Beauty and the Beach

By Leslie Woit March 25, 2021

New life breathed into old soles at this inspiring Kenyan art enterprise.

From the Department of Cheer and Goodwill, we bring tidings of pink and green giraffes, mice-size elephants and rainbow-hued Labradors, too many to count.

Trash is making green and beautiful business in Kenya. Employing nearly 100 people, Ocean Sole collects and recycles 1.5 tonnes of flip-flops and 1/4 tonnes of styrofoam each week – bringing joy from roughly 750,000 flipflops collected annually from the beaches of Kenya. From this waste, the social enterprise not only supports marine conservation but also makes cheerful, tactile and affordable art — a triumph in which we can all participate.

Ocean Sole toys
Ocean Sole creates toys and sculptures from flipflops that wash ashore.

Collect, clean, compress and carve.

Julie Church, Ocean Sole Founder, was inspired by the toys Kenyan children were making from flip-flop debris and she began to encourage their mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colourful products. These creations were sold at local markets as another means of income for their families. Soon efforts shifted from recycling to upcycling, the atelier grew, and more materials were handcrafted into beautiful one-of-a-kind creations.

Some 10-15 per cent of revenue from the creations is now diverted to beach cleanups, vocational and educational programmes, and conservation efforts. Underlying it all, Ocean Sole’s message: “how we can help our planet, our oceans and people through creating beautiful art that delivers an important message about the state of our oceans.”

Custom creations? Just ask.

Though we always love a chance to see the workshop in action (visits are happily arranged), you needn’t be in Nairobi in order to share the Ocean Sole love. Works are available online and shipped round the world. In addition to a merry lineup of safari creatures, dogs, turtles, penguins, sharks, and assorted you-name-it, they also enthusiastically cater to custom design requests—anything from company logos to fire-breathing dragons, your own beloved pet, a fantasy boat, model car or team mascot. Funky outdoor furniture is a favourite, too. And it’s all created from simple pictures blown up on a projector.

Why not order your beloved family dog or cat its own colourful playmate with a difference? A medium-size dog is made from roughly 14 flip-flops and each one removes 255 pounds of trash from the ocean and supports one Kenyan person for a week. A truer companion, or more inspirational second incarnation, we can’t imagine.

More about this social enterprise through this 60 Second Doc:

To learn more about Nairobi’s innovative artisans, check out these other blogs:
Beautiful Indigenous Crafts to see – and buy – on Safari
Nairobi Rising
Shopping on Safari
Local African Arts Scene
Chic and Beautiful Fabrics of East Africa

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