Throughout her youth, Jesrina Arshad suffered from rashes and hives popping up seemingly at random. She would be midway through a sandwich or enjoying a rich scoop of ice cream when itchy red marks would appear on her skin. Sometimes these unsightly rashes would be accompanied by stomach pains or severe migraines, compounding her discomfort.
Finally, she couldn’t stand it anymore; after going through a barrage of tests in Singapore, she discovered she had the misfortune of being susceptible to a host of food intolerances: gluten, dairy, egg, wheat, and shellfish were all on the list of triggers.
While the average Malaysian would bemoan his or her fate and resign their palate to lots of boring-but-healthy dishes, Jesrina decided to turn a negative into a positive and found new ways to eat old favourites.
“Initially I thought I was just not a very healthy person. Several years ago there was more global awareness about these specific allergies and intolerances and how common they were, but it all came from a very Western context. It’s much harder to avoid these allergens in Malaysia,” she noted.
Denied a solution, Jesrina decided to devise one herself; together with her friend, Stephanie Looi, i, who also suffered from various food allergies, they sat down and drew out an initiative that would revolutionise the Asian health and wellness sphere while helping those with similar problems.
Coming from a digital marketing background, it made sense for the duo to combine their interests and experience to create something new and innovative out of the mix. After sending out meticulously detailed questionnaires to over 200 of their friends, they discovered that many had the same problems they did with food. This sealed the deal.
Together they came up with PurelyB, Asia’s most trusted online holistic wellness community and content guide. Now, the team of seven celebrates two years together, several successful funding rounds, and the trust of a large network of fans.
PurelyB aims to offer quality health and wellness content tailored towards positive lifestyle changes with a local flavour – not only are the articles, videos and recipes localised, they are also endorsed by credible industry leaders and vetted by their community, creating a platform that is holistic in almost every way.
One of the website’s biggest draws is its recipes: yummy, fresh takes on previously sugar and carb-laden treats.
“We think you should be able to enjoy the food you love, not just eat boring and bland dishes. Just make a healthier version of it,” says Jesrina, who did the same thing upon discovering her own allergies.
“When I did the same thing – made changes in my lifestyle and diet – I saw the symptoms I’d previously suffered from disappear in a matter of weeks. The digestive issues subsided, rashes cleared up – it was a big ‘Aha!’ moment. You don’t have to give up what you love to enjoy delicious food.”
This was echoed by Stephanie, who said she just “didn’t know” it was the food she had been eating. “It was a real eye-opener to see the allergic reactions just go away.”
With decadent, toothsome treats like raw fudge peanut butter brownies, pumpkin ice cream and avocado chocolate fudge shakes on the website, it is no wonder that eating healthy comes easy to these ladies.
Besides nourishing, healthy recipes, the site also offers information and support in overhauling an unhealthy lifestyle wholesale. PurelyB works with nutritionists, herbalists, doctors and chefs to ensure the best content, even addressing more ‘taboo’ issues like mental wellness and mindfulness, discussing topics such as anxiety and depression with a refreshing frankness.
It wasn’t easy for the pair at the start: they both had full-time jobs and Stephanie was a new mother. But with family support, commitment and a willingness to bootstrap the whole outfit, the duo went from strength to strength. Now they have a team of people including health, fitness and nutrition expert, Marissa Parry, herbalist and naturopath, Amanda Teh, health consultant, Carina Lipold and technology officer, Tarunjeet Singh.
“We never got to the point of wanting to give up,” says Stephanie, “although there were bits of the journey that were very stressful.”
Family played a big role in the conception of PurelyB. Jesrina’s mother battled cancer some years ago, and managed to obtain a clean bill of health partly through homeopathic remedies. According to Jesrina, however, her mother didn’t sustain this lifestyle and when the cancer came back she relied solely on chemotherapy before succumbing.
“My mother’s death contributed to my passion for healthy, balanced lifestyles.”
“My older sister, too, inspired me – she is a natural health specialist, and used to tell us about these ‘superfoods’ and other nutritious things like a decade ago! Now she sees my work and is like, ‘I told you about this before!’,” she laughs.
“PurelyB isn’t about replacing modern medicine with chia seeds and yoga,” cautions Jesrina, “We never take the approach of ‘you’re gonna get cured’. What we do is meant to be complementary, and the principle is that prevention is better than cure. It’s about strengthening our bodies so we can heal faster, nourishing our cells so we have strength to fight off illnesses. It makes a difference.”
And it’s clear that the principle works well for the PurelyB founders, whose svelte figures, shiny hair and clear skin make it hard to guess their ages. It’s not, they emphasise, about competing – it’s about healthy alternatives that are accessible to the masses.
“Let’s use the example of food again. A healthy burger may not taste the same as a Ramly burger, but does it taste good? Is it enjoyable? Because if so, now you have a healthy alternative to a salty, flavouring-loaded burger, one that does more good to your body than harm,” says Stephanie.
A healthy lifestyle, they believe, comes with awareness and openness – a willingness to change preconceived notions.
“There are a lot of foods out there that you’d be shocked by – dairy is often incredibly processed,” notes Jesrina.
“And those yogurt cereal bars are loaded with sugar. So is some baby food, which is scary because you obviously want to be giving your child the best you can,” says Stephanie, who raises her daughter to be conscious about nutrition, “I don’t stop her from eating anything because she’s a kid, but she doesn’t even like sugary sweet foods,” she says with relief.
Now, with a network of fans and supporters that spans ten countries, the risks that Jesrina and Stephanie took juggling full-time jobs, a startup and other commitments have paid off.
“We have learned so much,” says Jesrina, “This is what we were meant to do, and this is how we are making a difference.”
PurelyB is currently raising funds in exchange for equity on Ata Plus Platform. Head to PurelyB deal page to find out more