Meet the Team:
Naomi Wakatake, Creative Director
For our debut “Meet the Team” feature, we’re interviewing someone who has been a driving force behind Oka-B since the brand’s inception. Naomi Wakatake had already worked for sister brand Okabashi for six years before she was tasked with helping to create a separate brand called Oka-B.
Naomi joined Okabashi in the summer of 1999. She was about to graduate from art school when an acquaintance connected her with founder and CEO Bahman Irvani. She showed him her portfolio with the intent that he might be interested in purchasing some of her artwork for his collection. Instead, he asked her, “would you be interested in making shoes?”
Sixteen years later, Naomi continues to oversee and develop the vision of our shoe collections and the Oka-B brand. Through her creative direction, Oka-B continues to evolve season after season, incorporating the latest trends while building on on our reputation of quality and comfort.
We spent some time speaking to Naomi about what she does at Oka-B, her inspirations, and how she’s seen the brand evolve over the years.
What was behind the decision to develop a whole new brand and line of products? Back in 2005, what was your vision for Oka-B?
The vision behind beginning a separate brand was to break away from the purely utilitarian comfort shoe and create a product that was more feminine and fun, like an accessory for your feet. This model took off particularly with gift shops, resort shops, and spa gift shops. Our retailers and customers have really embraced Oka-B as stylish and comfortable footwear at an affordable price.
How has the brand and product offering evolved over the years?
Since 2005, Oka-B has grown and evolved a lot into something a little more stylish. The adornments on our shoes are much more sophisticated compared to when we started. Now we have many more types of different adornments, from whimsical to very urban and fashionable.
Where do you find inspiration for new shoe designs, colors and embellishments?
I definitely get my inspiration from fashion trends. Of course we don’t take every trend directly from the runway, we pick and choose what’s appropriate for our product and customers. We try to integrate trends into our new collections in such a way that those that wear our shoes can feel both contemporary and comfortable. We adapt trends so they can match the effortlessness of our shoes.
What is your favorite high fashion brand?
I have several! A few of my favorites are Celine, definitely Hermes, Fendi. I love their modern but very feminine styles, I think they have this timeless sense of quality. They have a really nice balance of being modern yet traditional, and always elegant.
What is your favorite style the brand has ever created?
To this day I still love my simple Chloe flip flops. That’s definitely my go-to shoe in our collection. Of course it’s not work-appropriate to wear flip flops, but I wear them all the time in the house and out on weekends.
How does a shoe go from initial concept to final product?
We start by doing our research. We look at trends, sales trends from previous years, and what our customers like. We listen to feedback from the retailers that stock our shoes and the customers that post product reviews to our website. Above all, we try to create shoes that our customers will want and love, so we go through the research process, then develop our mood boards for the next season. The designers create their sketches, then transform these into a CAD drawing to make prototypes. Next we make 3D samples, which we tweak, revise and modify until we’re satisfied with the design of the shoe. After that, we’ll make a sample mold of the shoes, allowing us to actually make the shoes at our factory and conduct multiple wear tests. This is when we make sure the shoe is comfortable to wear and meets all of our quality requirements. When all of that is ironed out we order our production molds to manufacture the shoes on a larger scale. This whole life cycle takes anywhere from 6 months to 8 months.
What are some favorite footwear trends that you’d consider integrating into future shoe designs and collections?
We’ll be coming out with a new wedge peep toe shoe this fall! We are also tinkering with the idea of platform shoes, more heeled shoes, and potentially booties and short boots for rainy days.
8. What are some exciting projects you’re currently working on?
I am currently working on finishing up the 2016 Spring Summer collection. The collection is a fresh mix of styles with clean bold metallics, charming bows and flowers, and ever-so-popular shimmering crystals. Our styles are designed to be versatile and wearable with any outfit and occasion. I am also very excited about a new style that is in the pipeline we hope to launch in the spring. It is a sibling to our Carson T-strap sandal, but in a slide style.
9. What is your favorite Oka-B style this season?
My go-to style for the summer is the Licorice Cokie. It works great with my summer work outfits and, of course, with all my outfits on the weekend. Cokie was the best travel companion during my recent trip to Tokyo. It was a perfect sandal to look stylish while comfortably walking all over Tokyo everyday. A fantastic travel shoe!! ; )
Naomi has been an instrumental part of the brand’s success for the last decade and we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Stay tuned for the launch of our 2015 Fall Collection, the latest testament to Naomi’s talents as chief designer of all things Oka-B!