Creative Cycle: Finding social purpose during COVID-19

Afif Tabish of Creative Cycle, with an in-store soap kiosk for Aleppo Savon. CONTRIBUTED

When Calgary based Aleppo Savon faced difficulty due to COVID-19, Creative Cycle’s Afif Tabish knew he had to come up with an innovative solution… fast.  

Creative Cycle, an international representation and PR agency based in Calgary, had helped Aleppo Savon Soap rise from a small-scale family establishment, to one with its products in 21 Calgary Co-op stores and a growing client base.

The company’s owner had a centuries old family soap recipe that came from Aleppo, Syria, famous for Laurel Soap. The war forced him and his family to shutdown their factory in Syria that had produced millions of soaps for more than 125 years.

They’d fled from the Syrian conflict to Canada under a government-assisted refugee program in 2016. Two years later they opened their first Canadian factory in Calgary. Aleppo Savon was born, and it was a huge success.

In the fall of 2019, they celebrated the opening of their newest retail location at West Edmonton Mall.  

Over the 2019 Christmas season, they sold out of their original 10 per cent Laurel soaps. 

Come up with a plan or suffer the fate of other businesses

Then COVID-19 hit.

“Our launch to success was paused. Like everyone else, we had to think of creative ways to grow our business,” he said.

“We had to think of ways to get the soap company to only depend on doing business online knowing that its customers are now unable to visit the factory and store, unable to visit the West Edmonton Mall retail location. Everyone was resorting to online, we had to make changes.”

To start, shipping costs for the individual soaps were too high and bulk orders weren’t common to cut down on that cost. To help alleviate the shipping cost, Aleppo Savon stepped in and offered $4.99 local AB shipping on any purchase and free curbside pickup to help push sales. 

However, that wasn’t enough, Creative Cycle and Aleppo Savon needed to come up with another solution. Or, they too would suffer the fate of many other businesses struggling to make ends meet.

Tabish’s journey to Creative Cycle

Born in Calgary and raised between Canada and Lebanon, Tabish went to high school, college and university here in the city.

Armed with a diploma in digital graphics communications from SAIT, Tabish left to work in the Middle East for his family’s construction company after graduating in 2011.

His father immigrated to Calgary in the 1970s during the start of the Lebanese civil war. He was the first Lebanese/Canadian architect to be inducted into The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC). After that, he helped rebuild Lebanon after the conclusion of its civil war.

After moving back to Calgary in 2015, Tabish continued to consult for TopCrete while attending the University of Calgary. He travelled every summer to Beirut to participate in annual exhibitions and events. It was during that time when he started consulting for a friend’s video production business, aiding in growing their corporate portfolio.

Influence at home and abroad

In 2017, for Canada’s 150th birthday, Tabish facilitated TopCrete International’s sponsorship of the Embassy of Canada to Lebanon’s celebration events. This was key to opening the door to his political connections.

That’s when he realized how he could use his unique position to have an impact – both at home and abroad.  

Afif Tabish of Creative Cycle.
CONTRIBUTED

“I wanted to bring something new to Calgary and give businesses the ability to have an international presence in the Middle East as well as have the opportunity to benefit from my experience, connections, and office in Beirut,” he said.

In April 2018, two months before he was set to graduate, Tabish went into a registry office and registered Creative Cycle.

Later that year, he added his third client, Alberta based education charity MindFuel (Alberta Science Foundation). They’ve offered award-winning STEM education resources for more than 30 years.  

It was through his political involvement during an immigration event hosted by then federal minister of immigration Ahmed Hussen in early 2019 that he was connected to Aleppo Savon.

They began working together weeks later and by the end, Tabish had taken their business to the next level.

Solving Aleppo’s COVID-19 problem

Tabish didn’t just want to market Aleppo’s soap to people and take advantage of the epidemic to increase sales.

“We didn’t want to just advertise that, ‘hey, washing your hands for 20 second with soap kills COVID-19, so you should buy this soap and make us all money,’” he said.

That wasn’t his, or Aleppo Savon’s, style.

He knew that they could market soap’s power to help stop the spread of COVID-19. He wanted to do something to give back to the community. Tabish worked through his contacts as a volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross Digital Team to set up a collaboration.

He got the final approval from the Canadian Red Cross mid-March. Tabish pitched it to Aleppo; they loved it and got right to work.   

They’d come up with a Neem Anti-bacterial soap that could be sold. With it, 25 per cent of the proceeds would go back to the Canadian Red Cross’s COVID-19 Global Appeal Program. 

They’ve already sold out of the first batch and are on to the second.

It was important for Aleppo Savon’s owner, a fourth-generation soap maker, to give back. Canada had given him so much.

“We appreciate the help and support that has been generated.
We have raised over $1,000 so far and hope to count on the people of Calgary to continue supporting this initiative,” said Tabish.

You can buy your soap here.

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