In 2017, Shumoos Ghanim established the Iraqi Vegan Society to satisfy the demands of vegans in Iraq (which mans, eating, using or containing no food or other products derived from animals). At that time, she had been vegan for more than three years. But she found out that there wasn’t much variety of flavours in vegan food. She wanted to change that, and turned her aspiration to establish something related to veganism into a business.
Her newly-launched e-commerce platform, Holiveg, promotes making positive lifestyle choices by offering vegan, cruelty-free, healthy, organic, eco-friendly and local products to Iraqi costumers. OCHQ interviewed Shumoos to know more about the story behind Holiveg.
I dream of Holiveg becoming the most reliable place for those who want to find, buy or become more familiar with vegan products in Baghdad.
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself?
“I am a Shumoos and I hold a Master’s in Biotechnology. Previously, I have worked in several civic and social organisations. But my real passion is using and promoting plant-based products. I do this by using YouTube and other social platforms to spread positivism, discuss the struggles that my community is facing and promote healthy choices for one’s wellbeing. I think one of the common problems that we face as human beings but we don’t like to talk about, is our health condition. I used to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which prevent me from eating specific kind of food. Every time I would eat something delicious, I would get a heartburn and feel uncomfortable. After some research, I tried to eat completely plant-based for a month and suddenly the symptoms I had, reduced. I continue to eat plant-based for another two months and I felt completely different than I was feeling before.
“Afterwards, I decided to become completely vegan and invested more time to fully understand the philosophy behind veganism. I realised how reducing meat intake can support the environment tremendously, not only by eliminating animal production but also by saving massive amounts of water. After my trip to Malaysia, where it is fairly easy to eat vegan in restaurants, I created the website Iraqi Vegan Society, to spread awareness on the importance and value of consuming less animal products for your health and the environment.”
Our platform is suitable for customers that either want to try something new, that are facing health problems or that want to help the environment by making eco-friendly choices.”
Why did you want to create your own business for veganism?
“In the past decades, cancer rates, heart diseases and other health issues such as IBS have been increasing in Iraq. I wanted to unite forces with others and change our eating habits in order to combat these health issues. Building a strong connection in our community that could promote and adapt a healthy lifestyle, is key for me.
I could see that there were consumers that were interested by veganism but didn’t know where to buy these kinds of products. I could see that there was a gap on the market. I wanted to change that by making natural, cruel-free, vegan-certified food and non-food products available for these customers. Our platform is suitable for customers that either want to try something new, that are facing health problems or that want to help the environment by making eco-friendly choices.”
I realised how reducing meat intake can support the environment tremendously, not only by eliminating animal production but also by saving massive amounts of water.
What other kind of products does Holiveg offer?
“Holiveg food store offers food products and nonfood products such as facial and eye creams, shower gel and conditioner. The items we select are vegan and all are toxic-free from chemicals. All items are pre-packed, such as flour and non-dairy substitutes for milk, but we also offer raw materials so customers can directly use them for vegan or vegetarian meals. On our website, that will be launched soon, there will be vegan recipes and scientific articles published related to nutrition so people in Iraq become aware of the composition of a vegan diet. There will also be recipes available for those who wants to try something new but are unfamiliar with veganism. So there is something for everyone.”
How did Holiveg change from your idea to implementation?
“Iraqi Vegan Society was the forerunner for further research. I started to gather information through a survey, met people on events and start asking what vegan people and non-vegan people, who try to eat less meat, want to try in Iraq. Based on that feedback, I realised that there was a demand for vegan brands in Iraq. That is where the ideation stage started.
At first, it was hard to decide which approach to take. I tried to communicate with people who are already working in this business, especially in the food industry. It was very challenging at the beginning, as my start-up focused on a very niche market. I am hard-working and determinant individual so criticism did not stop me.
Over the years, I noticed that there were more and more people becoming vegan and vegetarian. Especially after the pandemic, Iraqi people started to pay more attention to what they eat because they want to boost or protect their immune system. So if I would compare the opinions on veganism between 2017 with 2020, I can see a huge difference and change of course.”
One day, I will make the first vegan restaurant in Baghdad.
How did you start from there?
“In 2020, I worked out my brand identity and made sure that I everything learned everything related to business, thus how to build and grow a business. I invested time into learning about the business sector itself, what challenges I could potentially face and how I would be able to use social media underpinning my business plan. Last year, I started the actual steps from ideation to fully planning the business by creating the visual identity of the brand and the social media kits.”
Holiveg supports a healthy and cruelty-free lifestyles by selling vegan, healthy, organic, eco-friendly and local products to Iraqi costumers.
What is the main benefit of not eating meat or becoming vegan? What does it mean?
“When people think of veganism, they think of extremism. But actually, it is the simplest thing you can do. The way of eating excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals. This means, a diet without dairy products, eggs and meat products. I hope Holiveg, a merge of holistic and vegan, can become an inspiration for people that want to be informed on veganism, and that veganism can be of interest for the whole of Iraq instead of just for the “vegans”.
Ask yourself: How do I start a business? What are the main things I need when starting a business? How do I measure my market and how will I make logical decisions?
How did the Orange Corners programme help you with the foundation of your business?
“There are many things that was new for me to during the programme, especially the business terminology. In my cohort, there were many people from different business stages so you can learn from each other, as there is always something to learn. I do encourage people to participate in training programme like Orange Corners so they know how to go from start to implementation of their business. You will be encouraged to think about writing a business model, getting to know the components of the business model canvas and more. The most interesting part of the programme for me to get knowledge from experts in finance and accounting, how to do bookkeeping for example.”
What kind of advice would you like to give other entrepreneurs?
“I believe that if you want to start, the best is to invest in yourself first by learning a lot. Ask yourself: How do I start a business? What are the main things I need when starting a business? How do I measure my market and how will I make logical decisions? What will my business model look like? If like me, your business is in a niche market, don’t get discouraged by negative comments because at least you are trying. Even if you lose sometimes, you know that you tried it. It will teach you a lesson that can be used in the future. So don’t give up. “
Where will Holiveg be in five years?
“I dream of Holiveg becoming the most reliable place for those who want to find vegan products or even those who want to purchase clean and healthy items in Baghdad. I want to let my customers know that my products are trust-worthy, because we know that there are always some copied versions of products in the world. I also hope that I can expand my an e-commerce platform to a restaurant. One day, I will create the first vegan restaurant in Baghdad.”