Architect and businessman Ahmad Amer Shbareq was born in Aleppo, and marked his entrance to the business world in 1990 when he opened an embroidered textiles and ready-to-wear garment factory in Al-Layramoun, one of the most important industrial areas in the city.
Ahmad inherited his love of doing business from his father, who also owned a huge ready-to-wear garment factory. Ahmad decided to be self-reliant, establishing his own factory by himself. Work began using only a single embroidery machine, which Ahmad operated himself, taking turns with his siblings and a single employee. As the business developed, the output increased, until they had 12 embroidery machines and 40 employees, 25 men and 15 women.
“We would embroider textiles for the most important clothing companies in Syria,” says Ahmad. “Embroidery involves decorating a piece of textile with patterns of thread, and this is done through electrical machines. Usually, these patterns on the clothes are drawn by children.”
Ahmad recalls that the proportion of female workers in the garment factories was about thirty percent, while in other heavy industries most of the workers were men. He describes his relationship to his employees as firm and fair.
“One day,” says Ahmad, “a fire broke out in the factory. When I arrived I saw the girls crying over what had happened, and all the employees exerted their best efforts to help the firemen put out the fire.”
The relationship between all the merchants and businessmen of Aleppo was a good one, marked by healthy competition. “One of the well-known businessmen in Aleppo went through a significant financial crisis that bankrupted him,” says Ahmad. “And so I, along with some other businessmen, collected a large sum of money and presented it to him until he could get on his feet again and continue his work.”
The factory’s products were of the highest quality, and they were distributed for sale at the famous Hamidiyah market in Damascus, as well as to some other well-known establishments across Syria. Their largest revenue, however, came from foreign exports, to countries such as Libya, Iraq and Algeria.
“Accompanied by one of my brothers, I would travel to various countries such as Japan and Germany, to attend industrial expos and meet international experts,” says Ahmad. “We would follow up on all the newest innovations in the embroideries industry, and we would implement those new ideas in Syria at the same time as all the famous international companies were doing so.”
Ahmad also talks about the importance of the MOTEX fashion expo in helping distribute manufactured clothing in Aleppo. MOTEX is a Syrian expo specialized in fashion, textiles and manufacturing essentials, attended by local traders and companies as well as companies that import Syrian-made clothing to other Arab and foreign countries. The first MOTEX expo was held in Aleppo before moving to Damascus.
“We would get backing from European countries to export Syrian goods,” says Ahmad. “For example, our goods would be exempt from customs fees when being exported to Europe, whereas goods coming from China were subject to customs fees.”
Before the Syrian crisis in 2011, Aleppo was Syria’s economic capital and considered one of the major industrial cities in the Arab region. It was famous for its historical industries, such as textile production as well as laurel soap making and other traditional forms of manufacturing. Aleppo was also home to many modern and cutting-edge industries, such as the manufacture of electrical appliances, industrial equipment and machinery, as well as the manufacture of iron and steel.
Ahmad talks about Aleppo’s history, and the excellent reputation of its businessmen and traders. “Aleppo has been a commercial and industrial center since ancient times,” he says, “and when someone would find out that a certain merchant was from Aleppo, it established instant trust.”