Firouzeh Feghhi rolls dough on a shining marble counter-top, mixing batter as she sways to the soothing sound of traditional Persian music working on another creation that unites the flavours of the east and west.
That baking is something that has opened a new door for her in Canada.
Feghhi, 43, was one of more than 125,000 women who immigrated to Canada in 2015, leaving Iran with her now ex-husband and daughter, in hopes of a better future.
She currently lives in Vancouver in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
Even though she had a degree in interior design, she could never get a job in the field in Iran. “Women were not taken seriously,” so it was no surprise to her that companies would not even consider hiring her.
“I tried to do something in my homeland, but I didn’t have a voice. I studied, I tried to find jobs, but because I am a woman, it was like there was no place for me,” Feghhi said.
Now Feghhi feels like she’s been given a second chance.
Even though it’s hard to set up a business in a new country, she knew she needed to find a way to support herself and her daughter in Canada. Looking at what skills she had that might allow her to do so, she started her own catering business.
That seemed like a natural option. As a child, Feghhi would often find herself home alone with her siblings. She was responsible for feeding and caring for them when her mother was at work or at a family member’s house.
“I would have to make them food, and then when I saw how happy they were every time I would make something for them, it just filled me with happiness,” she said.
‘I have to say thank you’
Fegghi’s turn to creating a business of her own is not that unusual for new immigrants, especially women, who often find it hard to get work. According to a report released in 2015 by Statistics Canada, immigrant women are not as able to find work compared to women born in Canada.
But starting her own business was a lot harder than she originally thought.
Credential recognition, language, lack of experience, networking and becoming licensed in a regulated profession were all barriers that she — and many other immigrants — faced. Feghhi was able to overcome these challenges by attending English courses at Douglas College in New Westminister, gaining a Food Safe certificate, and working in coffee shops and bakeries.
In 2017, Fegghi started a home catering business for events held by members of the Persian community. She named it Saffron, a spice commonly used in Persian and other foods.
“I chose to call it Saffron because it is familiar in both cultures and easy to pronounce in both English and Farsi,” Feghhi said.
Her experience working with western food in local shops combined with her love of traditional Persian food allowed her to develop a unique product. But, a year and a half in, though, she realized she was making less than she was spending, and knew that she needed to learn the basics of running a business to open up her own catering business outside her home and thrive.
“I needed to get out of my comfort zone and to get my questions answered, which led me to a recommendation of exploring the Her Own Boss! initiative,” she said.
Becoming her own boss, again
Her Own Boss! is a non-profit project in Canada launched by the non-profit Women’s Economic Council in 2019, with locations in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, northern and eastern Ontario, and eastern Newfoundland. The council aims to help minority newcomer women to explore the option of self-employment, develop a focused business idea, and then coach them on legal requirements such as licensing and taxes.
Those involved are also assisted in creating business plans, enhancing their communication skills, and expanding their networks.
“One approach to achieve this goal is through research that examines issues impacting women’s economic well-being,” said Serah Gazali, the manager of HOB in B.C.Read more about Serah Gazali and her involvement with HOB!
Gazali herself left Saudi Arabia as a refugee escaping gender persecution. In 2011, she immigrated to Canada. Her experiences helping women and vulnerable minorities led her to where she is today.
Gazali holds HOB group sessions in the Kiwassa Neighborhood House in east Vancouver where she communicates with each member both in a group and one-on-one. She coaches her students about how to become an entrepreneur and how to create advertising that can generate investors.
“Immigrants often have few options when they arrive in Canada, such as to spend money gaining an education or to find what are often minimum wage jobs,” said Gazali.
During the research prior to the launch of HOB, the women’s council discovered that the option of self-employment was rarely explored and needed to be brought to women’s attention.
With HOB’s support, Feghhi’s determination, and her daughter — whom she considers her hero — in the back of her mind, she has not missed a session of HOB.
While she hasn’t gotten her business up and running yet, now, she is weighing the option of finding a business partner to share her ideas, goals, and visions.
But no matter what happens, Feghhi is grateful for all the opportunities she’s had.