Fourth-generation Syrian soap maker launches new factory in Calgary
After coming to Calgary as a Syrian refugee, Abdulfatah Sabouni will be using his family’s 125 years of soap making to open Aleppo Savon on Saturday
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It’s been more than a century in the making (four generations, to be specific), but Abdulfatah Sabouni is bringing the first Syrian soap factory to Canada this Saturday.
Sabouni has only been in Canada for two years. He was forced to leave his home and soap business in Aleppo after violence broke out. He and his family had to leave everything and flee to Jordan, where they stayed as refugees for four years.
But it hasn’t stopped him from keeping his family business alive.
“This soap is kind of like a symbol of our country and also a symbol of triumph for my own family,” he said through a translator.
He opened another soap factory while staying in Jordan, which has since closed down, and now he’s brought it to Canada.
Since arriving in Calgary, Sabouni has been learning to speak English while continuing to make soap at home from his family’s traditional recipe. And for the past five months he’s been planning the opening for his new factory and storefront: Aleppo Savon.
“It’s been hard for me because I’m new here,” he said. “I didn’t learn English before and everything is different, but still I kept going. I think I did good because I made new friends and this is my country now.”
After he gained success from his homemade soap, he partnered with two friends: another Syrian refugee, Walid Balsha, and Syrian-Canadian Husny Hadry to get the ball rolling with Aleppo Savon.
The approximately 5,000-square-foot space, located at 1303 Hastings Crescent SE, is now home to a factory and distribution centre in the back and retail store in the front. Sabouni says it’s the first of its kind in Canada or the U.S., and he knows this because only a few families have been tasked with the trade.
“Sabouni’s story is very inspiring,” said Sam Nammoura, co-founder of the Syrian Refugee Support Group and Calgary Immigrant Support Society. “For me, it’s a sign of hope for everybody. This is someone who literally lost everything — including hope — who, two years later, can communicate in a foreign language and has started a new business. I see a lot of other blooms coming.”
Nammoura continued to say that other new Syrian refugees are pushing the envelope, and he believes Sabouni will be the “first big Alberta success story.”
To this day, Sabouni makes his soaps the same way his grandfather did, and his grandfather before him — all-natural olive oil and coconut oil, with a little bit of fragrance.
He knows his family’s Aleppo factory has been destroyed, but since he’s made a new home and business here in Calgary, he says “everything is better now.”
“It’s the perfect example for the unimaginable opportunities Canada offers to newcomers,” he said through a translator. “For me, I didn’t know it was a possibility. But (in) two years I’m learning English, I’ve met so many good people and so many people who helped me to start my business. Now I’m a proud owner of a family legacy where every Calgarian is invited.”