From mad 1980s crisp packets to shifting the perception of women in surfing, our E-Commerce Manager Rebecca Pepperell reflects on what her seven years at Finisterre have meant to her.
“Almost all my childhood holidays were surf holidays. I always surfed with my dad when I was growing up, and I actually didn’t know the UK got surf in the summer, before I lived in Cornwall. We always used to surf in the winter, so for me, going surfing was about a battle against the cold and the adventure of getting in when everyone thought that you shouldn’t be in the water.
I came across Finisterre in a shop in North Devon, and I really liked the way they portrayed women. I felt very frustrated with the way women were portrayed in the surf industry because it just wasn’t my experience with surfing. Women are often, and historically, negatively portrayed in the industry and the media – it’s that blonde hair, bikini, tropical thing. And they aren’t taken seriously as surfers; there’s this attitude that women aren’t good at it, they just look good in bikinis. I liked the fact that Finisterre didn’t seem to be treating women any differently to men. They were there in the same scenarios, wearing the same clothing, going out when it was cold. The women’s surf industry is slowly changing, and I’d like to think in a small way we’re a part of that.
One day I saw an advert on Twitter and it said, ‘Do you like spreadsheets and dogs? We’ve got a job for you.’ I’d always wanted a dog, and as it was a dog-friendly office I thought, ‘Oh maybe now we could have one.’ Someone with a dog had just left, so the office pack had a vacancy too. We’d always wanted a lurcher and the RSPCA had six greyhound cross border collie puppies. Everyone at Finisterre said, ‘Go see it, go see it… but if you see it you’ll get one.’ So along came Tyler. He’s grown with us from a little tear-around puppy to the old man of the office.
The Women’s Wetsuit Tester Weekend earlier this year felt like a real milestone for us. It’s always been a thing for me that women’s top of the range wetsuits seem to lag behind men’s. Years ago, I couldn’t find a decent hooded wetsuit. I was surfing the North East quite a bit then. It was hard to find a really good women’s winter wetsuit, which was crazy. I thought it was a bit chicken and egg…if women can’t get out there in the winter, you’re limiting your demand. So to see Finisterre developing a real top of the range women’s suit is really exciting and I can’t wait until the first ones are on sale this winter.
“Mat D’Ascoli, who we work with on our wetsuit designs, is from Hawaii. He couldn’t believe the conditions and water temperatures that some of the testers were wearing these wetsuits in… Hearing them all talking about it was a really proud moment.”
Mat, who we work with on our wetsuit designs, is from Hawaii. He couldn’t believe the conditions and water temperatures that some of the testers were wearing these wetsuits in. A couple of the women were surfing the north of Scotland in February. He was just blown away that people had surfed all winter in these absolutely frigid conditions in our suit. Hearing them talking about it was a really proud moment. And just standing round and looking at all the women in blue wetsuits that weekend, was really pivotal for me.
As a surfer you have your particular places that you like to surf, sometimes even tides… I can go to my local beach on a tide that I don’t usually surf and I don’t know anyone in the car park, and then go back later when I want to get in and know everyone in the car park. The thing I loved about the Women’s Wetsuit Tester Programme was that I only knew two other people there, outside of people from Finisterre. There were all these women from different surfing communities, which was really nice. We could’ve just given the suits out to our ambassadors and local people and friends, but we didn’t – we genuinely went out and found people who we didn’t know to test the suits. Hearing from people who live in colder and darker places wearing the same suit was amazing.
I love finding new places close to home. I like prone paddle-boarding; you don’t see much of it in the UK – it’s life-saving boards, and you knee-paddle the whole time rather than standing up. I love getting to places that I already know, but finding a new perspective on it. We’re having an amazing summer and the surf has been flat recently. Last weekend I went out from Crantock and paddled round to some little caves that you can only access from sea. Even though I walk and surf there all the time, there were these little nooks and crannies that I’ve not seen before. Cornwall’s such an amazing place to live, it’s really nice to take time out and look at it properly rather than going to the same beach all the time…just getting out and exploring.
Seeing what Finisterre is doing on sustainability and how that’s grown really motivates me. It’s always been a big thing for us, but being able to focus specifically on plastic pollution was something that was really close to my heart. I’ve been involved in beach cleans for years; I was one of the first people to get on board with #2minutebeachclean with Martin Dorey. It’s just something I do when I go to the beach – I take a bag with me, I pick up some litter. It felt very grass roots for years. I couldn’t believe our beaches were covered in crap and no one really seemed to care. And then Blue Planet last year just blew that wide open. We’d already started planning a microplastics range, and that would be our key campaign for the summer. But the timing was absolutely perfect. We’ve been doing Econyl swimwear – which recycles discarded fishing nets into fabric – for three or four years now. It didn’t feel like we were jumping on the bandwagon because I knew we’d been planning it for a really long time…the timing was just very fortuitous.
If you’ve had a bit of a rough day or you think you’re not achieving anything…going down to the beach and coming back with a bin-bag full of rubbish, you know that you’ve done something good. If you’re feeling a bit down, you can go and do that and you’ve done your good deed for the day. The more people who do it and are seen to be doing it, the more other people will think that it’s something they can do and you’re not just a bit weird for doing it. It’s becoming more normal; that’s the opportunity.
