Kate Ryan the founder of Alepp Soap started this social enterprise and registered charity during the pandemic. The name itself is significant as the soap is made in Aleppo, Syria. “I don’t have a middle eastern background, I am a white Anglo woman and not claiming to know a lot about Syria. However, I did want it to reflect its heritage and history. Therefore, Alepp is just a shortened version of Aleppo which I am trying my hardest to source from”. Her passion for environmental causes, refugees and people seeking asylum provided her an avenue to find a better solution to tackle both these matters
Passion and Sustainability
Her concern for the environmental impacts caused by plastic bottles, in particular soap pump bottles sold across many of our grocery stores, sparked the idea of getting back to simplicity. Her ultimate question was “When did we stop using soap?” “When did we stop using this very simple way to wash our bodies and move to a way that creates so much waste”. This is an appropriate question at a time when conversations around climate change and the need to normalise sustainable practices are on the rise. She goes on to mention her anger towards the refugees and people seeking asylum issues in Australia and decided to combine these two issues to create something meaningful. “I thought I would combine those two things—environment and social”. “I volunteered for a year at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray as I just wanted to do something, that’s when I realised a different funding stream would be helpful”. Many refugee and people seeking asylum centres run solely on donations to continue helping those in dire need of necessities. This can be helpful, but an extra stream of funding can make a huge difference to the people affected and the resources they receive.
The endeavour to success
Before Kate started Alepp Soap, she did a lot of customer research to better understand her target audience. She sent out a survey to gauge her audiences’ thoughts on the soap to decide whether to continue this endeavour. She mentioned the background and history of the soap where all profits go to refugees and people seeking asylum, with no plastic packaging and laurel berry and olive oil as ingredients. Many of the customers returned and said they liked the soap and would consider purchasing it. This was evident when she kept getting repeat customers who showed interest in the product but weren’t people she knew. She continued testing her product and only bought and sold it in small quantities to buyers. However, as of the 1st of July 2023, she has decided to commit towards her social enterprise and registered charity, by marketing and broadening her business. “I knew my social enterprise/registered charity was growing through testing my target audience early on and the repeat customers I could see on my e-commerce website Shopify”.
Partnerships and collaborations
Being a social enterprise and a registered charity meant the business couldn’t be sold which Kate has done on purpose. “Eventually when I have got it up and running, reaching my $100,000 a year revenue target to support refugees and people seeking asylum, I would like to hand it over to someone who has had a lived experience”. She seeks partnerships with other organisations to gain the necessary connections in the space. The Asylum Seeker and Resource Centre in Melbourne was one way Kate showcased how crucial these partnerships can be. She partnered with them doing many things such as donating goods and recently organised a home pack auction where $600 was raised. This is one aspect of how a partnership can work as it can come in many forms. Most recently she attended the Refugees and Friends Market in Melbourne organised by Welcome Merchant, a huge opportunity to meet new people. “I got to speak to so many Syrian people that I would have never met and will continue to have conversations with them in the future”. Kate mentions meeting a vendor at the market who does Arabic calligraphy and would love to incorporate his talent towards her brand designs. It’s these connections that allow small businesses to collaborate, flourish and make an impact.
Long term goals
Kate’s vision for Alepp Soap is to keep the business small, the opposite of what other small businesses want to achieve. A book she read called Small Giants provided her with the message of staying small and growing carefully. Her belief in her product, which is universally required and not something new in the market, keeps her motivated. However, the message and the reason behind the business are valuable enough for Kate to consider selling it to someone who is a refugee or a person seeking asylum to benefit from. “My goal is to make enough, pay one person to run it, have a $100,000 profit in 5 years, move towards bar soaps instead of plastic pump bottles and for Alepp Soap to be everywhere in Australia”. The only thing that was stopping Kate from expanding her business and marketing the product was the uncertainty of getting a regular supply of soap from Syria. Currently, Alepp Soap is found everywhere in the Middle East and wants this to be a reality Australia-wide.
Through the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Melbourne where Kate volunteered her time, she met Palestinian Chef Aheda who was working with mentors in an innovation hub in Melbourne to set up her own catering business. She kept in contact, and they ran into each other at numerous events. Kate states, “Chef Aheda is an absolute inspiration to me as she is determined to make a life for herself here, her food is amazing, and I have no doubt that she will make it”. “She is truly an inspiration in terms of coming to a new country, learning a new language, hustling to bring her vision to life”. The setbacks that are in place for someone who must start from the beginning in a new country with no connections are never easy. Kate recognises how privileged she is to be in a position where she has all the tools and help she can get, compared to someone who is starting fresh in a new country.
Alepp Soap is available to purchase online which goes towards a good cause. You will be helping refugees and people seeking asylum while also looking after the environment.