Tucked away in a garage in a suburban street of England, Wajeeha Husain is creating her own personal revolution.
Defying the cultural norms of her religion, and determined to meet her incredibly high aspirations as a female founder, here’s the story of a chocolate obsessive and how she’s found her place as an entrepreneur.
They say we don’t ought to feel defined by the skin we’re in. Be it that we’re born male or female, white or black, fat, thin, attractive, able bodied or not, we should all feel able to conquer the mountains and milestones we have in our sights.
But is it always that simple?
Does the culture or composition with which we come on to this earth, mean that we’re destined to be either more or less advantaged in our journey?
Whatever your take, it’s meeting the likes of 31 year old entrepreneur Wajeeha Husain, which reminds you that there’s never any reason to tell yourself that you ‘should not’ or ‘couldn’t possibly’, particularly if you’ve a yearning desire to achieve more for your world.
Born in the UK, part of an Asian family with faithful heritage, Wajeeha is the first member of her family ever to attempt to run her own business.
She admits that she’s surrounded by plenty of people who have been watching and waiting to see her trip or fall in her desired entrepreneurial quest, but if anything, it seems only to be fuelling her passion, and confirming her purpose.
“I’m obsessed with chocolate and always have been,” she says, giggling.
“As a child I always wanted to get my hands on a bar of something or other, and I’d do whatever I could to try to get around my parents to have another piece of sugary confectionary.
“Of course, that’s not good for any child in the long term, but particularly not for someone born into a family with strong diabetes links.”
This candid reflection on her days consuming chocolate as a small child growing up in Ireland, are a hint to the world which Wajeeha has created over the last 12 months.
Today, she is the founder of chocolate brand Chocolateeha.
The entire brand ethos is about enabling people to have the sweet treat they crave, but without the damaging effects to health, immunity – or waistlines.
“I don’t mind admitting that I got myself into a bad relationship with chocolate and sugar,” she continues.
“I would binge eat it, and suffer the effects terribly. I had bad acne, gained lots of weight – and yet still I wanted to be able to eat it.
“It became something of a love hate relationship, and it’s this which has eventually got me down the path of creating my own brand.”
But chocolate creation hasn’t come about overnight.
Indeed, that rather ‘traditional’ cultural burden of her Asian roots, meant that for a long time Wajeeha was simply following the path expected of her.
She studied incredibly hard in the academic world, attained above and beyond many of her peers, secured herself a degree in Computer Science, and ran headlong into a career working for the automotive industry.
It would take eight years before the everyday ‘wrestling match’ over what she felt was her ‘rightful place’ in the world, would finally allow her to set foot on her own scary but exciting business journey.
“Many people in my culture end up following the path that their parents have been down, or which is expected of them by their parents, based on their gender or other family experiences,” she explains.
“In Pakistan or India, if you want to be successful you have to be the best, and people think you should aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer or something.
“Somehow, at least from what I have seen, having the dream of running your own business isn’t regarded in the same way or viewed as something to be so proud of.”
She continues: “Growing up, I wasn’t at all confident, and I felt I was creative, but stifled. I knew I didn’t want to just follow an academic route, but at the same time, I wanted to conform to what others expected of me.
“It took a lot of soul-searching, and yes, a great deal of inner unhappiness, before I began to realise that this wasn’t the way to live my life.
“I knew I needed to challenge this sense of feeling restricted, and to move aside from the traditional Asian female stereotyping.”
Wajeeha admits that throughout her earlier work life, as a project management specialist, she spent a great deal of time considering whether she would ever be able to ‘break free’ and form her own business endeavour.
By her 20s, cultural ‘norms’ meant it was frequently the case that she would be asked when she was getting married, or when she would make a home.
And yet, rather than submit to the perceived normality of that world, she privately took time to learn more about herself and to will herself to be braver.
“Society doesn’t love the idea of an Asian woman in business, that’s for sure,” she insists.
“I realise that I was doing a job to put on the show for those around me, but I was very unhappy and wasn’t fulfilling myself as a person.
“When I took time to listen to my inner voice a bit more, it confirmed I had to leave my job, and I knew that chocolate was what I wanted to be producing.
“It was an idea which met with some dismay when I started discussing it with friends and family, but then one day everything changed – because I ended up on television.”
Whilst still in her automotive job, and only ‘tinkering’ with the idea for her chocolate brand, Wajeeha saw an application form, encouraging artisan food producers to sign up. It was a concept which would potentially lead to entrepreneurs being featured on a television programme, led by chef Tom Kerridge.
“It was hugely premature because I didn’t have a brand or a product, but I decided to apply, and explained my intentions and my early-stage approach, and before I knew it, they’d accepted me and were coming to my home to film.
“Perhaps it was exactly the catalyst I needed, because I had to jump in with both feet and give this chocolate business idea my absolute all.
“The programme aired in July 2017, and began with me selling my first ever bar live on television.
“By the end of the summer I had formally launched Chocolateeha and had left my job. This was my future.”
While she may not have won the Top of the Shop televised contest, it did absolutely give this determined entrepreneur a springboard.
She reached the finals, gained plenty of media attention, and, perhaps most importantly, convinced her friends and family she was on to something great.
A year on, the business is still small, and run from her own production facility in the garage of her parent’s home, but she’s attracted a number of distributors and stockists, is constantly getting more interest, and is set to relocate to Bristol into more dedicated ‘factory style’ premises to help with growth.
“The brand’s USP is really going down well with those who learn about it,” she says excitedly.
“I’m all about the belief that you should be able to have what you love in moderation, so that’s what’s informed my product approach and my business decisions.
“We make chocolate from scratch, from the nibs. It’s cleaner and without the nasties. The nibs are single origin, from Peru, Madagascar and West Africa, so there’s no effort spared in finding the right core ingredients.
“We now have raw products, vegan mylk ones, and yes, still some more traditional milk chocolate for those who don’t want to be without the taste they’ve come to love.”
She adds: “I’m not trying to say that this makes chocolate something which is ‘super healthy’ and which you could consume in high doses every day, but I do think we’re on to something by making it a treat that people can feel more able to indulge in.”
Wajeeha is a woman bursting with ambition.
She’s newly engaged, ready to move to Bristol, and has her eyes on having her own chocolate factory and café in a few years time. But that’s not the only part of the goal she has.
“Achieving success in the business is important to me, but so to is changing dialogue about Asian girls and women,” she says emphatically.
“I give talks in my community about girls needing to feel confident to aspire to achieve their dreams.
“I want more girls and women to feel they can escape stereotypes. We should all feel we have the right to live our best and happiest life, without being constrained by culture or traditions.”