Meet Nuoceans: The brand behind ocean waste sandals

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Jemima Heard
March 15, 2021

Nuoceans are on a mission to free the ocean from unrecyclable plastic. Each year, eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean. The majority of this plastic is unrecyclable. This plastic is often mistaken for food by sea animals and birds, causing an annual mortality rate of over 1 million marine animals to ocean plastic.

"There is so much plastic in marine animals at the moment," says Oceanographer Eirk Van Sebille, "Almost every dish and bird that has been cut open for science, we find plastic inside it. It is really hard to find an animal that doesn't have plastic inside of it."

So what is Nuocean's solution to this growing mountain of ocean plastic pollution? Sandals. Nuocean are a member of our Sustainable Innovation programme and are benefitting from A2i funding.

Founder Terence Chung spoke to the South Bank Innovation team about his idea.

Hi Terence! Thanks for speaking with us. Please can you start by describing your product in a sentence?

We use unrecyclable ocean waste flip flops to make new sandals that are 100% recycled and are themselves, 100% recyclable.

How did you decide that there was a need for your product?

Ocean plastic pollution is an increasingly severe global crisis, threatening ocean wildlife and the environment. Discarded flip flops contribute significantly to plastic pollution as the most sold form of footwear. Billions of pairs of flip flops are produced every year and sold to the majority of the world’s population. They are an often poorly made form of footwear and many are quickly discarded. Most of these are not recycled or reused, not only polluting our ecosystems, but requires vast amounts of energy and resources to produce new plastic materials to continuously meet the demand.

There are currently no widespread commercial processes for reusing this vast source of material that pollutes our environment, so we knew there was a need to come up with a product that both cleans our environment of this waste and also does not contribute to further pollution.

Where are you hoping to take your business, in the long term?

In the long term, we hope to expand our business into a range of products that all have a circular manufacturing process and become a brand that represents cleaning the oceans.

What stage are you at currently?

We are currently in the final stages of prototyping our product and would be looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign soon for the initial offering of our product.

What has been a challenge or what obstacles have you encountered?

Being completely new to the fashion industry one of the main challenges we had - we had to find our footing and create networks and connections with those in the fashion industry whilst learningabout the way the industry works. It was also a challenge to find manufacturers who were willing to take a risk in prototyping a completely new product.

Also another big challenge was finding a design and process in which we can utilise these unrecyclable materials to make sandals, but at the same time not compromise on the looks and feel of the sandal. We had to researc various materials and combinations that would optimise the percentage of ocean waste used but also still maintain comfort.

Why do you want to work with us?

We believe that we still have a long way to go in terms of research and development ofour materials and processes, and many aspects can still be optimised. We hope with access to academic expertise and university research facilities, we will gain insights into how to improve this. Finally, we don't want to limit our materials to footwear - it would be interesting to research what further uses it can have.

Let's talk more about you. Tell us about yourself?

I am 26 years old and a graduate in Biology from Imperial College London. My passion has always been in the environment and doing my part in preserving it. My background is more on the academic side and research in universities. However, I wanted to have a real-world impact and decided to start a business that combines my passion.

What does a typical day look like to you? 

I am sure that this is a very typical answer from an entrepreneur but there is not a typical day. Being completely new to running a business we always have to expose ourselves to new things and constantly learn about new things and the list of tasks that you have to do to start a business is a never-ending one. One day you can spend it entirely in front of a computer researching a new topic and or finding contacts online that can help with your startup, another day you can be out all day attending masterclasses and networking events.

However, running a startup is a balancing act and you need to have good organisational skills. It is important that we don’t get too stuck on one thing and neglect other areas since there is always more you can learn and more you can do for a specific area.

What were you doing before you founded your company? 

I co-founded this company with myfriends more or less soon after graduating from my master’s degree.

How did this experience help you build develop your product?

Having studied ecology in my master’s degree, it definitely gave me the understanding on the issues our environment faces, which is essential in establishing the values of our startup. Also the methodical and systematic approach I learned from science has been an asset inthe way we have worked our company.

What is your top tip for a start-up or SME developing a new product?

Don’t wait for it to be perfect before launching it. You can always continue to make improvements even after you have launched.

 Finally, what's your favourite thing to do outside of work?

Play video games.

Want to find out more about Nuocean's innovative sandals? Head to nuoceans.com where you can sign up to their mailing list.

Are you working on a concept that'll turn waste into marketable product? Find out about the Sustainable Innovation programme, which provides free support to businesses like Nuoceans.