Embracing the challenge to find viable, eco-friendly & sustainable solutions for the use and reuse of plastic waste

SUSTAINABILITY runs through everything that Lee Barker does! The owner of three businesses, Lee recently moved her operations to Woodstock in Cape Town, where she has set up shop in a building she has called The Manufactorie – a place to play.

Lee is the epitome of the saying “dynamite comes in small packages”. She is an out-of-the-box creative individual, full of drive and determination and with many years’ experience in the manufacturing industry. Her experience and her approach to sustainable brand building aligned to local manufacture, ethical employment opportunities and ‘green’ product lines, have led to the creation of her business ethos – a way to do business for good doing what you can with what you have – right now.  Her willingness to evolve as industry and the world evolves have also stood her in excellent stead during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am passionate about sustainable job creation in South Africa. My goal is to look after my staff, to create opportunities to create more sustainable jobs, and to make money!” she says. “I want to grow a brand with meaning,” she adds.

The majority of Lee’s customers are corporates, schools and local brands; some of her customers include large corporates like Coca Cola South Africa and Landrover, as well as initiatives such as PIKITUP, the official integrated waste management service provider to the City of Johannesburg.


Waste rubber for flipflops

The Flop Factory is Lee’s core business and her mission from the onset was to create a zero waste factory. 30% recycled rubber content is used to manufacture her trademark RAW sole range, offering the market a durable eco-friendly fully customizable flip flop range.

“We recycle our own waste back into our sheeting. It would not be possible to use recycled content that don’t manufacture as it would compromise the quality of our product,” Lee explains. “I do, however, have a plan that I am working on to make another product that will allow us to make new flipflops from old.”

GRRiTT, her flipflop brand, goes a step further – using waste rubber from discarded tyres to manufacture the tread. One tyre from a normal car makes 10 GRRiTT flipflop treads. The flipflops are extremely durable and come with a two-year guarantee, and “if it breaks, we replace it – unless your dog chewed it,” says Lee.

“The customer gets to have fun with our brand. They create their own GRR!TTs by choosing different colours and designs,” she adds.

Taking the sustainability theme even further, Lee collaborates with a sister company, project WAYSTD, and package every pair of GRRiTT flipflops sold in a co-branded 100% recycled PET carry bag. Since the Covid-19 pandemic a project WAYSTD facemask is also included. Two 2-litre plastic bottles are recycled to make these products.

“We go to great efforts to communicate to our clients that their purchase of a pair of GRR!TTs is a catalyst for change”, says Lee.


Focusing on the production of recycled products & education about recycling

“We’ve all seen it; it’s everywhere … Ban Plastic! Stop plastic production! Down with the plastic machine! We at project WAYSTD, consciously choose to face the fact that plastic products are here to stay for at least our lifetime, possibly that of our children,” says Lee.

“We embrace the challenge to find viable, eco-friendly and most importantly, sustainable solutions for the use and reuse of the plastic packaging waste we generate daily as a society. The reality is that plastic won’t just disappear overnight, nor will production of products containing plastic. Project WAYSTD not only focuses on the production of recycled products, but on the education of businesses, communities and consumers, ensuring that awareness is created around the consumption and recycling of all plastic products,” she adds.

The waste value of each item Lee takes to market is substantiated, carrying a clear message to the consumer that plastic waste is valuable.

“The Covid-19 pandemic was an opportunity to launch a facemask using 100% recycled PET fabric and our Project WAYSTD community-based initiative where clients have the opportunity to double up and donate a mask for every one purchased to a school or community in need. Three 2-litre PET bottles make five WAYSTD facemasks and the total bottles recycled is reflected on every invoice,” adds Lee.


What’s next?

Lee’s enthusiasm for life and the opportunities it presents already have her planning the next phase of development for her businesses. As the sole tenant of The Manufactorie in Woodstock – a large double storey space that has massive storefront appeal – Lee plans to incorporate a retail area into her factory space. She’s still deciding what this space will evolve into, but knowing Lee, it will be something brilliant!