Girls like Liz Paul weren’t supposed to grow up to be savvy business women running retail empires. If anything, they’re supposed to be unstable adult wards of the state. Growing up in Florida as the neglected daughter of a business woman and an artist, Liz Paul recalls that she often had to fend for herself and her siblings. She beat statistics, and is the proud owner of the wildly successful retail shoe empire, U.B.U Shoes.
The business woman’s success can be partly attributed to her tenacity when it comes to taking note of neglected markets. Paul often noticed that the bigger shoes sizes get, the less stylish they tend to be. So in addition to smaller sizes, her self-honed shoe retailer also sells affordable yet trendy shoes for women whose shoe size is above a size 8.
In addition to running U.B.U. Shoes, Paul runs Simply U.B.U—which sells trendy clothing for women.
Kreyolicious: At a young age, you had to fend for yourself and take care of your siblings. I know I’ve read stories where a person would be given huge responsibilities at a young age, and become resentful as a result. Did you have to deal with that? Feeling that you had to grow up too quickly??
I was very resentful and mad at the world. At a young age, my parents left me which caused a very strained relationship with them. It caused me to be mad and happy at the same time. Not only did I have to take care of my siblings—who still live with me today, but I had businesses that I had to learn and operate. I had to learn to drive at the age of 13 so that I could get my little brothers to and from school. I can even remember forging documents just so that I could make deposits in the bank; these were responsibilities that were forced upon me. It’s sad, because I look back and I didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle until two years ago—something that most kids learn at an early age. In fact, my daughter is the reason that I learned to ride a bike. I didn’t want my daughter to learn how to ride a bike before me, and she still learned a day early. My parents were so business oriented and into that life. My father was a musician, and was never around and my mom owned her own businesses and centered her life on that and money. At an early age, I became disconnected from my biological parents. Business is all that I know. The man I considered by father owned three boats that imported and exported goods to and from Haiti and Florida. My little brother was very sickly from the day he was born and because everyone was so concerned with their own lives, I had to raise him myself.
Kreyolicious: How’d you overcome all of this?
In order to overcome everything and deal with it, I just learned to get over it. When I look at my brothers and my daughter, I’m proud and it just makes me smile and makes everything worth it. I made many mistakes on my journey. I didn’t have a roadmap, I just created it as I went along. I’m proud to say that both of my boys—my brothers—graduated and went to college and my daughter is 10 going on 30. As far as my parents and everything that they put me through, I wish them the best. I pray for them daily. I don’t want to block my blessings by being angry.
Kreyolicious: You went through a depression at one point. What helped you go through those rough times?
Two things…My daughter and my boys—brothers. They don’t have anyone else, only me and after my dad died (not her biological father), that’s when I went into depression. My daughter’s nanny took my daughter away for 3-6 months because I just couldn’t function. At that time, I had a job that paid $80,000 a year, and I lost it because I couldn’t go to work or eat. Luckily, I had enough in my savings to get by and to continue to put my daughter through school. But, being depressed is an understatement! Though he wasn’t my biological father, it felt like he was and he has been a rock and strong and positive figure in my life. To lose that, was devastating.
The second thing that helped me get through was thinking of my dad always saying, “Manje. Manje. Manje”—which means eat, eat, eat. I remember that no matter what was going on, he would tell us that, he meant it literally and he meant it figuratively, but thinking about it definitely helped me and to this day gets me through. Every time I get down I think about that literally and think about his drive and hustle and how hard he went for us every day!
Kreyolicious: As you built your business, were there times when you felt that maybe it wasn’t mean to be? How did you get through those times?
I originally started my company off with a business partner. However, I saw very early on that we had two different visions. My main priorities were growth, branding and helping women that felt like they had to be accepted through society by being fashion forward and trendy. I wanted to do it for that girl who felt she needed to spend her entire check, or forgo paying her light bill to fit in—whether it be to buy Christian Louboutin or whatever. So my whole point was to make sure all women felt beautiful, good and trendy without having to sacrifice so much. I just wanted all women to be themselves at any budget. However, my business partner didn’t see it that way. She was more, “Let’s make money and pocket it”. So when the opportunity arose, I bought my partner out, and it was definitely one of the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make. When I was contemplating doing it, I got on my knees and prayed for weeks, “Dear God please give me a sign you want me to do this.” It’s crazy because one day all the resources became available to me, and available to me for free! Everything I wanted and needed to make UBU Shoes a success on my own! It was if nothing could go wrong and God just opened every door.
