Uzma Irfan: The Girl Who Wouldn't Take No For An Answer

The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur and founder of Sublime, who is often attached to the legacy of her father’s flourishing real estate business, says that despite her background, her identity is her own

Published On Mar 29, 2024 | Updated On Mar 29, 2024


Born into one of the most influential business families in Bengaluru, Uzma Irfan does not deny the legacy of her family but also is quite steadfast when she says, “My own identity is my own.” 

The daughter of Irfan Razack, CMD of the real estate company, Prestige Group, Bengaluru, has seen her family grow from their humble beginnings — “we were always not what we are today, you know” — has seen her father work really hard towards building a brand and her mother focused on family. “I don’t believe material wealth is what gauges the net worth of a person. At the end of the day, your value is decided by the kind of person you are,” says Uzma. 


“I’m born into a fairly orthodox Muslim community but my family is different; they’ve always been supportive of women wanting to work and making their own name. And as a child, I have seen my dad work really hard; we didn’t really go for fancy holidays back then. Dad would say that we wouldn’t really be able to appreciate stuff at that age. For us, I think it was more about time spent with family, wherever we went. And it was fun!” she says, adding, “Nothing was given to me on a silver platter. We had to work for it.” 

Little Uzma’s baby step into the world of business happened when she decided to start her own mixtape venture at the age of nine. “My mom and I both love music and when she offered to start giving me pocket money, I turned her down. Even back then, it didn’t feel right. They were giving us good education, making sure we always had good food. We were supposed to help her, not take money from her! But then I had an idea. I used to love music and would make mixtapes and then compile songs and put them on a CD and people would buy music from me. I called my “company” Heartbeat. This was in 1995, and then around 1998, it was changed to Sublime, which is how the whole name came into existence,” Uzma reminisces. 

But her entrepreneurial venture as a ‘mixtape expert’ was strictly monitored by her father, because studies came first. “After a few years, my mom said I should learn some new skills and she decided to teach me baking. So, she gave me the toughest cake to bake; she gave me the recipe for a Red Devil’s Food Cake and the first thing I did was get my brother and mother out of the house so I could bake by myself. Mom was impressed!” Uzma says. 

Then she started baking brownies, quickly moving on to cookies and chocolate and coffee mousse and soon, the 13-year-old was selling her bakes through a small store and obviously began to supply to her friend’s families as well. “My mom always told me that there are 24 hours in a day and we shouldn’t waste them. She truly has been our biggest support system.” 

Deep down, Uzma admits that she always had the feeling that she wanted to do something to help her father’s business grow. “He inspired me, truly,” she says. “But there was no red carpet waiting for me.” Her induction into the Prestige Group was organic in a way. “The way I used to spend time with my dad was on a Sunday when he would visit sites. After I finished school, I went to dad and said I wanted to work with him. He sent me to college instead and said “study for a year and then we’ll see”. But I couldn’t really fit into the classroom system. But I did a year and went back to him and he said, “sorry but I cannot hire anyone without a degree”. I was adamant. I said, “listen, I am not here for your chair, I am here to learn”. So, he sent me to the marketing department and asked me to start from scratch. I was not allowed to be treated differently. I was just a regular employee, but it was two good years!” 

At 21, Uzma married Zaid (it was arranged but of course) and the two went to London. “Zaid and I went to London where I completed my degree and he finished his hospitality management programme. But then dad spoke with Zaid and suddenly we were packing our bags to return to India. He had told my husband how he could not manage the business without me etc, and Zaid fell for it,” she laughs. And while she went back to Prestige and begun all over again but this time with the finance department, she also realised that the company needed a serious brand overhaul. “That's when I came up with the whole brand manual; we used to depend a lot on agencies too. But I said no, this cannot be. Therefore, in 2006, the brand team was formed with just one other person,” Uzma tells us. 

Call her stubborn, but Uzma says that she likes to get things done, and do it herself if need be. “I am on the floor when am at work, you won’t find me sitting and chilling in my office.”  

Now where did Sublime fit into all of this? “Well for one, Sublime at first was an agency that worked on advertisements and press information for Prestige. And then, I met someone who introduced me to tea and different growers. I fell in love with the whole process of it and added tea as a product to the Sublime brand. Today of course we also sell honey, dry fruits, saffron and they are sourced from all over the country. India has some incredible produce and I wanted to promote the growers,” she says. 

From an agency to tea to an art gallery — which she says her father egged her on to do — to a travel company and not to mention her restaurant Maaya, Uzma’s fingers are sticky with pie and she loves the taste of it. “Sublime Wilderness Odyssey was born from my personal love for travel. I love forests and wanted to curate similar experiences for those who share that kind of love.” 

Does her entrepreneurial journey stop here? No chance, Uzma loves a good idea when it comes to business — “everything is a learning experience” — and the sky is truly the limit for her. Before winding up the interview, we randomly ask the mother-of-one about her social life. “My family are my friends. I have one other friend I am really close to. Books are my friend.” 

Photo: Uzma Irfan