Torrential rain greeted me in Verbier, Switzerland, in late January, at the launch of a new range of ski clothing boasting a flagship jacket for just £115 - perhaps appropriately, since a wave is at the very core of adventure-fashion brand Gandys.
Gandys founders, Rob and Paul Forkan, together with a third brother, Mattie, and sister Rosie, then children aged eight to 17, were orphaned in the Boxing Day 2004 Asian tsunami while on holiday in Sri Lanka, and were themselves fortunate to survive. This ordeal ultimately inspired the brothers to set up Gandys.
Pointing at the brand logo, embossed in gold foil on a leather patch on his ski jacket, Rob said, “Few people notice the wavy line crossing the A in the logo.” It’s a nod to the wave that changed the course of the Forkan family’s lives, and led to Rob and Paul (now 32 and 30 respectively) starting Gandys in 2012, both in memory of their years of family travels, and to benefit other orphans, which they do through their Orphans for Orphans charitable foundation.
Gandys started with flip flops in 2012, and its ethically-focused range now includes clothing and travel accessories such as backpacks as well as the new Verbier Blue ski collection. In tandem with this the brothers have developed four Gandys Kids Campuses around the world, where orphans gain shelter, education, medication and nutrition – 10 per cent of all Gandys’ proceeds go to the project.
But why ski wear? Positive feedback from customers wearing their weatherproof outdoor jackets in high-mountain ranges like the Himalayas encouraged the brothers to look at the ski market. They decided their sustainable clothing model could be adapted to provide skiers and snowboarders with something different – long-lasting quality at inexpensive prices.
So how does it measure up? A collection of all-weather parka-style ski jackets, windbreaker hoodies, fleeces, T-shirts and hats, Gandys’ Verbier Blue collection comes in a palette of mustard, teal, burnt orange and cobalt blue. Warm, stylish and lightly weather resistant, it’s aimed at eco- and fashion-conscious holiday skiers and snowboarders rather than extreme off-piste adventurers.
It suits the brothers’ own on-snow style - both have had little more than 15 days on snow, but that said they both ski pretty well. As in business, their no-fear, philanthropic spirit and determination are the driving forces – technique can come later.
“We always look at competitors when entering a new market,” said Rob, citing successful lower-priced ranges like Wed’ze from Decathlon as well as premium ranges like The North Face. “We’re not trying to emulate anybody, we just want to create something unique, of genuine quality, and offer it at an accessible price.”
Gandys Shortline Storm Parka ski jacket has a wax-coated finish, giving it a pleasing quality feel, along the lines of a Barbour, but the style and colour (cobalt blue or black) mean there are no connotations of Country Life magazine or hunting. It has a super-warm quilted lining, which boasts a print of an ancient map of India, where in the past the Forkans helped on charitable projects as a family.
Rob was also keen to point out the stitching around the lift-pass pocket on one sleeve and the brand name – neat outlines of roofed houses, a reminder of the Campuses every clothing purchase helps to build, the key driver behind the business.
“We’re pretty sure it’s the only wax-coated ski jacket on the market,” said Paul. They went for this approach, rather than the more standard waterproof and breathable layers and coatings, because they like its classic look and style. It’s designed to withstand only moderately bad weather, but next season’s range will also include lighter-weight jackets with more water resistance and technical features like powder skirts.
“We know we’ve stirred up the competition being closer in quality to Canada Goose but nearer in price to Mountain Warehouse,” added Rob. He also believes others would like to know how they’ve produced a quality ski jacket for £115. “It’s not normal to order eight or more of our jackets online. They must be deconstructing our products across departments wondering how we can do it.”
The brothers say a major reason for the range’s accessible cost is that Gandys was built as an online business, with only one showcase store, cutting overheads. The jacket certainly has the feel of something more expensive. There is an elegant faux-fur cuff on the hood, which is detachable, and trimmings such as zips and poppers are made of antique brass rather than plastic.
“Obviously we’re keen on sustainability, so as well as free deliveries and returns we offer a cheap repair service,” said Paul. “If a jacket ever needs rewaxing or a zip replaced, it’s rarely more than £15 and hopefully makes the difference between throwing it away and prolonging its life. Our kit is built to last.”
“Sustainability is also the reason why a jacket that is just for skiing was never our sole aim,” he said. The Forkans hope the designs of the jackets and windbreakers will give them a broader outdoor appeal, so they won’t just hang in a wardrobe until the annual ski holiday comes around, but be used for hiking in the British hills, or walking to the shops on a wintry day.
However, while they were flattered by an approach from Harrods to stock Verbier Blue, they rejected their wish for an exclusive range including gold thread, to justify a 300 per cent price hike. because it’s important to them that all Gandys products remain accessible and encourage everyone to enjoy the outdoors. “Even if it’s just a rucksack or a bumbag it’s a great buzz to see people getting out there on adventures with our kit. That’s our message to the world: Don’t Just Exist,” said Rob.
See the full Gandys Verbier Blue range at gandyslondon.com. Neil English was a guest of Verbier specialist Ski Armadillo, which offers catered and self-catered properties in the resort. A seven-night stay in five double-bedroom Chalet Skye starts at £1,400 per person half-board based on 10 sharing, including afternoon tea, wine with dinner and two evenings with sparkling wines and canapes. Excludes travel. More resort info verbier.ch.