CEO Sabrina Finlay is offering small footwear brands the production capabilities of bigger competitors at Otabo, her Minneapolis-based manufacturing consultancy.
Otabo, which Finlay launched two years ago, designs a custom supply chain for each brand’s product through what Finlay terms collaborative manufacturing.
Under that approach, Otabo does not own its own footwear factories, Finlay said.
Instead Otabo creates a network of partner factories, primarily in China, that it runs as if it does own them, Finlay said. Full-time Otabo staff oversee production of client products, train factory workers and purchase materials and sometimes equipment.
The larger pre-existing factory groups that big brands work with can be out of reach for new or smaller brands and may have equipment or other constraints that limit designs, Finlay said.
“We’re not taking an existing factory group and trying to fit brands into what’s there,” Finlay said. “We’re evaluating the brand, their product and identifying what’s important to the design, the function and what the end buyers care about. We’re understanding the goals and in some cases influencing design. We’ll then build the whole supply chain around that.”
Making even a simple sandal, Finlay notes, requires at least three separate factories — for materials, toolings and primary assembly. Complicated medical or athletic footwear involves more than 30 factories.
Otabo clients include Nobull training shoes, Kujo yard shoes and local women’s shoe startup Beryl Frances, said Finlay, who gained industry experience working in her father’s former shoe factory in south Florida, including three years on the production line.
Q: Who are Otabo’s clients?
A: Our clients are largely U.S.-based. We have some in Australia, Asia and just signed our first African client. We have some in the Middle East and Canada. We tend to work with new brands that tend to be smaller and doing something more unusual or innovative.
Q: Why is your model better for them?
A: If you’re a brand and want to manufacture with a pre-existing group you’re forced to create product that is limited by what that supply chain is. If you’re a small brand you can’t afford to diversify your supply chain so you have to go with one factory with their limited resources and limited capabilities.
Q: Why did you launch Otabo in Minnesota?
A: I followed my husband here for his job. We’ve loved it for a whole host of reasons. I didn’t see Minnesota as a place to build a footwear business because there isn’t a history of that here. But Minnesota has a lot of interesting resources and talent that made sense for my business. With the Fortune 500 companies and all the small businesses that support them, there’s a wide range of talent.