Nairobi’s Ocean Sole Africa, which recycles flip flops swept up on Kenya’s beaches, reports a million enquiries in 100 hours and website overload from 60 Second Docs video
Ocean Sole Africa has swept onto the global stage this week, after 20 years of quietly collecting over 1,000 tonnes of spent flip-flops from Kenyan beaches and recrafting them as artworks, thanks to a single one-minute video where flip-flop artist Francis Mutua explains his trade.
Produced by Vanessa Gutierrez on behalf of 60 Second Docs, the video posted on Facebook on Kenya’s Madaraka Day has since delivered more than 53 million views, tens of thousands of shares, 10,000 messages, and more website visitors and enquiries than the company has been able to process.
“The flood of attention and support for our company has been amazing,” said Erin Smith, Chief Sole Mate of Ocean Sole Africa.
The sudden global spotlight has come at a perfect moment for the company, which started as a local conservation effort, but is now moving to drive a worldwide movement to address the planet’s rising mountain of ocean flip-flop pollution.
“In many of the world’s poorer countries and the majority of its coastal communities, flip-flops are literally the only footwear people can afford,” said Erin. “But once spent, they last for over a hundred years, now generating tons of beach pollution and waste.”
It was piles of such waste that inspired the launch of the company, back in 1998, when Kenyan conservationist Julie Church found the wasted flip-flops being made into toys by local children on beaches in Kiwayu. Julie initially founded the company to encourage local mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops for their own children, as a way of alleviating the environmental damage they caused to the marine ecosystem. But in 2006, the company was established and hired employees and reach a wider market.
…Julie initially founded the company to encourage local mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops for their own children, as a way of alleviating the environmental damage they caused to the marine ecosystem.
The 1-minute video tells the story of Francis, who makes a living recycling the flip flops as one of 900 Kenyans working with Ocean Sole Africa, which now sells its flip-flop art in Milan, Rome, London, New York, Paris, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Singapore and Australia, and has been featured on CNN, BBC, New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Until now, our journey has been the steady expansion of a social enterprise, making beautiful art from potentially deadly waste for marine life,” said Erin.
However, the new surge of buyer interest on the one-minute video has delivered a step change in demand, with Ocean Sole Africa having this week launched a JustGiving crowd funding campaign to raise money for more recycling machines and a larger factory.
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