A clean start: Syrian refugee opens popular soap store in Edmonton

Being a soap maker isn't just what Abdulfatah Sabouni does for a living, it's who he is. 

"My last name actually means soap maker," Sabouni said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active Friday.

The fourth-generation soap maker is bringing his family's secret soap recipe to Edmonton, opening Aleppo Savon at West Edmonton Mall Saturday.

"I have a lot of customers in Edmonton … that's why I'm here now," said Sabouni, who initially opened two Aleppo Savon locations in Calgary.

A clean start

Sabouni's journey from ruins to success began in January 2016, when he and his family settled in Calgary as refugees seeking shelter from the ravages of war in Syria.

His soap-making factory in Aleppo, Syria was destroyed, devastating his family's 125-year-old soap-making legacy in his home country.

Stephanie Dubois/CBC

Despite the setback, Sabouni knew he'd keep his family soap recipes alive.

Not long after settling in Calgary, Sabouni and two business partners opened the first Aleppo Savon location in 2017. Demand grew, and the business opened a second location in 2018.

Submitted by Abdulfatah Sabouni

"It's made from olive oil and it's all natural. People love the product," he said.

Sabouni believes part of his success has been an ability to adapt while keeping the traditions of his craft at the heart of the business.

"In Aleppo we don't use different colours and scents, but when I came here I learned that people love scent and love colour. So I'm going to go with what the people like," he said.

Sabouni says although his journey to this point has been difficult, continuing his family's century-old tradition feels right.

"This is our culture. I love this job and I'm so happy and proud to be in Canada making soap that's made in Canada," he said. "That's a success for all Canadians."