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Meet Joe Mwakiremba, International Sales Manager at Ocean Sole in Nairobi, Kenya.
Joe has a dream, and a really good one at that. But before I tell you about his dream, let me tell you about the sublimely named Ocean Sole.
Ocean Sole Africa, founded 13 years ago, was born of what Joe calls “an impossible idea” – creating social and economic opportunities out of the millions of tons of washed up flip-flops found along the beaches and waterways in Kenya.
This amazing social enterprise turns man’s ‘flip-flop pollution’ into beautiful ‘flip-flop’ art creations. At the same time it provides widespread employment in high-impact communities, helping to develop the circular economy.
Ocean Sole was inspired by the toys children were making out of the flip-flop debris. Founder Julie Church encouraged their mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colourful products to sell at local Kenyan markets as another means of income for their families.
Today, Ocean Sole positively impacts over 1,000 Kenyans through the collection of flip-flops and direct employment. It aims to recycle a million flip-flops this year, contributing over 10-15% of revenue to beach clean-ups, vocational and educational programmes, and conservation efforts.
Joe notes: “The world is a very different place now than when Ocean Sole was started. The ocean is polluted more than ever before: every single minute, we have the equivalent of one garbage truck pouring plastic into the ocean. And if we don’t change our ways, this will increase to two per minute by 2030, and four per minute by 2050.
“This is devastating for wildlife: they consume it, get entangled in it, and eventually die from it. Globally, only 18 percent of plastic is recycled. We are drowning in plastic, yet virtually half of the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years. These changes challenge our vision and Ocean Sole Africa will fiercely defend them.”
It sounds bleak and it is. But Joe says there is also much cause for optimism. “The world is changing for the good, and in ways that make it more possible for us to achieve our vision,” he explains.
“Literacy is rising globally. More and more governments are banning single-use plastics. Advances in technology are making plastics more and more biodegradable. And Ocean Sole’s community of supporters is growing—introducing new partners, new voices, generations, and perspectives.
“This is good news for our mission. This is good news for the world.”
So what about Joe’s dream? After I accepted his LinkedIn request and we began talking, this is what Joe told me: “I am so passionate about clean oceans and hence I am constantly looking for new ways to partner with folks in the travel retail industry. One of my biggest dreams has been to place a life-size bear, elephant or similar inside a busy airport.
“Hopefully, it will make people stop and think about the state of our current oceans for just a couple of minutes. See the attached masterpieces we have done in the most recent past. Let me know what you think?”
I told Joe what I think. I think both the concepts and the works are brilliant. And I promised I would reach out to my friends in the retail and airport community worldwide to see if someone would help his dream come true.
So let’s not flip-flop in our industry’s commitment to sustainability. Let’s focus on business for good, not just for growth. Let’s show our soul with some sole. Some Ocean Sole. I can’t wait to see the concept added to an airport’s retail footprint soon.
*Note (or more appropriately, footnote): The Moodie Davitt Report will donate a complimentary double-page advertisement and a dedicated feature article on the activation to any airport, retailer or food & beverage operator which installs an Ocean Sole artwork. Look out for more on Ocean Sole Africa soon.