Ocean Sole is a social enterprise collecting thousands of old flip flops from beaches in Kenya and turning them into pieces of animal art. I meet Mark to learn their inspiring story.
It all started with a souvenir
Three years ago Mark was heading to Kenya for a festival and before leaving he asked his nephew if he’d like anything bringing back. After looking at a world map and seeing the animals in Africa his nephew replied with “I want a lion”.
A friend of Mark’s recommended a place called Ocean Sole – a small group collecting flip flops from the beaches in Kenya and carving them into vibrant animals that you could buy.
And so the hunt for a lion began.
Business over a Bloody Mary
As luck would have it Mark met Julie at the festival bar the next day and soon discovered she was the woman behind Ocean Sole and had studied Marine Biology in Brighton (where he’s from).
A few sips of Bloody Mary later and he found himself agreeing to take some of the animals over to the UK to see if they would sell.
Within the first afternoon at an artist’s open house all 10 pieces had sold. So Mark bought a few more the next time, and the time after that, and they’ve been so popular he now has large shipments coming into the UK.
The 60 second doc that changed everything
Business slowly grew and last month Ocean Sole worked with 60 Second Docs to share their story.
The video went viral and the following weekend the team went into work with 10,000 emails waiting for them! It was a surprise to everyone and they had to bring in friends and family to help handle the enquiries.
In just over a week the video reached 75 million views – leading to a sell-out in stock for the US branch. Mark was blown away by the response.
“It was so gratifying after talking about it in fields all this time. Now we’re looking at international expansion and people are showing a real interest.”
Over 900 Kenyans are supported by employment
Whilst Ocean Sole is plugged as a conservation group – their primary purpose is to help people in Africa make a good living. They’re known for paying a good wage to employees and people in the local community can collect flip flops from the beach and weigh them in for payment by the kilo.
It was great to hear that Ocean Sole are a project partner with the United Nations Education Department (UNEP) and are signed up to their no child labour agreement. This ensures that children aren’t being exploited for work – which can be hard to police in Kenya.
A simple idea to turn flip flops into pieces of art has now grown into an enterprise that not only provides jobs and supports local communities, but also educates people about marine conservation.
Life-size pieces promote marine conservation
One of the projects that Mark is proud of is a life-size hollow minke whale that they made for UNEP. It was built to educate children who could step inside and learn about marine conservation. Other businesses have got involved too.
“I’m hoping that these life-size pieces will become popular with businesses who have corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets to display on their reception or at events. It’s a great way to educate people about marine conservation.”
So if you or anyone you know could benefit from showing that their business is keen on marine conservation, why not get in touch with Ocean Sole and help create their next life-size piece?
The gift that keeps on giving
As if their social responsibility and conservation education wasn’t enough, Ocean Sole donate 20% of their profits to marine charities that don’t have any products to sell.
They also fund a large beach clean up in Kenya every month to bring the community together and keep their environment tidy.
I felt truly inspired after talking to Mark, who’s passion is a clear driver for the success of the business in the UK. He left our chat with a few words that I thought were worth sharing:
“It’s all about being enthusiastic and turning up. If you do that I think you have the recipe for life.”
And with that I hope you’re all feeling enthusiastic about saving our oceans and supporting communities by visiting www.oceansole.co.uk. They have some beautiful products – I’m thinking of buying a small fish to cheer up my desk!