In March, due to COVID, our business was put into lockdown.
That forced me to let go of some amazing people, while asking the rest of my team to work from home until we knew what may be next; My worry frankly, like many of you in your own lives and workplace, was not having a clue what “next” meant or looked like at the time.
In the midst of that fear I promised myself that I may be locked down, but I will never be locked out.
I started to read online and hear of friends, many of them in the medical field, saying there was a real shortage of medical/surgical/face masks amidst a growing pandemic. Short supply meant delayed or no surgeries for people that desperately needed it. Lack of masks meant a virus had the ability to spread insanely fast before we could protect ourselves or our loved ones.
I started to think if there was a way I, we and Oliberté could help.
I was originally supposed to be in China in March to check on production for our sister brand, Viking Sandals. While that trip was not going to happen given the current events, it did mean I was in constant virtual communication with my team overseas.
Footwear factories in China were not essential and closed. So, I and my team in Asia started to have discussions to see if we could quickly mobilize our people and began sourcing and finding masks manufactures. And that is exactly what we did.
In the Mask Business.
From there, I sent out an email to many of you to see if you needed masks or knew of people or organizations that did. You replied and supported us beyond anything I could imagine. Emails, calls and texts kept flooding in. I could not handle it all on my own. I called back most of my staff, we hire more and we were back in the office figuring out what all this meant. Between March and May, I probably averaged 1-2 hours of sleep per night, as the need kept growing and no matter how much we worked, it was not nearly enough.
That, then quickly turned into a chaotic and logistical magic trick of sourcing and navigating Chinese customs to bring over 10 Million masks to support long-term care facilities, public health facilities, governments, and essential businesses here in North America. We procured dozens of shipments by air sea and road and even chartered 3 massive airplanes stuffing them with masks in every available corner of what normally would be passenger aircrafts.
The Oliberte Way.
The same responsible way we have always tried run Oliberte, we put in place that same philosophy to source and supply our masks. While we believed we were doing the right thing and the right way, it was hard to see so many things I saw and heard.
It was the wild west. There were so many greedy mask cowboys and cowgirls, jacking up prices, making so much money and even holding masks hostage in abandoned warehouse (to jack up the price more) from those in need. It was disgusting to see but there was no ability to control to it, so some people took advantage.
Our goal was the same – get the masks asap to those that need it and make enough money to stay in business so when this is all over, we can go back to selling boots and sandals.
We were not perfect. We stumbled, sometimes a little, sometimes big and hard. In the end, we came through because the profit was not the purpose. Our driving force was the people and our partners that needed our help and fast.
Literally overnight, we were in the masks business.
Made in Canada Masks.
In May, with no end in sight and lots of negative pressure on masks made in China, we purchased ever so blindly the needed equipment to make those same masks in Canada.
Twenty employees later, making 50,000 masks per day, today we run our factory 7 days a week. We continue to support our partners and so many more new ones with proud domestic production made right here in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. At the end of this month we will have made our 5 millionth Canadian mask!
Supporting our Children.
Taking it a step further, our team wanted to do more as the holiday season approached, and this month we were lucky enough to donate thousands of masks to a number of children organizations and underprivileged schools within Ontario, as well as northern communities in Canada.
I and the Oliberte team are so thankful for the community, friends and partners we have come to know over the last 10+ years and especially this unique year.
We are head to toe a responsible company (from sandals to boots to masks to toques). None of it possible without your continued support.
Wishing you a happy holiday like no other.
Keep safe, stay strong. Stay together.
Tal and the Oliberte family.