Ensuring a Future

Ocean Sole, Kenya

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Discarded flip-flops on a Kenyan beach.
Discarded flip-flops on a Kenyan beach.

Ocean Sole/UniquEco Designs is a small but growing company based in Nairobi that recycles discarded flip flops into attractive jewellery accessories and other handicrafts.
Thousands of discarded flip-flops wash up on the African shoreline. This indestructible rubber creates an environmental disaster for the marine eco-system as it spoils the natural beauty of the beaches, is mistakenly swallowed by marine feeders and prevents hatching turtles reaching the safety of the sea.

Yet on the coast of Eastern Africa the flip-flop initiative is a remarkable solution to this man-made problem. Local women and children have been encouraged to collect the washed up rubbish that arrives from as far a field as Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. The villagers turn this waste into saleable products such as key rings, belts, earrings and bags. It is hard to believe that a simple flip-flop can be transformed from environmentally damaging waste into eye-catching glamour using only human creativity.

Once the flip-flops have been collected from the beaches, the women hand punch beads out of the flip-flops. The beads are then strung for sale to Ocean Soles. Earnings can be better than traditional livelihood income earnings, especially for a hard-working individual, all of whom work from their remote homes.

Women working to craft jewellery from discarded flip-flops.
Women working to craft jewellery from
discarded flip-flops.

The strings of beads are transported many hundreds of kilometres to Nairobi by donkey, boat and bus. Once in Nairobi the strings of beads are made into products by a group of Samburu women from Northern Kenya. They work with top designers to create items of fashion and beauty for the tourist and export markets.

The young coastal men who would normally be fishing or harvesting mangroves adding to the depletion of the fragile mangrove forests and coral reefs now have a commercial outlet for their creative talents. They stick the flip-flops together and carve them into a variety of wonderful one-off sculptures and toys such as fish, whales, aeroplanes, cars, boats, animals, insects and so many more...

To ensure no remnants of the flip-flops are left to float in the ocean, the remaining pieces of the carved and punched shoes are collected and shipped in sacks to Nairobi where they are then ground down to fill cushions of different shapes and sizes for the floor, pool or sofas.