Netherlands

A small artisan family business in Bouira, Algeria

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

We hope to provide individuals with different ranges of body care products that are handmade, regenerating their skin whilst protecting their health.

The pricky green fruits, known as cacti, taste sweeter than they look. A 2017 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed that these prickly pears could be the answer for the world’s food security woes and could prevent soil erosion, especially if treated like a crop rather than a plant. Kabylia, a region in Algeria where Thiziri Ait Sai comes from, is an area with an abundance of both cactus plants and olive trees. Her initiative “cactus produits” is a tribute to her country’s “green gold”. OCHQ interviewed Thiziri to gain a better understanding of her startup.

Could you tell us shortly what Cactus produits does?

“Cactus produits creates body care products from natural ingredients. We are artisans, so we do everything by hand. We offer softening and nourishing soap bars from olive oil. We offer them in different colours, adding honey, coffee, milk, coal, indigo bleu and even pink rock rose extract.

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

We wish to make healthy products more and more available, which can only improve our health and are better for the environment.

Our other soap bars are made from soda and have a high concentration of natural glycerin, a medication that is used to moisturise, to treat or prevent dry, rough, scaly skin.

We hope to provide individuals with different ranges of body care products that are handmade, regenerating their skin whilst protecting their health.”

What sparked your interest in the cactus plant? 

Commercialising the products is our biggest challenge so far.

“I grew up in a fertile and green environment, and I have always relished working with plants. I remember helping my grandma picking up fruits and vegetables from the garden. Gradually, I started a bachelor in biology and pursued a PhD in human well-being. I have always been very passionate about nature and its relationship with humans. 

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

The big push for me was my brother, who is a doctor. He saw the risk of bad health issues from up-close and really motivated me to follow my ambitions and to launch my natural body care startup.

The cactus is a wild plant that is very underrated in our region. We normally only eat the fruit and use the gel, which is a shame. We can do more with the plant, but we don’t know how. Study needs to be conducted to gain a better understanding of the plant. It is also controversial, because we import aloe vera for our skin, whilst we have a similar succulent plant in our country!”

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

How did you finally launch your startup?

“My two sisters, a photographer and a French teacher, my medical brother and I launched our startup this year in Bouira, a city 120 kilometres from the capital Alger. We brainstormed together to materialise our ideas. We received our artisan card one month after and consequently joined several (artisan) exhibitions and (student) events. We also promote our products on Facebook.

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

We wish to make healthy products more and more available, which can only improve our health and are better for the environment.

Commercialising the products is our biggest challenge so far. People in our region are still very reluctant to buy organic products, as it is a bit pricier that normal (chemical) body products. It is challenging to increase awareness of the benefits of natural products that we make with care. Clients believe industrial products give them more assurance and security. It takes time to change mindsets, I guess.“

How would you describe your team?

“We are an ambitious, tight and driven team. A famous African proverb says: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I stand behind that statement. That’s why I work together with the people I love the most, my family. As a family business, we can go far because everyone plays its part in boosting our startup’s success. Every single person has a unique set of talents, abilities, skills, and interests.”

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

What was a challenge for you when you launched your startup? 

“I did not know the entrepreneurial side of myself before I started the Orange Corners programme in April 2021. It was really useful and an informative programme, and I learned a lot. I participated in the workshops and inspirational sessions that were provided. Powher, for example, encouraged me to continue with entrepreneurship. Female entrepreneurs talked to us through their experiences, which we could learn from, and explained how they juggle work with personal life.”

Dare to do, to dream and to trust yourself.

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

What is the Cactus products’ goal? 

“Our region is called the land of olives for a reason. We would like to work with the suppliers and farmers in our area and expand even more and more. For now, we are only artisans but, in the future, we hope to have a laboratory to combine our artisan work with research. Without research, we cannot evolve and that would make our work less interesting and impactful. For now, we do our best with the things we have around us.”

Photo: Thiziri Ait Sai

What are your dreams for the next five years to come? 

“I hope to see our laboratory fully operating, increasing our impact constantly and exporting a range of new products to Magreb countries and even Europe. We wish to make healthy products more and more available, which can only improve our health and are better for the environment. At one point, I hope people in our community embrace the cactus plants fully, use it on a daily basis and take a step back from the industrial world.”

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs that would like to walk in your footsteps? 

“Firstly, dare to do, to dream and to trust yourself. I always have ideas in my mind, but I didn’t have the courage to believe in myself and turn my ideas into reality. Secondly, stay away from toxic people, which means eliminate them from your life. You don’t want people in your life who hinder you in following your dreams.

Getting started as a female entrepreneur in Algeria is very difficult. We need better education to have a in-depth understanding of the entrepreneurial know-how. Starting is the most difficult part, after that it is a magnificent thing to have an own startup. You must be strong to be as a woman because it is difficult. The role of the bride, the role of the mother, the role of the mother-in-law, sister, there is a lot to take into account. But being an entrepreneur and being able to cope with all your responsibilities: it is all worth it!”

Kan een afbeelding zijn van een of meer mensen, staande mensen, hoofddoek en de tekst 'Thiziri AIT SAI Cactus ACSE ALGERIA ORANGE CORNERS Û RLAI'
Photo: Orange Corners Algeria
Kingdom of the Netherlands