Soapy success for Syrian refugee continuing family business in Canada

WATCH: (Jan 12, 2018) Coming to Canada as a refugee often means leaving behind so much of what people cherished in their homeland. One Calgary newcomer thought he’d lost it all when he fled his war-torn country, but he’s now carrying on an old tradition in his new home. Gil Tucker reports.

A Syrian refugee from Calgary, who has been using his background in soap-making to build a fresh start in Canada, has expanded to Edmonton.

Abdulfatah Sabouni is a fourth generation soap maker.

“My father and grandfather made the soap. And even in Aleppo, this is my family job,” he said.

Starting when he was just 10, Sabouni would go along with his father to their factory to learn the profession.

He grew up to join the family business, but was forced to abandon everything and leave for Jordan in 2012, when the Syrian Civil War brought chaos the country’s largest city and former commercial powerhouse.

The battle of Aleppo lasted four years, and parts of the city suffered massive destruction. Traditional soap factories in Aleppo were either destroyed or abandoned, which Sabouni said created a worldwide shortage of Aleppo soap.

READ MORE: Recapture of Aleppo by Syrian government marks end of brutal chapter in civil war

Sabouni was invited to come to Canada as a refugee in 2016. He wanted to continue the family’s 125-year soap legacy in Canada — his last name actually means ‘soap maker.’

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon traditional Syrian soap is made from olive oil, laurel berry oil, water and lye.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon traditional Syrian soap is made from olive oil, laurel berry oil, water and lye.

Global News

Sabouni settled in Calgary. He began to learn English and started making soap in his garage, initially selling at farmer’s markets and fairs.

He said he raised money from community members and opened a facility to make the soap, before opening his first Aleppo Savon store in Calgary in 2017.

READ MORE: Syrian refugee in Edmonton creates business opportunity with specialty nut store

He now has two locations in Calgary and opened his third Aleppo Savon store inside West Edmonton Mall this weekend.

“Aleppo soap is famous , it’s a unique product,” he said.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon location inside West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta on Sunday, December 1, 2019.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon location inside West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta on Sunday, December 1, 2019.

Global News

The natural soaps are made with olive oil, laurel berry oil, water and lye, and take five to six months to cure. It’s a 3,000-year-old method, described as is one of the oldest and purest ways of making soap.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon tradtional Syrian soap is made from olive oil, laurel berry oil, water and lye.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon tradtional Syrian soap is made from olive oil, laurel berry oil, water and lye.

Global News

Sabouni claims he’s the only manufacturer in North America making soap in the traditional Syrian way.

The West Edmonton Mall store has 10 different kinds of soap and Sabouni said he is working to accommodate North American tastes.

“People ask for the stuff new for me, like bath bombs,” he said. The company also makes creams.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon location inside West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta on Sunday, December 1, 2019.

Abdulfatah Sabouni's Aleppo Savon location inside West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta on Sunday, December 1, 2019.

Global News

The soap is also available in some Sobeys, Safeway and Co-Op stores, he said.

READ MORE: Syrian refugee finds success and a new home in Calgary

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