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What courage makes possible

“The place where land ends has intrigued man for centuries, fostering both a real and a romantic relationship with the sea; a relationship that runs deep in our narrative.”

Words by Rebecca Hawkey

Born of humble beginnings, one man’s need for warmth and protection against the elements became a catalyst for the product Cornish surfers were waiting for. Finisterre is more than a brand, it’s a name well-known not just across our coast, but outside the realms of this island. Notorious for their dedication to sustainable design, functionality, and style, the products have gone beyond keeping local wave hunters warm. For those that are unfamiliar with this story, then let me enlighten you.

Tom Kay, RNLI volunteer of 20 years and now Helm at St Agnes Lifeboat Station, a regular in the Cornish surf line-up and founder of Finisterre, began this journey some 19 years ago in 2003, from a flat above a surf shop in the village. Starting with a humble fleece, it would be an understatement to say the company has grown. Supplying the likes of you and me with the gear to withstand sun and showers is just a fraction of what Finisterre now stands for. The Nimbus Insulated Jacket, the Farne Roll Neck Knit Jumper, the Hegen ¼ Zip Wool Fleece, the Yarrel Cord Trouser, or the Fisherman Beanie; these are just a few of their favourites and the list keeps going, their collections as versatile as they are veritably stylish, covering all manner of occasions for all manner of personalities, lifestyles and preferences, and thereby well and truly dominating the Cornish clothing market.

Finisterre flagship store in St. Agnes. Images by Rebecca Hawkey

Some may think that a Finisterre purchase occasionally pinches the purse, but these products are built to withstand a non-sedentary lifestyle, one that is ordinary to those who live in such a formidable location as Cornwall. I spoke with Tom recently and, without falling into a well of economic parley, we discussed the balance of product cost in relation to our current climate, and, quite rightly, he defended what customers would have to part with in order to own a coveted Finisterre item. It seems that as a population, for the most part, our understanding of the impact that poorly made products have on our planet, and the people that make them, is broadening. It is the tipping of the scales, a balancing act between the financial cost of a well-made product, versus the environmental cost we must pay by purchasing fast-fashion. When we realise that we, as human beings, are an integral part of our ecosystem and not just observers – a part that has a lasting impact on its longevity – then we, as a collective, can enact considerable change. Finisterre is working hard to spread such insights.

Tom was sedulous in forging a path relatively untrodden at the time of Finisterre’s conception, one based on making informed, innovative, inspired decisions about their impact on the environment, and as a business, they remain committed to product, environment and people. It is, after all, their ethos, and one they continue to stand by. Thanks to this philosophy, Finisterre has amassed a large following. But with that comes responsibility, and the team are using their platform to make a difference not just in their local area but across a myriad of sectors. They have a plethora of campaigns under their belt, all of which aim to encourage us to explore the wider world, experience the wonder of cold-water swimming, reduce our plastic usage, or reuse and repair our worn and torn Finisterre items through their Lived and Loved workshop. They have collaborated with the likes of Vans, Blundstone and Vivobarefoot to create products that are functional and sustainably conscious, all the while encouraging these organisations to think more about the waste their products leave behind.

Another collaboration that lies closer to home, and certainly close to Tom’s heart, is RNLI x Finisterre, which has just released its third collection. Given Tom’s impressive service record, it’s no surprise that this partnership is important to the company as a whole, inspired by British seafaring heritage and the hardiness of the human spirit, with ten percent of every sale supporting the vital work that they do. Each item is beautifully crafted and celebrates the fortitude of those volunteer crews who drop everything when the call comes.

RNLI x Finisterre collection, available now online and in-store

All Finisterre products are designed and made to cope with a life well lived, from highland adventures to coastal expeditions on both large and small scales. Given how Finisterre started, from Tom’s love of surfing, it is no surprise that wetsuits, seasuits and swimwear are now among the selection. They have crafted apparel that gives people the confidence to experience the beauty of the water in all forms, whilst also renouncing the traditional usage of neoprene and instead shifting to Yulex® Natural Rubber, a clean, plant-based alternative that is less harmful for the planet. Tom and the team have dedicated their time, experience and knowledge to finding a new way, a new path. Instead of rushing into the customary, they have persisted, tried and tested something unconventional. Patience pays off, and now this range of ocean attire is a beacon of future possibilities, being used by professional surfers as well as neophytes across the world.

In 2021 they recertified as a B Corp™, improving their previous score from 80.8 to 93.2. This may not mean much to those who aren’t familiar with the points system, but even achieving this score is incredibly difficult, as B Corporations are companies that have been independently assessed to ensure they meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. It grants consumers clarity on business practises, thereby allowing them to buy from eco-conscious companies should they so choose. It’s certification that Finisterre is proud to bare, and one that the team are continually looking to improve on.

Morley Penaluna field testing his Finisterre Yulex® suit. Images by Rebecca Hawkey

I’ve been surrounded by the sea for a long time; I’ve seen the damage it can do if underestimated, and also the wonder it can bring when respected. She has the capacity to enchant anyone, from all walks of life, if they let her. The team at Finisterre understand this and are going above and beyond to protect and prolong our relationship with her, for us to enjoy both now and in the future. Not only are they campaigning with charities like Surfers Against Sewage and institutions like The Natural History Museum, they are also educating anyone who wishes to play their part in making a difference through Sea7, the UK’s first online ocean activist training camp which you can read more about online. Tom Kay had an idea in 2003 to create a product that would warm cold souls fresh from the sea, but in reality, it has evolved into so much more. Whilst Tom will be the first to say that improvements can always be made, his drive for innovation and sustainability is infectious, and through it all, Finisterre has stayed true to his ethos of remaining committed to product, environment and people. Always.


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