Having sold more than 35 million pairs of “Made in USA” shoes, Buford, Georgia-based Okabashi may be one of the footwear industry’s best kept secrets.
Founded in 1984 as a wellness line of sandals, the family owned and operated business has been (and remains) passionate about comfort, sustainability and local manufacturing—long before the three words entered the popular vernacular of consumers.
The company, which produces the Okabashi and Oka-B brands, owns the Buford factory where 200 employees produce 100 percent vegan, plant-based recyclable footwear. The company strives for closed-loop recycling, reporting that the average pair of Okabashi sandals contain approximately 15 to 25 percent recycled materials. Meanwhile, the factory’s central location to many transportation centers in the U.S. results in a reduced carbon footprint. In fact, the company says its shoes travel 93 percent less than the average imported shoe.
“We’ve been a responsible manufacturer for a long time, not because it’s trendy,” said Sara Irvani, Okabashi CEO. “We’re a relatively small business and efficiency is important.”
Okabashi shoes are based on the belief that good health starts from the foot up. The men’s and women’s brand, sold at CVS and Walgreens, are designed to promote correct weight distribution and support, while featuring an anatomically correct, therapeutically contoured insole. The shoes feature arch support and a heel cup to promote proper alignment of the feet and spine, a toe rest that prevents feet from sliding forward, allowing a more sure-footed step and massaging beads that are strategically placed across the foot-bed of each shoe to stimulate different areas of the sole.
Okabashi shoes also feature a signature Microplast material, which is a specially formulated, patented and recyclable blend of plastics that is soft, flexible, non-slip, odor-resistant and dishwasher safe.
Seven years ago, the company saw an opportunity to develop these materials into a more fashionable product line called Oka-B. Known for dressier silhouettes and resort-friendly flourishes, Oka-B has helped the company open international doors. The brand is sold in over 5,000 independent boutiques worldwide, as well as in the hotel spas and gift shops of the Wynn Palace, Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. Drop ship programs are also available.
Building on these successes, the company is introducing fresh product, new retail partners and a (yet to be named) brand geared toward the social and style interests of millennials.
This summer Okabashi launched Shoreline on Target.com, a line of sandals that offers the same benefits of the original Okabashi brand with brighter colors, metallic and current colorways. “They are going to be very successful and we’ve created a connection as well that will resonate with a younger demographic,” Irvani said.
The company aims to maintain that momentum into next summer when it launches a new brand targeted to millennials. While product is the main driver of sales for Okabashi and Oka-B, Irvani recognizes that younger generations of consumers wish to purchase products with a meaningful story. The launch of a new brand is an opportunity for Irvani to amplify her company’s unique heritage. “We didn’t create something to fit into this story. This is actually who we are and the authenticity of our story will come out with our new line,” she explained.
The unnamed brand will launch next spring with three styles: a classic flip-flop, a closed-toe shoe for year-round wear and a spin on a ballet flat.
Managing three footwear brands, running a factory and the desire to elevate “Made in USA” manufacturing might seem like a lot on Irvani’s plate, but she’s up for the challenge. “Made in America has never been an advantage, but there’s a cool cache that comes with it now. Retailers are having great sell-through,” she said, adding that the factory recently turned around an order for 40,000 pairs in two weeks.
“We are very hands-on when it comes to quality control. We make sure the designer is in the same building to ensure that designs are accurate,” she said. “I’m determined to prove that we can operate at any scale and grow efficiently and effectively. For me, I find it extremely inspiring to see how it’s made and be with the team. I don’t see why we can’t do it.”