Okabashi: The next step in American made
You don’t know what CEO means until you become one. It’s really “Chief Everything Officer.” My name is Sara Irvani. I’m the CEO of Okabashi Brands. I’ve spent 30 plus years running the factory and it’s time for a change. And Sara, the person who she is, raised her arm and said, “I can run it.” And it took me about 15 seconds to say, “done, deal.” When I started, I really tried to understand the story of Okabashi on a deeper level. My grandfather was actually the largest shoe manufacturer in Iran and from there he came to Buford. In the 1980s, when Okabashi was founded, about 60% of shoes were made in the US. Now it’s only around 1%. For my grandfather it was very important that you could talk to the people making the shoes, understand the quality, and I think that’s something that we didn’t think that we could keep if we moved our factories thousands of miles away. What matters is how something is made, what matters is who makes it. We’ve got about 63% women and we have a women’s leadership team. Sara has absolutely reinvigorated the company. We’re looking at how can we really be lean and mean and stay here in the US. And so one of the ways was to look at how can we utilize reusable materials so that you don’t have to throw away your scrap. And what was started out of necessity really yielded a process that’s very green and is sustainable. There are a lot of people who really care passionately about sustainability, about made in USA products. And it’s so important that we reach these people, that we tell them that we’re here and Google Ads allows us to do that. We figured out that made in USA has been one of the best performing search terms. You can take something that intuitively makes sense and then test it in the real world. And have the numbers to say what aspect of it works and what doesn’t. Currently 64% of our online sales come from Google Ads. In the last two years we’ve sold 320,000 more pairs of shoes since when I started and we sell over a million pairs of shoes per year. This relates to higher levels of activity in the factory, more jobs being created. I think that in terms of the amount of time that people stay with a company, that they really become part of the Okabashi family. I think it’s about how we make our shoes that we’re part of the remaining 1% of made in USA. Whether it’s our women’s leadership, or it’s us really at the forefront of sustainability. We are growing in a really real way, and I think Okabashi is really so much more than just a shoe company. It has a soul.