Julie Church first noticed Kenyan children turning flip-flops into toy boats in 1998, when she was working as a marine scientist and conservationist. Turtle hatchlings had to crawl through the debris on the beach to get to the ocean, Church says, and it sparked an idea: Clean up the debris, and turn some of it into artistic and useful items. WWF ordered 15,000 key rings, and her eco-friendly project took off. Born and raised in Kenya, Church started the FlipFlop Recycling Co. — now called Ocean Sole — in 2005. Since then, more than 90 tons of flip-flops have been collected; each year, the company collects nearly 900,000 pounds of waste.
Workers wash the flip-flops; then artisans glue together the pieces, carve the products, sand and rewash them. Ocean Sole has made backgammon sets, 1960s-style beaded curtains and animal sculptures, including a 30-foot minke whale, which starred in an -anti-whaling campaign, and a life-size giraffe.
“Our local artists are people with a passion for the ocean, art and for Kenya,” says Church. “We are a family.”
» For more: ocean-sole.com