GFA: Can you shortly present your start-up and what inspired you to start it?

RH: BEHAV is an industrial start-up producing innovative fabrics with low environmental impact and significant social impact. We are currently working on a plant-based alternative to animal leather, made with cactus leaves. 

Our vision is to contribute to the ecological transition of the fashion and the automotive industries by addressing two critical issues: reducing environmental pollution resulting from the production of animal and synthetic leather and meeting the European Union’s circular economy targets, particularly the AGEC law.

GFA: Can you tell us about your journey as a female founder? What inspired you to start your own venture?

RH: As the co-founders of BEHAV, both from Morocco and educated in France, we bring a blend of backgrounds to our venture. Hind, an engineer, and I, with a master’s in corporate finance, have accumulated over eight years of experience in automotive and fashion.

Driven by our deep awareness of the fashion industry’s environmental and social impacts, linked for more than 70% of it to the fabrics, we felt compelled to take action. 

Our shared vision has always been to make a positive impact across Africa and Europe. This led us to develop an innovative material to answer a sourcing need in the European market, made with cactus sourced in collaboration with Moroccan female cooperatives.

“The biggest lie we hear is that it is not that simple, citing reasons such as wrong timing or lacking skills. In reality, while the journey may present its challenges, the simplicity lies in the decision to begin.”

~ Rita

GFA: Have you faced any specific obstacles as a female founder and woman in the tech industry, and how did you overcome them?

RH: Being a female founder in the tech industry is a journey steeped in duality. It means being a bit more exposed, yet simultaneously encountering heightened difficulty in being taken seriously. For us, the greatest challenge laid in building our credibility, both with agricultural suppliers in Morocco and with research partners in France.

In Morocco, we exhibited unwavering determination, personally meeting farmers one by one and explaining our project and our long-term vision. On the French front, we’ve been fortunate to be supported by one of Europe’s leading engineering schools, IMT Nord Europe. This support has helped to demonstrate our commitment to business and research partners.

GFA: Can you share a significant milestone or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of as a female founder?

RH: As a female founder, I take pride in the opportunities I had to speak at various prestigious DeepTech and Industry events, alongside major players in these sectors. From VivaTech to Nord France Invest, I have addressed large audiences ranging from industrial decarbonization leaders to policymakers in the Hauts-de-France region, sharing insights about BEHAV and advocating for European and African initiatives worth supporting. 

However, our initial and most significant milestone has been to garner the trust of farmers, brands, and financing institutions with our project in its early stage, despite our product still being in the R&D phase. 

GFA:What advice do you have for other women and girls aspiring to executive positions or starting their own ventures?

RH: My advice for women aspiring to executive positions or starting their own ventures is to take the leap! The biggest lie we hear is that it is not that simple, citing reasons such as wrong timing or lacking skills. In reality, while the journey may present its challenges, the simplicity lies in the decision to begin. It is a path fraught with obstacles yet rich with rewards, waiting for those courageous enough to embark upon it.

The keys to progress lie in surrounding yourself with the right support network and striving to make the maximum impact or contribution possible. Technical skills can be acquired, but it’s one’s demeanor and the strength of their support system that can truly make a difference.

Rita Hadjioui, Co-founder and CEO of Behav, is dedicated to pioneering sustainable fabrics like cactus leaf leather to transform the textile industry, reduce pollution and meet EU circular economy goals.