Creating incredible African flip flop art while contributing to cleaner and healthier oceans. We love it. Ocean Sole not only recycles flip flops for better oceans – this social enterprise also contributes to the local Kenyans in several ways. Find out why they started and what their mission is.
What exactly does Ocean Sole do?
Ocean Sole is a social enterprise that turns washed up flip flops into colourful and fun art pieces to promote ocean conservation and spread awareness about pollution. Alongside this Ocean Sole positively impacts over a 1,000 Kenyans through the collection of flip-flops and direct employment. We provide steady income to nearly 100 low-income Kenyans in our company.
Who founded Ocean Sole and what inspired them to do so?
Ocean Sole was founded by Julie Church in 2006, the concept evolved from the remote island of Kiwayu, which borders Somalia and the very tip of Northern Kenya. Shocking amounts of marine waste washed up on the shore, particularly on nesting turtle sites and their hatchlings. The rubbish problem then led to imaginative and innovative children turning the waste into toys to play with. When the mothers saw how colourful and fun the upcycled toys looked, they decided to start cleaning and sculpting discarded flip flops into art pieces to sell. Ocean Sole was then born.
In what way(s) does Ocean Sole contribute to a better planet?
Ocean Sole contributes to a better planet in a number of ways. Firstly by the collection of flip flops from the waterways and beaches in Kenya. We also have a flip flop collection scheme that encourages people to collect flip flops which we then weigh and pay them for. We use our social enterprise to pay bonuses to employees, invest in a welfare programme that allows a zero return in funds to all employees to help facilitate payments for educating their children, buying land and other means. Our actions must make a difference to the plight of our oceans and our ethos is to give back what we earn to change the lives of many – through employment, education, and meals. Our employees are what makes Ocean Sole who they are and we are proud to support 100 low income Kenyans. We contribute over 10-15% of our revenue to beach cleanups, vocational and educational programmes as well as conservation efforts.
What’s your mission?
We turn flip-flops into art and functional products and in turn raise visual awareness of the problem at hand. By creating these sculptures, we are creating employment for a country that has over 40% unemployment rate but we are also sending a message about how we can help our planet, our oceans and people, through creating beautiful art that portrays an important message about the state of our oceans. Our business is all about the community. We support men, women, youth (18 to 35), fishermen and other entrepreneurs that are all part of our ecosystem. Whether picking up flip-flops that we pay for or using our waste for up-cycled products such as mattresses, our community engagement has been strong and is at the core of our business and hearts.
What are you most proud of so far?
Besides making some beautiful art, I think we are the only people who are really spreading awareness and talking about the flip flop pollution problem in the world. Over 3 billion people wear flip flops in the hot emerging markets, such as Kenya. These flip flops then end up in urban dumps or rivers and then flow into our oceans – particularly the Indian Ocean. Our dedication to cleaning beaches and supporting high impact communities is really what keeps us going. From an art point of view, we have made a life-size Honda s2000 for a car dealer in Jacksonville and since then he has sold 4 cars from the life-size, eye-catching sculpture.
Here are some interesting stats & facts:
- We have recycled over 638 tonnes of flip-flops since the social enterprise
started in 2006
- Each month we recycle over a tonne of Styrofoam
- We aim to recycle an average of over 750,000 flip-flops per year
- Over the last three years we have made over 146,000 products which have
been sold globally from America to Australia
- Our business employs and engages over 15 coastal communities along the
Kenyan coast to clean beaches and provide us flip-flops
- We’ve educated more than 12,000 students on conservation
- By improving our gender gap from under 10% to the current 45%, we have
seen the tangible gains that we have made by integrating women across the
entire value chain
- We have made 100 mattresses for vulnerable girls in Kenya.