Meet Fouad, a sixth generation soap maker from Aleppo, Syria. Since 1848, Fouad's family has been making traditional olive and laurel soap. For many years, their traditional soap was being made from their factory in Aleppo, up until the war hit Syria in 2012. The family moved their factory to a city just across the Syrian border, to the Turkish city of Antakya, where they up until this day are continuing with the family tradition.
Hi Fouad, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am part of the sixth generation of my family involved in the production of the famous Aleppian soap. After finishing my studies at the Aleppo University in 1987 with a degree of Mechanical Engineering, I started working at the family business side-by-side with my father.
When I started out working together with my father, I was in charge of the soap manufacturing in the factory as well as managing the shop located in the heart of Aleppo.
So, safe to say that soap making is an integral part of your family’s traditions. Tell us a bit more about the family business.
Our company has been involved in the production of natural traditional soap since 1848. We produce soap from natural olive oil as a main raw material and natural laurel oil as a natural perfume. We also reform some of our products, the traditional bars, to produce desired shapes and logos.
How has the Syrian war affected you?
For generations, we were producing this soap in our factory in Aleppo, the city that gave its name to this natural traditional soap. Moreover, we used to import the laurel oil from Antakya in Turkey, which is a border city to our beloved city Aleppo. After the war started in Syria in 2012, we moved our factory to Antakya where we started to produce our soap again. All the while maintaining the same high quality and the same natural ingredients.
What is the production process like?
Our soap is a seasonal product - the manufacturing process begins in December and lasts until the end of March approximately, all depending on the quantity of olive oil that season. This delicate procedure is carried out by a dedicated team: four workers are assigned to the manufacturing process while six others are responsible for the cutting, the stamping and arranging the soap in conical towers before letting it dry for six to nine months.
The production of ten tons of soap (the equivalent to one boiling vat) takes two full working days. Here, the natural oils are mixed with each other, before the alkaline solution is gradually added. After this, we carefully take the water from below the vat and add it again to the mixture of olive and laurel oil. This last step is repeated several times until all the oils have been correctly mixed with the alkaline elements. As we are approaching the formation of fat-free soap, we start washing it to make sure that no free alkaline is still present on its surface. Following that, we leave the produced mixture untouched until the next day, before spreading it on a well-horizontal surface. Once the mixture has solidified, it is cut into bars and stamped.
What part of the process do you believe to be the most important?
Personally, I believe that it is the manufacturing process that takes place in winter that is the most important. This is where I put the majority of my time, effort and know-how in order to get the best possible results.
What does the craft of soap making mean to you?
For me, this industry and the craft represents a very important part of my life: it combines my interests and hobbies simultaneously. I can safely say that we have excelled at maintaining a very high quality and unique soap over the years and I am sure that all of our previous family generations would agree with that. It reflects the culture and traditions of one of the oldest cities on earth.
What are your hopes for the future?
Even though we succeeded in maintaining the same traditional methods when producing our soap, our minds are still set on returning to Aleppo. We are waiting to go back to our factory and our home in order to once again rebuild what has been destroyed and continue the production of our soap there just like previous generations.