Artists everywhere are taking advantage of what’s known as “up-cycling” – taking what’s basically trash left where it shouldn’t be and turning it into art that can no longer harm the environment.

In Kenya, like many other places in the world, there’s an excess of flip-flops lying around – often on the beaches, but not always.

More than 3 billion flip-flops made every year, and one of the reasons so many are sold is because they’re affordable. Unfortunately that also means they’re a shoe likely to be discarded without care, which is only one reason they’re also super terrible for the environment.

Others are that they’re made from synthetic, petroleum-based materials and need to be replaced often due to wear.

In Kenya, around 90 tons of flip-flops wash up on the beaches every single year.

When marine conservationist Julie Church heard that statistic she decided to do something about it. She founded Ocean Sole and never looked back.

It was the late 1990s when she realized the issue, and also around the time she noticed kids making toys out of the flip-flops they found on the beach. She approved, working with their families to help them shape the foam into toys that could be re-sold at local markets.


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Now her non-profit up-cycles around a million flip-flops every year, turning them into sculptures that sell all over the world. She employs nearly 1000 Kenyans and gives back 10%-15% of her revenue to vocational and educational programs for local residents.

The process begins with beachcombers, who collect discarded flip-flops from Kenya’s beaches, water, and inner waterways. Those are then cleaned, shaved, sanded down, and glued together into bright, marbled blocks.

Sculptors take those blocks and piece them together to form the base of their designs. From there, Ocean Sole’s dozen or so artists make a variety of shapes and designs – mostly small-to-medium sized animals, vehicles, and the like.


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The company is continuously growing, but Church has three “mantras” to help keep them on track: trust to trade, trade to awareness, and awareness to protection.

The first is about building trust with the community to build a self-sustainable model that creates marketable products.

The second is to use the sales and popularity of their product to drive awareness of the issues of beach and water pollution and waste.

The last is to use that awareness to drive solutions like funding and policy changes when it comes to ocean welfare.

Church would also like to help other places in the world that have similar issues come up with a similar solution, while also encouraging companies to use more eco-friendly materials when manufacturing flip-flops to begin with.

“I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative show, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need. Our products need to evolve.”


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I don’t think anyone would necessarily disagree, but between rising costs all over the world, rising temperatures, and getting companies to care more about the environment than their bottom line, this is likely an uphill battle.

But at least we’ve got people like Church out there who are willing to fight it.