Kenya

Urban Life in Kenya / Art of Recycling

Flip-Flop Art: Ocean Sole

"That person can turn a garbage dump into wealth." —Kenyan proverb

The Indian Ocean’s powerful currents deposit lost flip-flops, plastic bottles, and other debris up and down the Kenyan coast. These discarded materials mar the landscape and endanger sea turtles, birds, and other marine life. But they also provide many with raw materials for creativity and innovative forms of artistic expression.

At Ocean Sole, some former woodcarvers have retooled their craft to make art from recycled flip-flops—some now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. After compressing the rubber shoes into giant blocks, artists sculpt them into animal figurines, keychains, jewelry, and more. The company works with over a hundred individuals, providing much needed employment opportunities in Nairobi and surrounding disadvantaged areas.

FESTIVAL PARTICIPANTS

Before joining Ocean Sole, Jonathan Lento was a herdsman in Samburu and did various casual jobs in different places. He has worked for Ocean Sole for seven years. A father of two, Jonathan says that Ocean Sole “gives good carving experience. I can pay the school fees for my children and feed myself and my family.”

Francis Mutua Muvua was a wood carver before joining Ocean Sole. He has worked with the company for three years and says that through Ocean Sole, he has “met different people. I am able to afford school fees for my children. This work is my daily bread.”

Click to enlarge and view captions

Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution