What Makes Us, US – Ocean Sole

The pandemic has in many ways given us the opportunity to focus on what really matters, and in today’s current global climate there has never been a more appropriate time to be transparent. This shift has also been evident in large corporations, brands, and companies, who are working hard to push environmental, social, and of course governance. Which is great.

Luckily for us, our whole social enterprise is founded on sustainable and ethical practices. And while our mission is to clean Kenya’s beaches and waterways to create beautiful art and create employment opportunities in high-impact areas, Ocean Sole really is so much more.

While many of you may know about our story already, this blog dips into the different teams at Ocean Sole and the people who make us who we are.

Ocean Sole’s story started on the beach in Northern Kenya on the border of Somalia on an island called Kiwayu. Shocking amounts of marine waste washed up on the shore, particularly on nesting turtle sites and their hatchlings.

The rubbish problem then led to imaginative and innovative children turning the waste into toys to play with. When the mothers saw how colorful and fun the upcycled toys looked, they decided to start cleaning and sculpting discarded flip-flops into art pieces to sell. We should note at this part, we still work very closely with the group of ladies in Kiwayu, who collect flip flops and produce beautiful artwork for Ocean Sole.

Since then, Ocean Sole has evolved from focusing solely on Kenyan communities to impacting an entire ecosystem of traders, collectors, designers, and most importantly, employees.

At Ocean Sole, we talk a lot about being “manual, not machine” and that is the truth, everything from the collection of flip flops to the making of sculptures is powered by a team of dedicated Kenyans.

Our flip-flop collection scheme is probably one of the most important elements to our social enterprise. It not only encourages communities to clean up their ecosystems but provides a very solid income for many families. We pay per kilo and our network of collectors runs far and wide.

We introduced you to Jacklyn the other day, one of Ocean Sole’s oldest flip flop collectors and we will start to tell you more about their stories in the near future.

Once the flip-flops arrive at our workshop in Karen, our process begins. As you can imagine they are in a serious state when they arrive, many of them have been sitting in rubbish dumps or floating around in the ocean for years. This is where the washer team comes in, they scrub and soak the flip flops to get rid of any dirt or oil. Then they are ready to use.

We feel passionate about promoting our team internally, so most new team members start at the washer station, before being trained as an artisan.

When the flip flops are cleaned, the artisans come into action. Our team of artisans is phenomenal and many of them have been a part of our team for over 10 years. The initial team of artisans was recruited from roadside wood carving shops so their handiwork was already impeccable. This meant training the rest of the team came easily. As we are finally back to full capacity, the number of artisans in our workshop stands at 45!

A mix of women and men make up the team of carvers and as we have mentioned before each artisan is paid the exact same amount. While we value all of the artisans the same, empowering our women employees is fundamental to our social enterprise. We insisted on hiring Caroline, who is our Human Recourses lady as we believed this would make the environment for other women to work in more comfortable. She is approachable and tackles any problems fairly.

It has to be said that watching the artisans working in the workshop is truly a sight to be seen. I could sit there for hours and watch while each piece is bought to life. In my eyes, what makes our sculptures so captivating is how many characteristics they have and how different each one is. The capability each artisan has to visualize their artwork and bring it to life, often just from a picture printed on A4 is what sets them apart.

Our team in the office, although it may be small, is mighty! Joe and Lilian work in sales, they work around the clock with wholesalers all over the world, you may well have even spoken to them! Then we have George who is in charge of finance and makes sure things keep ticking on. I mentioned Caroline earlier who is HR and finally, we have Katie, Ocean Sole’s director.

While I am winding this blog up, it would be unfair not to mention YOU. You are really what makes us us. Without you, we would be nothing! While I have dipped into the story of our Ocean Sole family it only feels right to mention that your support helps many, it helps Kenya’s ecosystems, it helps Kenya’s families, children, grandparents. You make this possible, so thank you.

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