The Syrian, Abdel Fattah Sabouni, reviewing some of his factory products -The Globe and Mail Newspaper.
After transferring his experience and career to the country of asylum, the Syrian Abdel Fattah Sabouni succeeded in developing the soap industry that he worked in Syria for decades, before the war forced him to seek asylum in Canada.
The Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and in a report published last Sunday, and translated by “Syrian Net”, shed light on his experience, noting that Sabouni worked a quarter of a century in this profession inside Syria, the famous Aleppo soap factory in the city that It was named after the producer.
The war forced Sabouni and his family to leave Aleppo in 2015. They first went to Jordan, where he tried to continue working in the same profession, before coming with family members to Canada as refugees receiving assistance from the government in January 2016.
“I lost everything,” says Sabouni. I had industries, crews, stores and customers.”
He is now working hard to recover, as Sabouni opened the “Aleppo Savon” factory and store in Canadian southeast Calgary in January 2018, followed by two retail sites in malls in Calgary, in October and December.
This handcrafted soap is also available in several Safeway and Sobeys stores in Calgary, and is sold to a growing online client base.
Canadians are accustomed to his products
According to the Canadian newspaper, many Canadian consumers, who are accustomed on long ingredient lists on their soap bars, simply love Aleppo Savon. There are few ingredients and no chemicals.
Sabouni said as he was standing in his factory near towers of lined green soap bars. And with him his 13-year-old son Abdul Qadir who helps him in the store on Saturdays: “People try it, love it, and come back.”
Centuries-old methods of making natural soaps, including drying them for about six months, are followed. During this time, its exterior color changes from green to brown or yellow. There are scented and colored bars like violet and lemon ones, but traditional laurel oil bars remain the most popular.
It is a process that took me years to master. These skills are a competitive advantage, while some Canadian businessmen sell imported soaps made in Aleppo, As Sabouni believes to be the only one to manufacture them in North America.
Sabouni initially did not expect that he would continue to manufacture soap in Canada. But that changed when a new friend, Sam Namoura, encouraged him to bring several bags of soap that he had made in Jordan to a market at the Calgary Festival. The soap bars were sold quickly.
“From that moment on, I knew what he had, would succeed, because the reaction was great,” said Mr. Namoura, the co-founder of the Migrant Support Community in Calgary, which launched a start to help Syrian refugees.
The Syrian refugee began his experience making soap in his kitchen, and Mr. Namoura helped him spread the news on social media. The initial customers became permanent customers, and they told others. “His customers are the best market sellers,” said Namoura.
For Sabouni, this initial reaction was encouraging. He partnered with another Syrian refugee he met in English lessons, as well as with the Syrian- Canadian Hosni Hadri to open Aleppo Savon.
Aside from the website and social media accounts, Sabouni has not used much traditional marketing. He says that many people get to know his work through media news about the large opening of the store, and he also spread the news in other ways, such as participating in the city’s open door event to offer free tours to hundreds of people inside the Aleppo Savon factory.
The strong reception of the first store – at the unlikely site in the industrial southeast region- encouraged Sabouni to expand his business to malls, “closer to the people,” he says.
Mr. Namoura, who owns a business in the security field, describes Mr. Sabouni as a qualified and worthy businessman. “I have great admiration for his determination and enthusiasm.”
For Sabouni, the motivation is what he previously lost. He compares his current production rate – about 400 kilograms of soap per day – to the 500 kilograms of soap that his daily work produced in Syria.
After an impressive first year in business, Sabouni is looking to open retail locations in other Canadian cities. He also wants to expand the wholesale division of his business, and he may consider exporting to other countries in the future. In Syria, his business was exporting Aleppo soap to Iraq, Europe and Asia.
“It is hard work,” says Sabouni. I love that.”
Starting a new business is difficult if you were born in Canada or not, says Leah Hamilton, the assistant teacher at Bicet Business School at Mount Royal University in Calgary, which studies the social and economic integration of refugees and migrants in Canada.
Some, like the Syrian, Sabouni, bring years of experience in a particular industry. “I think the commercial skill he acquired in Syria will definitely move to the Canadian context,” she says.
As Hamilton points out, the accelerated settlement of Syrian refugees in Calgary, means an increase in knowledge of Sabouni-like work. She confirms that she herself received a bar from Aleppo Savon as a gift from a friend on Christmas.
“Many Canadians and Calgary people want to support the Syrian refugees and help settle them,” says Ms. Hamilton. One way to do this, she says, is to buy from businesses like Aleppo Savon.
This support helps Mr. Sabouni to continue. He notes that his city of Aleppo was famous for its soap: “People would say (please bring me soap from Aleppo).”
Now Canadians hear a similar expression: “Please bring me soap from Calgary.”