The word is “Breathtaking” - Visiting the Ocean Sole workshop for the very first time!
A wise person once said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
As you read through this blog I can guess that by now, you have seen various Ocean Sole products available online and you may have even bought a few animal sculptures, flip flop yoga blocks or even a simple but effective keychain. However, I am also aware that some of you may be new to the Ocean Sole community and last week's live could have been your first interaction with them. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, allow me to briefly elaborate on the history of Ocean Sole.
Ocean Sole was founded by Julie Church when she was inspired by the toys she saw children making out of washed up flip flops. Church felt so moved that she encouraged their mothers to collect, wash and carve the discarded flip flops into new colorful sculptures so that they could sell them at their local markets to generate a form of income. Ocean Sole is a Social Enterprise that removes rubbish from oceans and turns it into art. Through this they promote ocean conservation whilst simultaneously creating employment opportunities in high unemployment rate areas. Ocean Sole has had a positive impact on over 1000 Kenyans and helps provide a steady income to over 100 low income families.
Now that we're all up to speed and on the same page, let me continue the story!
Lately I have been watching all of Ocean Soles Workshop Wednesday Videos which is a YouTube series Ocean Sole launched where they post the “Behind The Scenes” of all the effort that goes into making their amazing flip flop sculptures. As I would watch these short informative videos, I couldn’t help but think to myself “How wonderful would it be, if I could find my way to their workshop and actually see these big bright sculptures in real life”. It is one thing to look at all these breathtaking sculptures in videos or through photos online but it is definitely a whole other thing to actually see and interact with them in person.
Can you guess what my burning curiosity led me to do next? Yes, I reached out and I sent a message!
I simply sent them a direct message on Instagram explaining my interest in their workshop and from there we swiftly set up a date and time where I could visit their workshop. To share the whole experience with as many people as possible, we thought it would be a great idea to go live on Ocean Soles instagram page so that everyone could have a part in my Ocean Sole workshop adventure.
That sums up my reaction. I was so excited to finally be able to meet Jonathan, the wonderful host I had been watching on all of Ocean Soles Workshop Wednesday videos. There was not a single question he couldn’t answer. He showed me all the teamwork that goes into making flip flop sculptures and how everyone has a very important role to play - everyone. I say it twice because during my little excursion, I noticed how things work almost circuit like in the entire production process. There were stations, stages and stops that each piece must go through before it can be considered finished. In addition, at each working area there was someone or a group of people who were doing their utmost best to make sure they can deliver exactly what you ask for. Another thing that stuck out to me was that everyone, truly everyone, was strongly working together towards a common goal of wanting to save the environment - it was a humbling experience to be in an environment where all minds were collectively working towards one goal.
Furthermore, I had the greatest honor of meeting the strong team of women that work with Ocean Sole. I met Penninah who manages to thoroughly clean 80 kilos of flip flops a day. She washes and disinfects all the flip flops on a day to day basis before they are used by the artists. On top of that, she then also manages to wash the final product and add a special varnish to help keep the sculptures bright and vibrant. I later met some more hardworking women who were focused on carving the smaller sizes of animal sculptures such as whales or dolphins. One terribly talented lady told me that she manages to make at least four small animal sculptures a day! That includes sticking the flip flops together to add bulk and form a block, carving the desired shape out of the flip flop block, smoothening the edges of the animal sculpture and adding the final details such as eyelashes, horns or even barnacles!
Lastly, I learned about the more discreet ways Ocean Sole contributes to the betterment of the planet. I was lucky to meet Francis Mutua, who is the man you see in Ocean Soles viral 60 second video. He kindly explained to me how even though Ocean Sole primarily focuses on ocean conservation, they also contribute to conserving trees. Through using flip flops to make sculptures instead of wood they are indirectly helping prevent trees and forests being cut down for wood. In fact, when I asked the artists if they preferred carving with flip flops or wood, all of them said they prefer flip flops for two reasons: First it is easier to do, therefore, it’s more convenient and second it contributes to preserving indigenous trees.
For me visiting the shop was both a breath of fresh air and a breathtaking experience. I really wish I could transmute the moment to you through these words or maybe you got lucky and saw a glimpse of it on our IGTV Live. I have done my best to try to make you feel what I felt but I also know that this is something you have to experience for yourself in order to truly understand what I am talking about. Believe me; it is worth it.
If you ever find yourself in Nairobi, Kenya and are looking for artistic inspiration, environmental motivation or simply want to know how you can help and leave an impact on the world, drop by the Ocean Sole workshop, it only takes a message and I can verify that they would give you the warmest of welcomes!
Wanna know how we extract waste flip flops from Ocean? Check out our recent blog by Adzeah- Wolf. To know about the beach Clean Up Process.