sam, “and the paper for the bottle products is made of over 85% recycled content as well. It can just go back into the recycling system and be made into another paper product. From a consumer point of view, it’s very easy to identify as a product and what to do with it, compared to some plastics where it’s difficult to even identify what it is and how to recycle it.”
While sustainability is beginning to be held in much higher regard all over the world, I wonder where Sam thinks Cornwall stands amongst it all as the base for him and his brother’s ever-expanding business: “There’s much greater awareness of sustainability and the effects that not being sustainable has on the environment in the Cornish surfing community. Surfers Against Sewage are champions of a huge movement to raise awareness of the effect pollution has on an environment, started by surfers with a passion and a cause. With businesses in cities, you don’t really see where it all ends up. I think in Cornwall, especially with pollution and marine environments, it’s very evident, and that’s just sharpening people’s realisation of the fragility of the world and the importance of being sustainable.”
Flexi-Hex’s success rate is truly something to be admired, and the dynamic between Will and Sam in life and business has me curious. As mirror twins, it just so happens that Sam has more of an aptitude for creativity and design, heading up the product development side of the business, while Will finds home in organisation and process and is more involved in the logistics and operations, a dizzyingly effective combination. “We actually work brilliantly together in business, we know our roles very clearly. It’s always been effortless. If there’s any sort of tension, we can just talk about it quickly and resolve it. And obviously, having been around each other for a lifetime, we know how to manage and handle each other. It’s quite unusual.”
Now a 13-strong team, wellbeing and a work-life balance is certainly something that is fostered in the Flexi-Hex office, with employees encouraged to take surf breaks and make the most of where they are while working towards something special, which Sam kindly elaborates on: “Once you get hooked into Cornwall and what it has to offer, it’s a super exciting county to live in and work in, and I think myself and Will have always been passionate about building a work-life balance, with the ability to work in a business you enjoy and you gain from, but also to live in a space where you can also gain. If you enjoy the outdoors, surfing or the outdoor lifestyle, Cornwall has huge amounts to offer. There are now some really forward-thinking, innovative companies working from Cornwall and making it happen, and it’s so exciting to be a part of that.”
With a seemingly never-ending list of possibilities ahead of the team, I’m sure I’m not alone in my curiosity for where Flexi-Hex will go next in their mission to shift the world of packaging for the better.