How do we get rid of the masses of plastic and floating islands of debris from our oceans? One small business in Kenya came up with an innovative solution.
Most people think of flip-flops as casual, colorful and cute beachwear. But in fact, for over 3 billion people, they are the only pair of “shoes” that they own. In Africa, India, and other hot climates, billions of cheap flip-flops are produced and used daily. They’re worn for years, and after wearing out, are discarded and eventually find their way into dump sites, and seep into waterways …. and ultimately the oceans. The huge masses of discarded flip flops block waterways for fresh water and kill everything in their way.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) based in Nairobi, it is estimated that an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic and synthetic materials (flip-flops) are floating on every square kilometer of ocean, and that the impacts of this pollution generates a cost of over $8 billion a year – $334 million of that attributed directly to flip-flops.
As an example in Kenya alone, one cheap factory not only burns coal and oil, hires cheap labor and uses plastic to make over 100,000 flip-flops a day — 3.65 million flip-flops annually.
in the late 1990s, in Kiwayu, Kenya, tons of flip-flop pollution was washing up onto the beaches daily, creating an environmental disaster for the marine ecosystem and local communities.
But an innovative company in Nairobi – Ocean Sole – came up with a creative solution to the problem by transforming over 50 tons a year of discarded flip-flops and re-cycling them into art. The social enterprise company understands that more awareness is essential to the growing flip-flop problem that is cluttering our Earth.
Inspired by the toys children were making from flip-flop debris, Julie Church, the founder of Ocean Sole, encouraged mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colorful products.
In 2000, the company began to sell their first products commercially in Nairobi, Kenya. At the same time, they received their first commercial order from WWF Switzerland for 15,000 turtles. Early in 2000 Ocean Sole partnered with UNEP to raise awareness.
By 2005, the company, was established to promote “trade not aid” and began selling colourful and fun art and functional products to raise awareness of flip-flop pollution and improve local poverty. Since that time, Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tons of flip-flops from the ocean and waterways in Kenya, provided income to over 150 low-income Kenyans and has contributed over 10% of its revenue to marine conservation programs.
In 2007 they hosted the largest International Coast Clean-up (ICC) in Kenya. The growth of Ocean Sole has been phenomenal and the products and misson have become internationally recognized, sold and displayed in Rome, London, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore and Australia. The company grew from three employees to over fifty; and in 2013 it launched a foundation to help the conservation movement.
Ocean Sole moved to an art and cultural village, working with UNEP, UNESCO, UNDP and UNIC on a three year journey to focus on conservation entrepreneurship, supporting local Kenyans with recycling programs, establish new global distribution partners and create a new visual identity about flip-flops pollution destruction to both humans and marine life.
Some of the artworks that have been created:
Originally made for the London Zoo, the design for this Panda is carved by Raphael Kangutu. Trained in Gikomba, Kenya’s largest market, he was once a wood artist who came to Ocean Sole and was trained to make new sculptures from up-cycled flip-flops Also carved by Kangutu, Simba the lion (see below the article) has become the premium of their Safari Collection, available in all sizes and colors.
The Manta Ray is anr endangered species – this one is carved by Jonathan Lenato. He has carved many works for Ocean Sole, and he is working on a life-size Rhino that is going to a corporate headquarters in Amsterdam.
David Kaloki has carved the beautiful African elephant which in life-size is put into office lobbies.
The Rhino is another popular carving and the African rhino is another species at risk. To bring awareness of their plight, the carvings come in all sizes and color as well as life-size. This one has been carved by Munyao Mwnangangi
Ocean Sole will also design installation art, lobby sculptures, garden pieces and any type of art. The motto of the company is
“Art is our speciality and creating masterpieces is our favorite activity.”
Additional information about Ocean Sole is on their website at:
Karen Village, Ngong Road, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 727 531 301