It is estimated that 3 billion people in the world wear flip flops. Since they don't last forever they end up in landfills, and worse, in the oceans. The Indian Ocean alone washes many millions of discarded flip flops onto the beaches around Kenya. Artists there have been taking the old footwear and re-purposing them into usable objects -- most fantastically into beautiful animal sculptures.
The art of up-cycling is becoming big business in Kenya. It all started with a biologist named Julie Church when she became increasingly aware of the amount of trash from around the world that was washing up in Kenya.
In the 1997 she created a business called Ocean Sole (formerly UniquEco) to pick up all those flip flops, make a serious dent in the amount of trash on the beaches, provide jobs for many Kenyans, and educate the world about the extent and gravity of marine pollution.
"As a bizarre and yet very real phenomenon, thousands and thousands of flip-flops are washed up onto the East African coast creating an environmental disaster. Not only spoiling the natural beauty of our beaches and oceans, the rubber soles are swallowed & suffocated on by fish & other animals, they obstruct turtle hatchlings from reaching the sea and are a man-made menace to our fragile ecosystems," -- Ocean Sole.
The company pays people to collect the flip flops and then the work really begins. All of those cheap rubber sandals have to be thoroughly washed before anything else can be done. People like Mary Kavindu scrub the flip flops so the magic can begin.
She explains "My work is preparing the flip flop’s for carving, it is important that they are scrubbed well so that the end result is both colorful and clean. Inspired by my work at Ocean Sole, I started a plastic bottle collection in my neighborhood."
The company employs 100+ workers in an area of high unemployment and making these animal sculptures (and some other products) is big business. Ocean Sole is able to give its full-time employees medical coverage, maternity and paternity leave, three weeks of paid vacation, and free lunches.
Ocean Sole has these animal sculptures, in a wide variety of sizes, available for sale in the gift shops of zoos, aquariums, and museums. I checked on line and even found one for sale on Amazon. The animals also appear in exhibitions on occasion. Oceanic Society, a not-for-profit ecotourism organization, offers Ocean Sole's products for sale on their website.
In 2013 the company recycled around 50 tons of flip flops into usable items and have been working to increase that amount every year. They also have a zero-waste policy and even collect rainwater to use in the production of their sculptures.
In addition, the use of flip flops as sculpting material is reducing logging and saving millions of trees. For additional material needed Ocean Sole buys rubber off-cuts from a shoe factory to prevent them from going into landfills.
Live animals also benefit from this artwork. One way is by reducing the amount of plastic in the oceans that sea life can ingest or become dangerously entangled with. The other way is by clearing the beaches where three different types of sea turtles use for nesting.
It helps mother turtles to be able to easily find her way up the beach and for the hatchlings to be able to make their way back down. Decreasing logging helps to maintain natural habitat for many types of land animals.
Ocean Sole also makes beaded curtains, floor mats, doormats, and other products from discarded flip flops/ Their animal sculptures are by far the biggest draw for their company. To order Ocean Sole art for yourself or as a gift, go to Oceanic Society or Sea Star Beachwear.
Images via Facebook