Ocean Sole: Flip Flops, Creativity, and the Environment

It’s July, and at least in the U.S., that means thoughts turn to summer vacation, beaches and flip flops. While for many of us—and certainly in Michigan—flip flops are typically worn only in the warmest times of the years, in many parts of the world they may be the only shoes available to impoverished people. Millions of flip flops are produced annually, worn for a few years, and then discarded, entering a refuse stream that often ends in our oceans. I had never thought of flip flops as a major source of ocean debris, but they are.

Enter Ocean Sole, a social enterprise that began with one Kenyan woman noticing children making toys from discarded flip flops, and has grown into an foundation that, since 2005, has “harvested” 1,000 tons of flip flops from the ocean and turned them into art. They also provide steady work to hundred of low-income Kenyans and donate a portion of their income to marine conservation. Take a look at the things they make from lowly worn-out footwear!


I love this story for lots of reasons: the creative re-imagining of ocean debris, the colorful art, the social conscience that is using creativity to make the world better. While not all of us live in places where flip flops are washing up on beaches, we all have access to local materials that are usually thrown away. In Ann Arbor we can access all manner of scrap materials at an amazing organization called Scrap Box. (If your community doesn’t have such a place, perhaps you need to start one!) But on a smaller scale, take a look a local vacant lots, recycling centers, or even home and school recycling bins. Is there a product or product you—and your children or your students—could use to make interesting and creative things? Summer is the perfect time to try. If you come up with something interesting, I’d love to hear about it!

Want to be inspired? Take a look.


Or for a bit more detail on the process, see this slightly longer video.




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