Prior to building colourful boats out of plastic Ben spent a decade building a travel business focused on Africa – aided and abetted by lots of photos of the glorious Indian Ocean coastline from Kenya down to Cape Town. As a direct response to the alarming degradation of this coastline by plastics, and flip flops in particular, Ben started the FlipFlopi Project. There is clearly a huge lag between the scale of the ocean plastics problem and the level of awareness about it amongst everyday consumers. The FlipFlopi Project is committed to changing that.
The FlipFlopi Projects chief boat builder - Ali comes from a family of carpenters and dhow builders in Lamu that traces its roots back to the very first settlers arriving on Lamu in the 1300’s. His father and grandfather were the first craftsman to carve the ornate wooden doors that have – alongside Dhow building – since become synonymous with Lamu. Ali himself has taken up the baton and is a renowned 'master carver' and Dhow Fundi (builder) in his own right - with examples of his work found in museums and collections around the world – the National Museum in Washington DC among them. Ali is passionate about Lamu's heritage and about preserving the health of the oceans both for marine life and coastal peoples worldwide.
Having lived on the Kenyan Coast for seven years, Dipesh became addicted to trash. He was obsessed with what else one could do with all the flip-flops and discarded bottles that he picked off the beach. For a few years, he had a lot of fun building giant size sculptures (have a look at Mfalme the Whale) from thousands of flip-flops as well as houses, water tanks and other structures from plastic bottles. Alas, his children, he was told, could not spend their lives picking trash, and school fees had to be raised, so he and his family left the coast and moved up country where he currently runs an outdoor adventure company near Mt Kenya where its far too cold to wear flipflops.
Leonard is a design engineer, dedicated to turn the tide around and create a sustainable balance between us and our hosting biosphere. His experience in product development ranges from microscopic parts and plastic composites to large solar constructions. In all his projects, he is determined to care for, and promote the environment. He grew up in Germany, studied and worked in the Netherlands, and in 2016 washed ashore in Kenya.
Leonard is a nature lover and, as a surfer he is very well aware of the pollution of the seas and coasts worldwide, and its danger to living beings.In this project, he engineers the bridge between traditional craftsmanship and modern materials. He believes that the ubiquitous trash plastic can be turned into a valuable and widely available resource, and that this project can inspire many to make their own objects and creations.
Sakhile Mthembu was born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Having lived in multiple cities, like Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg and most recently Nairobi Kenya. He has seen firsthand the implications of plastic pollution and the devastating effects it has on the environment. He truly prides himself with the work that he is doing with The FlipFlopi Expedition campaigning for a social change and inspiring the public towards the plastic revolution.
“My biggest motivation daily is to leave a lasting legacy for my son to enjoy, a clean beautiful environment.”
Benson is the flip-flop man of the Kenyan South Coast. He has been involved in environmental work (Marine Conservation Project) for many years: leading beach clean ups, and is specialized in making art out of recycled flip-flops. He taught many youths (Camp International) on the dangers of flip-flops in the ocean and shared his flip-flop craft skills with them. One example of his impressive workmanship is the huge turtle made out of thousands of flip-flops, collected from Diani beach, in front of the Nakumatt supermarket.
A powerful symbol to create local awareness on the flip-flop pollution along the coast line. Benson is committed to make the Dhow the most colourful FlipFlopi boat. He is excited to contribute his expertise towards this unique environmental project. It will ask tremendous skills to ensure 200,000 flip-flops will be fitted safely!
Katharina grew up with Kenya as her second home and soon realized that she wanted to work on solutions for environmental and social issues. While studying industrial design in Germany, she took a semester out to do research on plastic waste in Kenya and since then, she doesn't miss any opportunity to visit dumpsites, recycling projects or manufacturers on her way. With a mission to communicate the problem and find solutions, she dedicates every free minute to contribute to projects like the Flipflopi - and joins Ali and the Crew once in a while to help build the boat or sail around the beautiful Lamu Islands.
Whilst his roots are in London, generations of Shyam's family were born and raised in East Africa and he has managed to work his way back to this wonderful part of the world. Shyam is now resident in Kenya, as a lawyer for a young English company. The opportunity to join the FlipFlopi Project was immediately alluring to Shyam as it is aiming to tackle, head-on, the acute impact of plastic pollution. Shyam hopes the project will have a lasting impact on how persons in East Africa, and beyond, go about reducing their consumption of plastics.