Above: A sampling of some of the merchandise sold by U.B.U. Shoes.
Kreyolicious: What would you say to someone who’s trying to build a business, but who has personal problems to deal with that keep on getting in the way?
One thing about me is that I’m a runner. If I don’t feel something is right, I run. But nothing will stop me from doing what I want. What I want people to understand is that personal issues will arise. But you have to ask yourself, “What’s more important?” What you want for yourself or the negative things? It gets tiring, but you have to dig deep and find out what’s important to you. Exclude everything that prevents you from being Number One.
Kreyolicious: Where do you draw your strength from?
I would be lying to you if I said some days weren’t easier or harder than others. I’m not a failure; I’m a go-getter. So failure is not an option. If I have to do things, I get them done. My dad never lost. So my goal every day is to make my dad proud and live how he taught me. When I’m tired and can’t go on anymore, that’s when I dig deeper and keep going. I’m always on go-mode.
Kreyolicious: How do you stay connected to Haiti?
My dad is originally from Saint-Louis-du-Nord. To be honest, I have not been back to Haiti since my dad passed. I never had a need or want when he was around; I vacationed at Coco Beach, Haiti; Labadee, Haiti and the Citadel in Haiti. My dad was very prominent. When I retire, I want to buy a big house in Haiti. But to be honest, I’m scared. I’m scared that when I touch down at the airport, my dad won’t be there to pick me up and I don’t know how I can deal with that. My boys brothers frequent Haiti all the time. In fact, I sponsored a trip for the oldest in January where he stayed until June. I support him and his endeavors to follow my dad’s footsteps in the import-export business. I physically want to go back. Haiti made me whole. When I think about it, it may be the void I’m missing. But I don’t want to breakdown. Nevertheless, I have plans to go back. I send stuff back such as clothes, shoes, money, all the time. However, I know the moment I put my foot back there, I can make a difference—especially in the Cap-Haitien area. But my dad is the only thing that is stopping me from physically going there. I love Haiti.
Kreyolicious: You’re a single mom, a friend and a business owner. What do you do to keep everything balanced out?
I make sure that I make time for my family first and foremost. My daughter is always first priority. But it’s about being balanced and making time.
Kreyolicious: If you could give Kreyolicious readers some tips about handling money and finances, what would it be?
Currently, I’m reading The Richest Man in Babylon. In fact, I’m on the last chapter. One of the key themes in the book is to build a lean first. This means you start off small, take 10% of your income or salary and put it away—as if it never existed. When that number is what you want, invest it. Make sure you’re investing with a person that specializes in the field that you’re trying to get into. Make sure you invest in something you truly believe in—and make it work for you. You always want to be better than last year. An example can be with Christmas. Were you struggling last year and are you still struggling this year to get gifts for everyone? If so, you’re doing something wrong. If you feel you’re headed backwards, start small and start saving for your savings or for a rainy day. Once you have enough to invest, you need to re-invest. Your job won’t make you rich, but investing will—real estate, property, stock, insurance, business, etc. Re-invest, invest and re-invest.
Kreyolicious: Sounds good to me…What’s next for you?
I want to continue building U.B.U Shoes and telling my story. I strongly believe that if I can do it, anyone can. I know everyone has obstacles…ups and downs. I get it. My mom gave me up for money at one time! I remember she gave me condoms to go sleep with men for money. When I refused, she took away everything and disowned me. I had no money, no phone, no place to live, nothing. So, if I can come back from a situation like that and get this far and raised a child and raised my brothers at such a young age, anyone can. I’m 30 and I’ve experienced more than a sixty-year-old, and I still have more experiencing to do. I just hope I can motivate someone to do something they thought they couldn’t do—and help motivate them to follow all of their dreams.