It’s ‘Etsy,’ Kenyan Style: Making Art Out Of Flip-Flops And Bottle Tops


Sure, it’s tough to earn a living as an artist. But it helps if your materials don’t cost a lot. At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, several of the Kenyan craftspeople work wonders with discarded beer bottles and flip-flops.

Jonathan Lento: He Fashions Flip-Flops Into Funky Fauna

Jonathan Lento grips a slender knife in one hand and a colorful block made of glued-together flip-flops in the other.

He carves away at the block, unearthing the wild beast within. He chips a few more bits and sands the rough spots to reveal a blue gorilla, which he places next to a hippo, a dolphin and a rhino, all carved from flip-flops.

The sculptures aren’t just a fun project. They’re part of the artist’s marine conservation efforts. Ocean trash is a threat to sea turtles, he explains. They might try to eat a floating flip-flop, choke and die.

Lento’s organization, Ocean Sole, partners with the Kenya Lamu Marine Conservation Trust to collect flip-flops from Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. The goal is to gather 400,000 a year. Community members find the flip-flops; Ocean Sole buys them, cleans them, then crafts them into sculptures to sell.

Lento says his favorite is a 7-foot-tall giraffe, which was on display at the Folklife Festival. Its Styrofoam skeleton is covered with flip-flop pieces of pink and yellow and red and green.

“This is one way of cleaning our environments — that’s why we make these sculptures,” he says. Visitors to the festival “oohed” and “aahed” at the giraffe — and got a lesson from Lento in the plight of the sea turtle.

Jonathan Lento takes flip-flops  out of the ocean and carves them into animal sculptures.

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