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When her children started to leave for college, Barbara Tanner, who worked in financial services in New York City, began to think about a new career. "And as I thought about umbrellas, I grew more confident that I could create something beautiful and functional," she says.

Why umbrellas? They're the result of a practical need. "My family is fair-skinned and we were always huddled under flimsy, ugly umbrellas," she says.

She found craftsmen in England to manufacture her eventual prototype, which had a long screw on the bottom to keep the umbrella anchored and fiberglass stays to maintain its shape. The first time she tested it—on a beach in February, no less—she jumped up and down with friends when her creation stood firm in gusty winds. "People thought we were crazy."
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