Faces of CIES: Abdoulfatah Sabouni, the Soap Artisan

Faces of CIES: Abdoulfatah Sabouni, the Soap Artisan

Name: Abdoulfatah Sabouni

Who he is: Abdoulfatah is a student at CIES, a friend, a brother, a father, and an inspiration! He is part of a large, well-known, soap-making family from Aleppo in Syria, and has lived in Canada for just over one year.

Some background: Aleppo, which was once one of the main trading cities along the Silk Road, has produced some of the world’s highest quality olive soaps for millennia. Originally crafted using only olive garh, laurel oil and soda, real Aleppo soap is richly moisturizing and cleansing. Today, only a handful of local families continue the original tradition (Zanabili, Najjar, Fansa, Jbeili and Sabouni among them), and it is from this rich history that Abdoulfatah’s family is descended: in fact, Sabouni’s very name means “soap” in Arabic.

Authentic Aleppo soap is highly prized across Europe and East Asia. You can find out more about the manufacturing process here and some history here.

Abdoulfatah Sabouni with his homemade olive soap.

In his own words:

When I first came to Canada, I didn’t think about making soap. I didn’t think people would like it. But I always wanted to be a business owner. When I came to Canada [via Jordan], I ran out of my soap, but there isn’t anything available here – I don’t even use shampoo, just my soap. So about seven months after arriving, I had to make more, and I posted it on Facebook just to see what people thought. And they liked it! Their feedback gave me strength to open a business.

How is that coming along for you?

I’m surprised that all Canadians seem to like natural soap. My soap here is 100% natural, from olive oil and coconut, with some pigment and natural rose scent. I just wanted to experiment with these colours [pictured], to see what people like here. These are very universal colours, but of course some people need no colour or scent, because they have allergies. I make all of the soap with natural oils. Now, after people try my soap, they tell me “I need more soap!” The people like it. And I have a strong desire to open a business and a factory in Calgary. For 10 days, every day with my friend I looked for a warehouse. I’ve found one – but I’m surprised by how expensive rent is in Calgary, and I also need a location that can house a warehouse and a store. It think it will take me a few months.

What kind of soap are you making?

For now, I’m just making olive oil and coconut soaps. After I open my factory, I have a new oil – I don’t think Canadians know about it – olive ghar. It has a good smell, and is very good for skin and hair. Very, very, very nice. 100% natural. After we open the factory we can produce with it, because here it’s not readily available, and it has to be imported from Turkey. The olive oil soap is the best for your skin – it’s so dry in Calgary. My soap is excellent for skin – it moisturizes.

Aleppo soap
Soap sets in a factory in Aleppo.

What was soap-making like back in Syria?

[Back in Syria,] I made a LOT more soap. Every day in the winter, we would make 70,000 kg of soap. I worked in my factory all day, because Iraq and Europe and Japan and Asia had orders with us. I travelled for business too. My job, the customers – they know my factory and my father and my grandfather. My grandfather was in business 115 years ago. We’ve changed the way we make soap since then – in Aleppo, people like the soap with olive garh. Olive garh is natural, is made from nice olives, and smells nice. It’s only available in Syria and Turkey, where the trees grow, and it’s only available for manufacture in the winter [after olive season]. After we form the soap, it sits in the warehouse for six or seven months, where it changes colour and settles – the water inside, after six months, evaporates so the bar has a firmer texture. At first the outside of the bar is green, like olive oil, but after all that time it changes to a gold colour, although it’s still green on the inside.

What was the soap factory like when you were a child? How many siblings do you have?

It’s a surprise! Eleven siblings! I am the middle child. There are five brothers and five sisters. When we were children, after school, I would go to the factory and the store with my father. Not for money, just for experience. We would play at the factory too – outside we played soccer; we played in the park.

I want my kids to continue with my soap business, because it’s important for experience, that my kids can see what I do. After 10 years maybe, my son can begin in this job. I know that studying is very important, but I like the study and soap-making together, because it’s a family job, with history.

If I wanted to buy soap from you, how do I contact you?

My phone! [please contact us if you would like to get in touch with Abdoulfatah] In another month I need to make a special business number, name and email address.

Why the search for a new name?

In Syria, someone took my last name as their company name and my web url. It’s time to find a nice, new name.

What is the number one important thing people should know about your soap?

This soap is natural. And soft on the skin, and for the hair, and so many other uses. It’s very healthy. My goal is to sell my soap in all stores eventually – I want to work for the people of Calgary first, and then expand across the country. But already I am so happy that Canadians like my soap and my work. Thank you!

If you would like to buy some of Abdoufatah Sabouni’s soap, please contact CIES here.

 

 

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