February 3, 2023
See How Discarded Flip-Flops in Kenya Turn into Beautiful Sculptures

Flip-flops are the preferred sort of shoe on the earth, with greater than 3 billion produced yearly, and it’s straightforward to see why. They’re comfortable, they’re straightforward to put on they usually’re cheap. Sadly, most of them are additionally horrible for the atmosphere.

The bulk are produced from artificial, petroleum-based supplies and have a median life span of simply two years. They’re additionally a surprisingly massive a part of the 8 billion tons of plastic that aren’t recycled and pollute the oceans yearly, harming marine life and exposing individuals to harmful toxins. In Kenya, it is a enormous drawback, and round 90 tons of flip-flops wash up on its shores yearly.  

When Julie Church, a marine conservationist, realized the extent of this drawback, she determined to sort out it in a novel approach: by upcycling these washed-up flip-flops and turning them into wonderful, colourful sculptures. Whereas upcycling isn’t new and also you’ve most likely accomplished it your self by repurposing outdated garments or home items, Church and her firm, Ocean Sole, take it to a completely new degree. Within the course of, she’s serving to each the atmosphere and native Kenyans, in addition to highlighting the significance of sustainable residing.

The “sole” of an concept

Volunteers collect plastic waste during a cleaning exercise organized by Ocean Sole Africa, in Kilifi county, Kenya, on February 12, 2022

SIMON MAINA/Getty Photos

Within the late Nineteen Nineties, when Julie Church was working as a marine conservationist in Nairobi, she discovered a complete seashore “simply lined in flip-flops,” in response to Erin Smith, the CEO of Ocean Sole. The air pollution had killed fish and flowers, prevented turtles from approaching land to hatch and harmed each the ecosystem and the neighborhood at massive, since individuals used to fish within the space.

Round that point, Church additionally seen kids making toys out of the 1000’s of flip-flops that had made their option to the nation’s seashores. She started working with the children’ moms to encourage them to not simply gather the footwear, but in addition to clean, minimize and form them into marbled blocks that could possibly be sculpted and carved. The households may then promote this artwork at native markets, offering one other technique of earnings.

The concept took off, and in 1998, Church based Ocean Sole as a nonprofit. Practically 1 / 4 century later, the group goals to upcycle 1,000,000 flip-flops yearly, crafting them into unimaginable sculptures that at the moment are offered everywhere in the world. Moreover, Ocean Sole instantly impacts greater than 1,000 Kenyans, a lot of whom work as flip-flop collectors or artists, and contributes 10% to fifteen% of total income to vocational and academic packages for residents, in addition to seashore cleanup and conservation efforts.

From seashore trash to colourful treasures

So, how does this work, precisely? Beachcombers working for Ocean Sole gather discarded flip-flops from Kenya’s shores and internal waterways. These are then cleaned, shaved, sanded down and glued collectively into vibrant, marbled blocks that sculptors can stack and piece collectively to kind the bottom of their designs. The Ocean Sole artists—there are greater than a dozen proper now—make all types of shapes and designs, from small- to medium-size animals to life-size mannequin vehicles.

The entire course of is finished by hand utilizing fundamental instruments like sandpaper, carpentry knives and infrequently some upcycled Styrofoam or wire for assist, particularly for the bigger commissions. And talking of commissions, sure, Ocean Sole does take requests. Their work has proven up at Rome’s Trend Week, the Swedish Cultural Museum, the London Zoo and extra.

What’s subsequent for Ocean Sole?

Finished toy giraffes and rhinos made from pieces of discarded flip-flops are drying in the sun after being washed on November 18, 2013 at the Ocean Sole flip-flop recycling company in Nairobi, Kenya.

SIMON MAINA/Getty Photos

Ocean Sole is constantly rising and seeking to preserve waste off Kenya’s seashores and out of its water. This yr alone, the group has upcycled greater than 750,000 sandals and picked up greater than 47,000 kilos (103,600-plus kilos) of waste.

In the case of rising the Ocean Sole group, Church has three “mantras,” as she calls them: belief to commerce, commerce to consciousness, and consciousness to safety. This primary mantra is about constructing belief with the neighborhood to construct a self-sustainable mannequin that creates marketable merchandise (“commerce, not help,” in response to Church). In flip, the gross sales and recognition of these merchandise drive consciousness of the difficulty the group is working to resolve—on this case, seashore and water air pollution and waste. Lastly, consciousness drives options, which, on this case, may imply funding and coverage modifications to assist ocean welfare.

Ultimately, Church wish to put collectively toolkits and different assets to convey this idea to different locations world wide which have related issues with waste and unemployment. Ocean Sole can also be encouraging corporations to make use of extra eco-friendly supplies when making flip-flops. “I feel it’s time for us to begin on the lookout for another shoe, or another materials, to suit that sort of vogue want,” Smith has mentioned. “Our merchandise have to evolve.”

Subsequent, be taught extra about how briskly vogue is harming the atmosphere, and discover out which eco-friendly corporations you need to be procuring at as a substitute.


  • CNN: “Tens of millions of discarded flip flops posing enormous hazard to ocean life”
  • Ocean Sole: “Our Story”
  • Blue Options Interview Collection: “Julie Church from Ocean Sole in Kenya on her resolution”
  • Ocean Sole: “Ocean Sole founder, Julie Church, speaks on the Worldwide Coastal Cleanup in September 2013”