Biz Whiz Becomes Umbrella Empress and More
Ever fashionably prepared for a rainy day, Josephine Firat, a University of St. Thomas alumna with multiple business degrees, is the founder of UZO Umbrellas, just one of the thriving enterprises she leads. She is making a splash in business.
Honored in 2013 as a Woman of Excellence by the Federation of Houston Professional Women, Firat also manages an academic counseling service she co-owns with her husband Ibrahim. In addition, she leads an after-school program to teach teenagers how to be entrepreneurs.
She earned her bachelor’s in business administration in 2004 while getting real-world experience working her way up to the position of manager in the grocery business. Firat completed an MBA in 2006 and accomplished a master’s in international business in 2009. What UST offered she highly recommends.
“The relationships that you build there are so valuable,” Firat said. “I still work with my friends from grad school, and we do business together. I had great professors too and built relationships with them. If I called them today, they would respond and answer my questions or help me with a resource I need. That’s invaluable to me.”
Leveraging all that UST gave her led to her unique umbrella product, which is remarkably strong, as beautiful as a fine work of art, and—thanks to a brilliant off-center design by Firat’s engineer cousin—provides the user with full-canopy shelter.
“My cousin had the idea, and I had the business skills,” Firat said. “We design the umbrellas in Houston, assemble them in China, ship them to the United States and sell them through online retailers.”
Success did not happen overnight. It took four years of experimenting with various engineering designs before she could be sure they had something that would be functional and fashionable, retaining the classic curvature of the Charlie Chaplin umbrella.
“They’re so gorgeous and durable that stores like Neiman-Marcus and Bergdorf’s in New York City offer them,” Firat said. Our market, of course, is the person who already has everything.”
Aside from knowing how to apply her business acumen, Firat is a leader of faith and character.
“My husband and I decided that whatever we do in our business it will be the right thing, which is not always easy,” she said. “We pay our contractors a premium rate and have even broken our own policy when a customer had an issue and was right. Doing the right thing is the foundation of our company.”