“If you’ve had a bit of a rough day or you think you’re not achieving anything…going down to the beach and coming back with a bin-bag full of rubbish, you know that you’ve done something good.”
There are so many people who just think it’s completely acceptable to throw something out of their car window or just walk past something. I like to think that I, and all the other people who go out on regular beach-cleans, are challenging those attitudes. It’s a bit of a weird thing to get a kick out of, but I love seeing how much I can pick up. I give myself half an hour, with the dog. He hates it; he’ll just lie down on a sand dune and watch while I do it. But the things you find… At my favourite beach, Penhale, there are particular currents that focus the rubbish in. You can fill a bin-bag in ten minutes. That sense of being able to make a small difference is really important.
I’ve found entire glass milk bottles from the 1950s there. There’s a rubbish tip buried in the sand somewhere and as the storms erode the sand dunes, all this rubbish is coming back out. The milk bottles aren’t particularly bad, but I’ve got two that I kept at home. Also, mad packets of crisps from the 1980s. They look as good as the day the person ate them. They’ve been buried in the sand all that time and now they’ve come out. It’s crazy.
It’s definitely made me re-evaluate my personal plastic consumption. I’m really lucky that I live next to one of the best farm shops in the country, Trevaskis Farm. So I buy most of my meat and veg without any plastic at all, and most of it’s locally sourced or grown on-site. I’m really trying to make an effort personally.
I haven’t used a single-use plastic bottle in four years. I always have a water bottle with me, and if I can’t find it in a can or a glass bottle I don't have it, basically. It’s just setting myself those goals; for me it’s about seeing where you can make small tweaks. But seeing what ends up on the beach has given me perspective on what I think I can change. Every time you see something in plastic, think, ‘Do I really need it? Is there an alternative? Is there something else I can do?’. Learning to cook is a big thing for me. I love eating, so cooking is a means to an end! I thought maybe I could learn to make things myself rather than buying them pre-made. We’re hoping to become single-use plastic free at Finisterre next year. So that’s going to be an interesting challenge for all of us.
Working in a place where everyone has a similar mindset really helps. We all share what we do. Todd found this great shop in Truro which is a bulk food store, so you go in with your own container and fill up with rice etc and you buy by weight – so you can skip the packaging entirely. I would never have come across something like that in my old workplace – no-one was interested.
Finisterre allows me to live the flexible life I’d like to live, while still having a stable job. Much as I’d love to be one of those people you see on Instagram living out of the back of a van and travelling everywhere, I have a house and a mortgage and actually I quite like things to be settled and to know I’ve got stability. So Finisterre allows me to still live that coastal lifestyle, and if the surf’s really good I can usually say ‘Please can I come in at 10?’ Everyone here puts the effort in, we all work extra hours when we need to…but the company gives that back to us. We had really amazing weather a couple of weeks ago and one of the directors said we could all leave at 2pm that Friday. We all went down to the beach together. And that was really nice because the company recognised that we had all been working hard and this weather doesn’t come along very often. It wasn’t like we downed tools and went our separate ways. We went to the beach, had a swim and a couple of beers and enjoyed the time together.
Every year at Finisterre is different; that’s the exciting thing about working here. We’re changing and growing so much but still managing to retain the feeling that it had when I originally started seven years ago. I was the ninth person to join the team, now there are 40 or so of us. It’s pretty crazy seeing it grow, and in some ways getting a bit more professional and grown-up about the way we do things. Holly, our first repairs person, left about three years ago. She came back to visit and said, ‘Wow, everything’s completely different but nothing’s changed.’
It feels like this year and next year are going to be a real step-change. We’re just starting to get to that size now where you don’t know everyone in the business quite as well as you used to. In the beginning, we’d all go and stay at someone’s house for the weekend; all just hang out. When there’s 40 of you, it’s getting to the point where you know their name and you know a bit about them, but you don’t actually know them that well. That’s actually quite exciting, seeing us grow. The only thing I can say about the future is that there will be more change. But all the change so far has been good and exciting and brought some brilliant new people in.
We’re just getting to that critical mass and how that will change us as a working team, but also what we can do with product, how we can reach new customers and markets. The next two years are going to feel like the years that we really made it. I think four years ago we probably would have been like, ‘This is the year that things really came together’ – but actually every year we’re like, ‘We were so small last year and look what we’re doing now.’ But it really does feel like a critical mass moment where we’re finally going to be able to do the things we want.
We’ve got a timeline on the wall in the office with all the old team photos. When I look at my first team photo, I think ‘Wow, were we really doing all of that, just us?’ For Tom and Debs, it must be even more so. I think we’ve always felt like a small company punching above our weight and the next couple of years will be the time when we become more authoritative. I hope that we don’t lose the sense of being a challenger in that. We’re never going to be a Topshop or an ASOS; we’ll always have that smallness on our side. But being able to do things with confidence, rather than thinking, ‘Wow, can we really do this, this is going to stretch us’ to ‘Yeah, we can do this, we’ve got the team behind us.’ That’s going to be the difference. And the more good things we can do, the more people will come to us and want to be a part of it.”
View the Fifteen Years Collection Here | Images by Abbi Hughes