My name is Mareya Ibrahim, and I live in Aliso Viejo, CA—a sleepy bedroom community in south Orange County. In 2006, my father, a professor emeritus and environmental scientist, was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer. I thought my world would fall apart at the seams. My parents and I had immigrated to the US from Egypt when I was two and despite their countless struggles in our new country, I never saw fear in him until now. He would have to have his bladder and prostate removed, joining the group of autoimmune compromised. He would have to be very diligent about a lot of things, including cleanliness around changing his catheter, how he ate and how he interacted with people. The part that really unnerved me was his doctors told him to avoid raw foods, including vegetables and leafy greens.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
— Julia Child
I thought this was insane—these are the very foods that help to build strength and immunity! I had grown up in the culinary world with a certificate in holistic nutrition and knew this was not the right path. Salads were my father’s favorite food, and it would not bode well for his short or long-term recovery. He began losing weight, his appetite and his willpower. All I could think was, we need to make these foods safer.
Over 60% of the population is considered high-risk for being adversely affected from eating contaminated foods, including children, pregnant women, elderly and people like my father with autoimmune issues. As a chef, I wanted to create a product that wouldn’t affect flavor or smell, and that would also address life-threatening bacteria, pesticides and wax coatings. And wouldn’t it be great if it could help produce last longer? I am a tree-hugger in stilettos after all, and my father is an environmental scientist.
In 2007, after my father’s recovery, we worked together to create a formula that could be lab proven and patented. I was a solo parent and moved in with my parents so I could save some money to start my business. I had left a position as a V.P. for a food-marketing agency with stock options, great benefits and a consistent, healthy paycheck. For a single mother, it was a daunting and terrifying decision to leave, but I was being tapped on the shoulder with a higher calling and a fire that fueled me to find answers and create solutions. My greatest fear has always been not doing what my full God-given potential on this earth is, and I definitely felt like I was falling into the grind. Helping my father and countless others eat better was exciting and more in line with my education and passion. Failure was not an option—I had two human beings relying on me—and being an entrepreneur was in my blood. My parents had owned businesses, and I put myself through two years of college designing and sewing hand-made 40’s and 50’s inspired hats for local boutiques.
Over the course of the next 2½ years, we tested nine different formulas, built out our brand, filed for our patent and created a myriad of prototypes to test. We didn’t just make one product—we made a whole line using a variation of the core formula—Fruit & Vegetable Wash (available in spray, concentrate and biodegradable wipes), Seafood & Poultry Wash and kits that included premiums, such as a salad spinner, veggie scrub brush or free subscription to Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine. We were prolific with our manifestations and didn’t realize we were biting off way more than we could chew.
But, in 2010, the Eat Cleaner® line was born. We went with product samples to our first trade show—Natural Products Expo West, the biggest natural foods show in the country—and landed the Wegman’s grocery chain. We worked to build our distribution and land key retail accounts. I demonstrated the before and after of our product and articulated the benefits, honing my pitch like a master carver. Slowly, people started seeing, tasting and experiencing the benefits of cleaner, safer, longer lasting food. I still hadn’t paid myself a dime from the company, taking on side projects to pay for bills and care for my children. We have lived lean for years, but what I’ve come to realize is, it’s not about the outward appearance, it’s living my purpose and mission that’s brought me heartfelt satisfaction and a sense of pride.
“My culinary background has brought me to this place with tenacity, a relentless work ethic, the belief in human relations and bringing people to our table, daily.”
Food is so much more than what we eat. It’s our connection to our past, a way we share hope and love, and nurture our valued connections, and we should be able to enjoy it multiple times a day without fear of it hurting us. We hope to help empower millions of families everywhere to stand up for their health and take matters into their own hands with Eat Cleaner® while encouraging women everywhere to let their missions lead them, even if it means short-term pain for long-term gain.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR DREAM
1. Know your stuff: Be an ongoing student of your industry, research, and find the “gap” in what’s not available and put your stamp on it.
2. Share your story: Authenticity is pure gold and is valued.
3. Be prepared for failure: Be prepared for failure and agile enough to jump back up, learn from it and course correct.
4. Find your tribe: Create your community—these are not necessarily people you know today, but as you share your story publicly, they will be drawn to you and support you.
5. Fire, then aim: You can spend a LOT of time trying to get it perfect and then lose steam. It’s better to get something out there and adjust as you go along.
6. Get social media savvy: It’s free and can be the most powerful way to get your message and product out there.
7. Lead with value: This can be free content, sharing your time, creating products that serve multiple purposes, etc. When you present value, you earn trust and loyalty because consumers know they can count on you.