How Two Brothers Survived A Tsunami And Became Millionaires

by John Haltiwanger

There is perhaps nothing more resilient than the human spirit. We can lose everything that we hold dear, and still strive forward in the world. No matter how bad things may seem today, tomorrow is just around the corner. Those who have endured tragedy understand this notion better than anyone.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake occurred under the Indian Ocean and generated a massive tsunami. Ultimately, it claimed more than 230,000 lives across 14 different countries.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.

Among those lost were the parents of Rob, Paul, Matty and Rosie Forkan.

Originally from the United Kingdom, the Forkan family was vacationing in Sri Lanka for the holidays when the tsunami crashed into their hotel. The four children miraculously survived, but their parents, Kevin and Sandra, died as they were swept into Indian Ocean.

The Forkan children were meant to be having the time of their lives, but they became orphans in the process. In spite of this, they refused to let it define their lives in a negative way. Instead, Rob and Paul, the two eldest, took the most tragic event of their lives and used it as a stepping stone to success.

The Dalai Lama once stated:

Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.

Rob and Paul Forkan are a testament to the fact that we can always rebuild, no matter how big the catastrophe. All we need is a little bit of hope, and a lot of ambition.

For the Forkan brothers, this came in the form of a brightly-colored pair of flip-flops.

A love for family and travel fostered the creation of a business.

When the tsunami struck, the two younger siblings, Matty and Rosie, were saved when their parents pushed them onto the roof of their hotel. Rob somehow managed to climb the building and found a metal bar to grab onto. In the process, he saved his brother Paul from being swept away by clutching his arm.

At the time, Rob was 17 and Paul was 15. With their parents dead, they were left to take care of their younger siblings.

They had no passports and no money, but with the help of Sri Lankans, they were able to hitchhike 200 miles to the closest operating airport.

It's not surprising that the Forkan kids were so resourceful, even in the midst of grief, chaos and destruction. Prior to the tsunami, they had already spent years traveling and volunteering throughout India.

When Rob and Paul were 13 and 11 respectively, their parents pulled them out of their British schools and took them to Goa, India. Their parents were of the philosophy that they would receive a healthier and more full education by traveling the world and helping others.

It was an unconventional lifestyle, but it's ultimately what helped the kids survive and rebuild after the tsunami. Moreover, it's also what led Rob and Paul to found an ethical footwear brand called Gandys.

The entire project was inspired by their parents' philosophy, their globetrotting childhoods and what happened to them in Sri Lanka. Their parents had previously worked in the fashion industry before quitting their jobs and focusing on humanitarian projects. Thus, Gandys is a very fitting tribute to their lives.

From survival to success, tragedy to triumph.

Gandys sells flip-flops and donates 10 percent of the profits from every pair sold to orphans around the globe.

In conjunction with Gandys, the Forkans also founded Orphans for Orphans, a charitable organization dedicated to helping orphans.

Currently, the charity is building a home for children in Sri Lanka who have lost their parents, among other projects. In the process, they are giving back to the country that helped them in the midst of a devastating natural disaster.

As Rob puts it:

We wanted to build a brand based on our own beliefs from our upbringing and alternative lifestyle. Our parents had a fearless approach. As children, nothing was ever a drama. We just rocked up in India with no plans. A lot of people wouldn't be able to live with that situation but that has helped us with what we are doing now.

Even the name, "Gandys," is a product of the Forkan's love for India and Gandhi, given the amount of time they spent there. According to the brothers, Rob woke up one morning after a music festival in London and his mouth felt as dry as "Gandhi's flip-flops."

Much like their impossible survival story, Gandys has thrived and grown into an exceptional business. Furthermore, unlike many profitable businesses, it's having a palpable and beneficial impact in the world.

Doing good is good business.

Gandys flip-flops have been extraordinarily successful and are even popular amongst the rich and famous. Richard Branson, Jessica Alba and One Direction are all huge fans of Gandys, among others.

Not to mention, the brothers were invited to Buckingham Palace to be personally commended by Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson for their benevolent entrepreneurship.

The Forkans may have become orphans following the disastrous tsunami, but instead of letting in cripple them, they made it a source of motivation. As Rob Forkan states:

You can sit around dwelling on the past, but we had a wonderful upbringing and we want to carry on and go out and start a new chapter in our parents' memory.

This year alone, Gandys has sold 250,000 pairs of flip flops, which is only expected to increase. In 2013, the business made around 1.2 million pounds ($1.8 million).

With more profits, more orphans will receive assistance. Hence, it's safe to say that the Forkan brothers are making their parents very proud.

Never give up, regardless of the obstacles.

Gandys was never expected to do very well. It was an impossible idea in many ways. There are already so many popular flip-flop brands.

The Forkan brothers also made a number of rookie mistakes in the early days of the business. When they were just getting started, one of their competitors sent them a letter claiming that one of their designs infringed the company's copyright.

They'd been very careful to avoid such issues, but they quickly realized the accusations were correct. They were willing to admit their mistake. Ultimately, the brothers had no other choice but to start over and come up with a truly unique design.

Life and business are often unpredictable. What matters the most is your will to keep pushing forward. This survival instinct is what led Rob and Paul to hitchhike hundreds of miles when their parents were killed. Even when all hope seems lost, you can't give up.

As Rob puts it:

It is possible to come through struggles and dark days, and there can be light. ... Our life has been quite crazy. We're still pretty young. We've a long way to do. But if there's one message from all this, it's to keep resilient. If you're persistent about what you're passionate, you will get there.

In other words, when the world comes crashing down around you, just keep moving forward. Keep your head up and never look back.

Citations: Orphans for Orphans (Orphans for Orphans ), Gandys (Gandys), Tsunami survivors to open orphanage in parents memory (BBC), Tsunami Survivor Gandys Flipflops Founder Rob Forkan Reveals Why He Wont Have To Talk About The Tragedy Any More (Huffington Post UK), Brothers orphaned by tsunami set up flip flop business to help children (The Guardian ), Indian Ocean tsunami Britons caught up in disaster help Sri Lanka rebuild (The Guardian ), Tsunami Millionaires How Two Orphaned Brothers Survived Tragedy And Built A Business (Forbes), Orphaned by tsunami flip flop kings repay Sri Lankan kindness (Yahoo News)