123: Running a US Shoemaking Business on Heritage and Sustainability with Sara Irvani, CEO of Okabashi

Strong values like sustainability, empathy, and wellness might seem at odds with running a successful business for some, but not Sara Irvani, CEO of Okabashi. In fact, values like these have been fundamental to Okabashi’s success since it launched in 1984.

Sara joins this episode of Manufacturing Happy Hour to clue us in on what it’s like leading a family-owned and operated shoe brand. A proudly USA-based footwear company, Okabashi is inspired by the Japanese concept of wellness and uses the principles of reflexology to design shoes that promote foot health and comfort.

We hear a little about its innovative manufacturing process, the importance of running a business with sustainable choices, and why that shouldn’t be at odds with financial viability. Sara also explains how Okabashi’s closed-loop manufacturing process works to recycle old products to avoid landfill and waste.


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3 Quick Things from this Episode

  1. Sustainability doesn’t need to be at odds with financial viability. It can be built into the manufacturing process and benefit the business, as it has with Okabashi.
  2. Innovation is essential to succeeding in manufacturing, and to promote it, you need a company culture that encourages innovation without fear.
  3. The key to building a successful business partnership is empathy – understanding the other party’s needs and challenges and working with them.

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Tweetable Quotes

  • “We offer as well as our own closed-loop manufacturing, a post-consumer circular program. So people can send their shoes back to us to avoid landfills.”
  • “I think that innovation comes from all different directions and there are so many things that can drive it. And having a culture that is not steeped in fear is a prerequisite to have innovation come from all directions.”
  • “I think if you stick to your values, and if you have a long enough horizon line, good things happen.”

Please Scroll Down for Recommended Resources from this Episode

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What We Discuss with Sara

  • The challenges of expanding as a U.S.- based manufacturer
  • How Sara’s background led to her current role
  • How sustainability is built into the Okabashi manufacturing process
  • How Okabashi’s closed-loop manufacturing works
  • Why sustainability doesn’t have to be at odds with financial viability
  • Why innovation comes from empowering your team
  • How Okabashi remains competitive in the U.S.
  • Modular automation in the shoe manufacturing process
  • Why empathy is key to building good partnerships
  • Why you need to stick to your values in business

Recommended Resources

Okasbashi, a proudly U.S. shoe company focused on creating shoes that promote wellness and foot health.

Connect with Sara

LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook | Sara Irvani