Fourth-generation Syrian refugees bring centuries-old art of soap making to Calgary
Abdulfatah Sabouni is a fourth generation soap maker. Making soap has been his family business for more than 125 years. Even his last name, Sabouni, means soap maker.
In 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military issued warnings to the residents of Aleppo to vacate the city. Fearing for his family’s safety and weary of the sounds of bombs and gunfire, Sabouni and his loved ones left their home city and joined the more than seven million Syrians desperately trying to escape the madness. They first made their way to Jordan, and two years later they landed safely on Canadian soil, thanks to help from the federal government. Now the gregarious father is proudly showing off the showroom and factory for Aleppo Savon, his new business here in Canada.
The centuries-old tradition of Aleppo soap making — which uses no chemicals or other additives —involves secret family recipes handed down for generations. In the 11th century, the Crusaders brought Aleppo soap back to Europe, starting a centuries-long love affair with the olive-oil and laurel oil based soap said to be intensely moisturizing. Aleppo soap is thought to be one of the world’s oldest types of soap, and also said to have been the inspiration for the equally famous Marseille soap of France. Although claims of its great antiquity abound, such as references in the popular press to Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and Queen Zenobia of Syria using Aleppo soap, these claims have yet to be verified by Scholarly method.
As the Syrian war heated up, many life-long soap makers fled with their families. Traditional soap factories in Aleppo were either destroyed or abandoned, creating a worldwide shortage of Aleppo soap. Newspaper headlines appeared in Europe, Saudi Arabia and Japan, where the soap is highly coveted.
When Sabouni arrived in Calgary two years ago, his entrepreneurial dreams were never far from his thoughts. He threw himself into learning English and Co-founded with two friends: another Syrian refugee, Walid Balsha, and Syrian-Canadian entrepreneur Husny Hadry. Together the three got the ball rolling, and opened Aleppo Savon to great success. Their business continues to grow, and they have big plans for distribution across Canada and North America.
For Sabouni, making the world-famous Aleppo soap is his way of giving back to a city and country that has given him and his family so much.