Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Irma Desales works on the assembly line at the eco-friendly shoe company OKA b. located in Buford on Tuesday. About 3,000 shoes are made on this specific assembly line in an 8-hour time frame. OKA b. is a sister company of the shoe company Okabashi and will be donating $10 to the American Cancer Society for every shoe sold. The shoes are crafted using a single piece of proprietary "Microplast" material and are antimicrobial, waterproof and can be recycled.
BUFORD -- For 27 years, Okabashi (and, later, sister brand OKA b.) has focused on a single task: making comfortable shoes.
"That's the one thing we do," President Bahman Irvani said recently at the company's Buford factory. "And we try to do it well."
This year, they're also focused on finding a cure.
The company, depending on the season, employs about 200 people, most of them at its factory tucked in an office park just off of Buford Highway. Using rubber-plastic mixes and heavy focus on arch support and foot molds, both Okabashi and OKA b. -- the former sold at places like CVS and Walgreen's at a cheaper price point, the latter at boutiques and gift shops for a little more -- continue to flourish.
Even in tough economic times, the company has seen about 30 percent growth annually in recent years, Irvani said. Now, they're trying to give some of that back.
The OKA b. line has designed a special Relay for Life shoe, one of their more traditional slides with the twist of different colored ribbons bedecked with, well, more ribbons.
For every pair of the limited edition "pink ribbon Madisons" sold online, $10 will go directly to the American Cancer Society.
"Effectively, it's not a for-profit sale for us once you calculate everything," Irvani said. "We're hoping to break even, but either way it's great for us to contribute our bit to the cause."
That's not even to mention the fact that, for every pair of the slides purchased online through Oct. 31, a pair of shoes will be donated to a cancer patient undergoing treatment at places like the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge.
OKA b. has already donated more than 5,000 pairs.
"We're just a teeny-tiny company and (the American Cancer Society) is huge," Vice President Kelly Schmidt said. "But it's nice to help out."
For more information or to purchase a pair of shoes, visit oka-b.com.
The way Okabashi and OKA b. make shoes like the pink ribbon Madison is relatively simple, and cost effective -- a single mold can account for thousands of pair of shoes. Once they are physically made, one pair typically spends just about 90 seconds on an assembly line getting all the ribbons, beads and other decorations added on, Vice President of Logistics Chris Webb said.
That leaves plenty of time for work before the whole process actually starts, Irvani said, time spent achieving the perfect amount of comfort and healthy fit.
"We can actually spend 10 times more time getting the actual mold exactly right. Like a sculptor would," he said. "Our head of design is actually a sculptor."
Irvani credited a number of factors with his company's continued success: more return customers, a movement away from Chinese imports, and improved streamlining and coordination between the two brands.
Things like that give OKA b. the opportunity to kick in for a good cause.
"We're very lucky to have the American Cancer Society based in our home state (in Atlanta), where we can sort of drive down and meet them and conceptualize things," Irvani said. "It's a win-win situation."