Career Series: Insights from Finisterre

Are you currently a student on a design degree feeling a bit lost and unsure of what a career in design really looks like? Design internships and entry level roles are few in number and extremely competitive. There is no doubt you need to be leaving University with a combination of experience, industry connections and a final year portfolio. Laura, SSEAMS Features Writer will be interviewing a brand each quarter through 2021 and beyond with the aim of answering questions that your University Careers team might not be able to answer. The SSEAMS Career series is here to give relevant insight to students who aren’t sure how to navigate through the design industry.

Debbie Luffman is the Product Director at Finisterre with over 16 years broad industry experience in fashion and textiles, spanning design, buying, sourcing and range building, to current role as Product Director at pioneering, sustainable outdoor clothing brand, Finisterre. Since 2008 Debbie has shaped the product and customer experience at Finisterre. She has led ambitious initiatives to reduce the brand’s environmental impact and re-imagine a new and positive future for retail. Drawing on her experiences at Finisterre, Debbie has founded ThinkCircular, to work within business, education & policy as a change agent and circular activist, to inspire the transition towards circularity.

So tell me about Finisterre, where did it start with you?

Finisterre was very different to what it was 13 years ago. When we started we were a cold empty warehouse, we lived together with big ideas and dreams. Not that much work and not that much money. That culture that was there from the beginning very much still exists. We are still a very ‘here is your platform…. make of it what you will place…’. It does invite dreamers and self-starters.

Good with Wool – Finisterre

What advice can you give to interns who want to work for Finisterre?

Interning is a great way to get your foot in the door. We have hired quite a few of our interns. From a CV point of view, this is really important. We have had perhaps 50 to 60 interns in the door over the years. Certain Universities gear students to want things on a plate, it doesn’t work like that here. Approach brands with confidence, don’t be scared to speak up and get involved. And yes, Finisterre do do paid internships. My advice would be to apply for internships outside of the May, June and July window, this is our busiest time. In the Summer months intern emails get lost in our inboxes. If you really want an internship, be creative and be persistent. Somebody wanted an internship at Finisterre so badly they sent me a postcard. Be cheeky in the subject line of your email… get noticed. Generally internships fall under the marketing and product part of the business which includes design, development, merchandising and buying. The worst thing about individuals writing emails asking for internships is when they don’t specify where they want to work and apply as a generalist. Even if you apply for a certain role, you are still going to be soaking up the rest of the business. 

If you just want to know what business is like inside a brand, you will still learn so much interning or working for a small business. You are always able to pop your head around the door and say do you mind if I swap and do this instead, anything is possible. 

I’m not a huge advocate for MA’s. I really think students and graduates just need to get stuck in and get on with it.

Debbie Luffman Product Director at Finisterre

It’s a really good question to ask what kind of brand would I like work at? How can you see yourself in the next five to ten years? My own background was working for high street fashion. but I was delighted I started working there because I learnt so much that I could bring to Finisterre. I think I might have drowned if I’d have started at Finisterre and then moved to high street fashion. Getting into the industry as soon as possible is crucial, learning on your feet is best. 


What was your favourite day working for Finisterre? 

What I get a kick out of is joining the dots. Today for instance I bounced from talking about recycling and designing to setting up a supply chain for a re-commerce platform. This involves a lot of collaboration. I love Finisterre but I spend 99% of my time talking to people outside of the business whether that’s suppliers, textile developers, talking to universities or hosting webinars, it’s quite random. I soak up, read and talk about the issues that are important. 

Rhys Williams is Retail Development Manger for the Finisterre Bristol store. Before working at Finisterre, Rhys completed a Higher National Diploma and then a BA in Business Studies in the city Swansea.  Rhys then became a surf instructor and went travelling for a number of years less applicable to the logistics of working at Finisterre, but more applicable to the leadership role he now currently works in.

What’s it like to work for Finisterre?

You get a different relationship with work when you work for a company that truly matches what your own values. What develops from this is a group of individuals, with different strengths with a common approach. Of course, you get the day to day, ins and outs of a lot of organisations but the true magic and feeling of belonging comes from purpose and belief that the ocean’s future is our future, and our role is to inspire others to protect it with us. Having these values built into our DNA means that we approach situations in a different way.


What does a day in the life of a Finisterre employee look like?

I would say there is no such things as an average day in Finisterre, it’s important to live the values everyday so we encourage balance. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us that we need to be innovative to find the solution, which of course requires hard work. However, we balance this out with down time, an easy-going work environment, you will find serval company dogs with in our work spaces, usually accompanied by some drying wetsuits and kits.

How many are in the team/division you work with?

There are 30+ people within retail at Finisterre.


What do students need to be thinking about during their degree if they want to work for Finisterre after graduating?

For those that want to join us in our journey I would start to think about gaining some of the core skills through experience, this can be gained through lots of different education facilities or part time work.

Are there other paths to work for Finisterre that don’t require a degree?

There are lots of opportunities for those that don’t take the further education path. One of our core values is people, we think that work should be so much more than clocking in and clocking out. So we have a focus on personal development, there are also a lot of opportunity for lateral moves.


What advice was most helpful to you throughout your career as an individual and a team member?

During my first leadership position, someone landed two pieces of advice in a 10 minute conversation that I will always take with me. Always ask why. Why is heavily linked to moving forward. The other was a rugby analogy, ‘as a leader you are never going to make a real impact if you are in the scrum trying to hunt for the ball, you need the wide view of the stands’.

Finisterre was born from the needs of British cold water surfers, Finisterre builds the best and most sustainable products possible for those that share our love of the sea. Finisterre is a B Corps certified business. It started in 2003 in a flat above a surf shop with an innovative fleece that was designed to keep out chill winds and warm up cold bodies. Since these early days, driven by those who have jumped on board, supported by our customers and suppliers, the brand and product has widened beyond these original beginnings. Yet from the cliff top workshop in St. Agnes, we stay true to our original design ethos of functionality and sustainability brought to life in an understated style and identity, always remaining committed to product, environment and people.

The name of one of the most rugged headlands that bravely bears the full brunt of the North Atlantic gales, and a former shipping forecast area, Finisterre literally means end of the earth or land’s end. 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. Since day one we have taken a pioneering approach to making better and more sustainable product, challenging and innovating, seeking alternatives to what has gone before. We’re committed to making informed decisions about our impact on the environment and are constantly trying to push boundaries to make the best product we can. In our eyes this is gear that will be with you the longest; and the longer you have it, the more attached to it you become. 

If you represent an apparel brand and would like to share your knowledge with the next generation and close the gap between students at University and Industry, get in touch

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