Saturday, February 23, 2013

Feel Good Friday - UniquEco

Flip flop rhino
Those of you who pay attention to things like days of the week will notice that it's Saturday, not Friday. I've had a busy week and fell behind so in the interest of getting this post out before it becomes Feel Good Tuesday, I'm recycling an old story about... recycled flip flops! (groan if you must, I can't hear you)

Julie Church & Me
This is the story of UniquEco, the Flip Flop Recycling Company based in Nairobi, Kenya. I learned about them on my travels through Africa in 2007.  Founded by Julie Church, a marine conservationist and native Kenyan, the company works with people on the coast of Kenya to collect washed up flip flops and turn them into art.

Before they become art
Say what? Here's what. If you're reading this blog, I suspect you're well aware of the harmful effects of plastic pollution in the oceans.  You bring your own bag to the store and your own water bottle to the park. Great, me too!  But did you have any idea what a problem footwear causes?

Flip flop necklace anyone?
Flip flops are the footwear of choice for many people around the world. The problem is, discarded flip flops tend to find their way into streams, rivers and eventually the oceans. Currents carry this trash across the miles to the coastline of Northern Kenya. Not wanting to see their beaches covered in trash, the people of Lamu began collecting the flip flops, turning them into art and selling them to the tourists.

Artists working in the studio
UniquEco works with the artists on the coast as well as house a team of artists in Nairobi who work on flip flops collected locally. The brand of flip flop helps identify where it came from. Although some wash up from as close as Tanzania, others make their way to Kenya from Indonesia and China! Sadly there is a never ending supply of flip flops for the artist of UniquEco.

Masai artists artists at work
The good news is, by creating art made from trash people not only clean up the beaches but they also earn an income through their creativity and raise awareness of environmental issues. Julie believe very strongly in the power of art as an important medium for conservation and development. To learn more about her and see the artists (and me) at work, you can check this short video I made back in 2008.

Production Manager,
Ali Bwanamusa
So there you have it. Buy some flip flop art, share this post with your friends or just bask in a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that the people of Africa are using their creativity to improve both their own situations and the health of the oceans.

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