FORMER chain smoker and meat-eater Azlan Shah Alladin is today a vegan who exercises regularly. He loves his new, healthy lifestyle which is very much in line with his ethics and values.
Together with his wife, Aina, he has embarked on an entrepreneurship journey, offering vegan ice cream for the masses. His company, Kelava, makes ice cream using only plant-based ingredients with coconut as the main ingredient for the ice cream’s base.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME VEGAN?
I was initially intrigued by the number of esteemed individuals who are or were vegetarians or vegans — from geniuses like Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Pythagoras and Nikola Tesla to entertainers like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, James Cameron and Prince. Though it opened my eyes on the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism, my research on the subject was focused more on the ethical side. I like to consider myself a fairly rational person who derives my sense of right and wrong mainly from empathy. Given that science has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that like us, animals experience sensations and emotions, it’s hard to justify inflicting any kind of harm on them.
DID YOU GIVE UP MEAT GRADUALLY?
In June 2016, I switched to becoming a vegetarian overnight. I started to feel really good, physically and mentally, very soon after that. I felt energetic, lighter and a lot clearer in the head. Digestion had never been better. A few weeks after, I watched a documentary called Earthlings which detailed humanity’s use of animals for food, clothing, and entertainment. That’s when I learnt the truth about dairy and egg farming industries and decided to become a vegan. It’s the best decision ever!
IS YOUR WIFE, WHO’S ALSO YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER, A VEGAN?
My wife Aina had always been an animal lover. In fact, back when we were dating, we bonded a lot talking about animals. She made the transition to veganism more gradually, starting off with becoming a pescatarian. After she watched Earthlings she too decided to become a vegan. I’m so lucky she adopted this lifestyle!
OF THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF VEGAN FOOD PRODUCTS, WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ICE CREAM?
Firstly, my wife really loves ice cream and secondly, we noticed a gap in the market. It’s not easy to find vegan ice cream. We saw an opportunity in a less-crowded market that would complement our passion and lifestyle.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO MAKE VEGAN ICE CREAM?
Mainly through online recipes. There are many recipes out there but they somehow don’t always yield the desired outcome. The first few batches that I attempted turned out to be just coloured blocks of ice. So it took some understanding of ice cream chemistry and countless measured experiments and the right equipment to craft and perfect our own signature base.
HOW DO YOU MARKET THE PRODUCT?
Social media has been our main marketing channel, given its accessibility, versatility and affordability. We try to build an online presence by creating interesting contents ourselves. In terms of branding, we stick to pointing out the main ingredient, that is, coconut as the main feature of our product. The name Kelava is actually derived from word combination of kelapa which means coconut, and “love”.
HOW HAS SALES GROWTH BEEN SO FAR?
Since the day we launched in August 2017, sales have been steadily growing. As of today, we’re primarily online-based, taking orders from our website www.kelava.my and doing door deliveries. We’ve been venturing into catering and stocking at grocery stores now. This gives better volume consistency.
AS AN AVID VEGAN, DO YOU ENVISION VENTURING INTO OTHER VEGAN FOOD PRODUCTS?
I’ve always dreamt about starting a vegan pizza joint. That would be super wonderful to have in KL. However, I don’t have the resources to do it. If Kelava continues to go well, I’d love to give it a try.
AS A FORMER MEAT EATER, DO YOU SOMETIMES STILL YEARN FOR MEAT?
The cravings only lasted a few weeks after I quit meat. I had quit smoking about five years ago after being a chain smoker for over 12 years. Compared to nicotine, meat is far less addictive. But the main reason I find it relatively easy to stay vegan is that I really enjoy eating plants. There are literally hundreds and thousands of edible plant species on this planet offering a vibrant range of taste, texture and nutrients. For example, I’m forever fascinated by the taste of mango. Mushrooms are amazing too.
IS IT HARD SOCIALLY WHEN YOU GO TO, FOR EXAMPLE, A MALAY WEDDING WHERE MUCH OF THE FOOD IS MEAT-BASED?
I like to point out to my Malay friends that Malay food in the early days was not as meat-centric as it is today. In the days before pre-intensive-farming and grocery stores, people didn’t eat that much meat. Instead they had a lot of ubi, pucuk, and kelapa. But I have to admit, the social aspect of being a vegan can sometimes be challenging. Malay weddings typically serve rice, dalca sayur and fruits, so I’d be happy to go for that. For Hari Raya, my wife and I would make something like sambal tempeh and mushroom rendang. Our mums would make vegan food for us too. It’s also not that tough when there are traditional Malay desserts on the table which mostly happen to be vegan.
IS THERE A VIBRANT VEGAN COMMUNITY IN THE KLANG VALLEY AND ARE YOU ACTIVE IN IT?
Yes, there is and it’s growing. I can’t consider myself an active member of the community, since most of my time is dedicated to growing the business. But thanks to social media, I keep myself updated of the happenings around and try to support in whatever ways I can. Last year, we started a social media campaign called KLV — an abbreviation of Kuala Lumpur Vegans — where we highlighted stories of local vegan individuals wearing our limited edition T-shirt. We look forward to continuing the campaign next year, working with other interesting KLVs.