As International Women’s Day and the first National Biobased Products Day approach on March 8th, the shoe fits for American-made Okabashi Shoes, a biobased manufacturer predominately women-led, including CEO Sara Irvani.
The family-operated Buford, Ga. company has put their best foot forward with sustainability for more than 35 years by producing flip flops and sandals made with up to 45 percent biobased ingredients, including US soybean oil. Representing the one percent of American-made shoes worn in the US according to the Footwear Distributers and Retailers of America, Okabashi initially investigated utilizing scrap material to remain a lean operation.
“There are not many options for apparel or shoes that are made from a material that is both biobased and recyclable,” says Kim Falkenhayn, VP of Development for Okabashi Shoes. “Being able to reuse the materials from our shoes and make something that lasts just as long with the same performance standards is exactly what we wanted.”
Operating on a closed-loop manufacturing system, the rubber-alternative meets the road. Consumers are incentivized to send their well-loved Okabashi shoes for recycling, contributing to the company’s zero-waste operation.
“The bio component of our compound is our plasticizer, which gives the material flexibility,” Falkenhayn says. “We found that the newer materials derived from soy oil will not break down and have the same performance as petroleum-based shoes, but derived from a renewable resource.”
Readily available across the nation, consumers can find Okabashi in the seasonal aisles of CVS and Walgreens and at spas and resorts, fitting with their Japanese-inspired name meaning “wellness.” The company also landed a partnership with Target and is featured in stores nationwide.
“Our USDA BioPreferred Certification proves that a third of our product is derived from soy oil, a biobased product,” Falkenhayn says. “The practical reasons our customers love the shoes is because of the sustainability, performance and durability the shoe provides.”
Okabashi more than 1 million shoes annually and continues to look for ways to leverage soybean oil.
“As a U.S soybean grower, I am proud of our partnership with Okabashi and how soy helps frame their sustainability story,” says Susan Watkins, a United Soybean Board Director and Virginia soybean grower. “It’s certainly exciting to have yet another product that delivers sustainable soy solutions to more lives, every day.
Watkins is one of many U.S soybean growers who appreciate Okabashi’s strides with soy.
“We have had emails come in from soybean farmers telling us what it means to them knowing companies are trying to build demand for their soy,” says Falkenhayn. “Without the farming industry, we wouldn’t have this product. If we can grow demand for soy, we are not only bolstering the farmers, but also the thousands of rural communities across the country.”