By Denissa Palmer
Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, Ahmed Abdel Raouf was eight years old when he moved to his new home in Toronto. Raouf lived in North York at Jane and Eglinton with his tightknit family of four. Although he was from a loving home, he began to find himself getting into more trouble. It wasn’t for being out too late with friends or being a typical rebellious child. It was because of his passion for art. While Raouf’s mother viewed their house as a home, he could only see a blank canvas waiting to be turned into art.
This continued to his first year in high school, where he found himself uninterested in his classes. His teachers loved his art but hated that he would use textbooks for drawing and colouring.
“I love to draw and write, it’s always been my positive outlet. I doodled on everything, and it drove my teachers crazy,” Raouf says.
One English teacher motivated him instead of yelling at him for his hidden talent. Before the end of Grade 9, Raouf had entered in an annual art and writing competition. He won, and for the next few years, he would defend the championship title.
“It was through this creative outlet that I was introduced to other artists and saw this creative community that came together to share their stories and their artwork,” Raouf says.
When I found out budgets were constantly getting cut and after school art programs were becoming less funded . . . it really bothered me.
He had found himself a great group of friends that shared the same passion for art. But the cost to partake in programs was too much, and left his friends feeling unmotivated and discouraged, he says.
“When I found out budgets were constantly getting cut and after school art programs were becoming less funded and even closing in classes, it really bothered me.”
Raouf took this experience and thought of a plan that could somehow eliminate this for the future generation.
“When I was 30 I decided it was time to do something about it, to give back and try to make a change,” he says.
A few months later, Pherosphere came into fruition.
“The idea that if I could bring back that community of artists that I experienced in my youth to the youth of today, we could provide a positive outlet,” Raouf says.
Within only a short year later he found himself evolving and expanding. Pherosphere is now a brand of clothing and art created by Raouf himself. Fifty per cent of proceeds from all purchases go towards helping to provide youth with food, shelter, and art resources. After doing his research on local youth shelters, Toronto’s longstanding Covenant House stood out the most to Raouf.
“Everything they stood for I loved. Helping at-risk, marginalized, and vulnerable youth, preparing them for a brighter future by providing a range of programs, services, and positive avenues for success. This was exactly what my mission was when I first thought of Pherosphere.”
A few months after finalizing his website, he contacted Covenant House to find out how his new company could further help to support its cause. In late February 2017, the company was born.
“I’m still working it into reality, truthfully. It’s been almost two years of creating the perfect mascot, designing the clothing and art pieces, finding a manufacturer, contacting potential partners, and getting the website up and finally running,” Raouf says.
I was scared that no one would take me seriously, that I’d just be another guy that wanted to start a clothing line.
Since graduating from both architecture at Ryerson University and graphic design at George Brown College, Raouf has worked continuously to grow his business. He has faced many challenges along the way.
“I was scared that no one would take me seriously, that I’d just be another guy that wanted to start a clothing line,” he says.
“Financially, it was hard. It takes a lot of money. Logistically, finding affordable suppliers for clothes, and for shipping. Socially, I was dedicating all my time and energy and it was impacting my social life a lot. Luckily, my friends and family have been super understanding and supportive through this entire process. I couldn’t get here today without them. They’ve continued to be my strength.”
Raouf is not alone in his experience. According to a Canadian government report on the state of entrepreneurship from February 2010, only about 50 per cent of entrepreneurs are successful with their projects.
Marjorie Brans, managing director at the Ontario School for Social Entrepreneurs, has worked with some of Canada’s emerging business owners. Brans understands the challenges that entrepreneurs face starting out.
“They fall into two buckets,” Brans says. “One being financial and the other being around mental health and resilience. If you’re working and you want to start a business, it’s hard because you can’t dedicate the time and energy away from your work. But if you don’t have a job, you have the financial pressures of not having a job. The first three years of any business are usually the hardest. Financial support is a crucial piece of it.”
Remember this, your world was made by dreamers who never gave up. Be your own hero and change the world.
For Raouf, he became his own superhero. Although he didn’t land his dream job as a firefighter, he is a fitness coach and personal trainer, a freelance graphic designer and the CEO of Pherosphere. One day, he hopes to create a scholarship program for aspiring students of art.
For those wanting to make a positive difference in the world, Raouf says to start by telling yourself this every morning:
“Be brave, make a plan, be adaptable, make it happen. Remember this, your world was made by dreamers who never gave up. Be your own hero and change the world.”
The Pherosphere logo is one of Raouf’s most special stories. Growing up in Egypt, he was surrounded by all types of symbolism. With such a beautiful and rich culture, Egypt has been the face of many historical symbols seen all throughout the Hollywood movie industry today. As a child, seeing these symbols didn’t always awake the most welcoming feelings. Raouf would use his God given talent to try and recreate the symbols that scared him the most. This is how the mascot of the company was curated. The original symbol of Pherosphere is the Egyptian symbol known as Anubis. Historically, Anubis is portrayed as an evil symbol representing the inventor of mummification. Take a look at some of Pherosphere’s best selling pieces featuring the logo.