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.
Project leader and boat builder
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 coastal environments worldwide. In this project, he engineers the bridge between traditional craftsmanship and modern materials. His work connecting these technologies together has been supported by Simon Scott-Harden, who is based at Northumbria University in the UK, and has brought expertise in the world of design, advanced materials and manufacturing. Leonard believes that plastic waste has an inherent value, and is part of the The Flipflopi to inspire others to realise this.
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 managed to work his way back to this wonderful part of the world and spend some years in the region.
It was a chance meeting that gave Shyam the opportunity to join the FlipFlopi Project, which was immediately alluring. Shyam hopes the project will have a lasting impact on how persons in East Africa, and beyond, go about reducing their consumption of plastics.
East Africa and the Swahili culture has always been close to Rebecca’s heart having lived as a teacher in Tanzania before she settled in London several years ago.
Rebecca’s background is in communications and is so inspired by the Flipflopi that she wants to dedicate her free time to supporting the project, starting with its first overseas expedition from Lamu to Zanzibar in January.
Rebecca is most passionate about the positive and colourful way that the FlipFlopi aims to change behaviours: the ability to make people smile whilst clearly engaging people around such a massive global issue is really special – and she is proud to be a part of it.
Since his first experience in an NGO in a developing country (Tonga Islands), Victor has been deeply marked by waste management issues and ocean pollution.
His background is in development economics and energy access. His professional path made him travel throughout the African continent: Burkina Faso, Liberia, Madagascar.
All these experiences strengthened his concerns about plastic pollution and his willingness to contribute to solve this modern disaster.
An amazing concert of Salif Keita in Nairobi made him cross the route of the FlipFlopi project.
Beyond plastic pollution, Victor hopes that the project will contribute to change people's way of thinking about consumption in order to aspire to a "zero waste" sustainable world.
The Lamu crew
These are the men who make it real: Ali and his team of boatbuilders Ahmad, Hassan, Abu, Rashidi and more. They are working at the workspace in Lamu every day, exploring the properties of the recycled materials and using their boat building knowledge to work out how to turn all the plastic waste into a solid and strong sailing boat. As the project is attracting a lot of curious visitors, they also give tours for tourists, schools and journalists every now and then - explaining the problem and what we can do about it.
If you’re in the area, you might also see them sailing around with the Flipflopi ‘dogo’ - preparing for our expedition to Zanzibar!
Flipflopi Project supporters
Special thanks as well to all the people who contribute with time, energy and passion who have helped grow this #plasticrevolution!
Nathalie Houben, Alicia Brett, Jan van der Does, Elahe Anjarwalla, the team from Africa Practice, Pierina Redler, Lea Oneko, Ana Laura Santos, Mark Otieno, Naomi Phillips-Howard, Carole from Peponi, Angelika Scheutz, Mary Stone