Barbara Stegemann’s entrepreneurial vision was formed after her best friend—a soldier—was severely wounded in Afghanistan. Understanding that supporting Afghanistan’s economy was a key to building stability for its people, Stegemann created The 7 Virtues Beauty—a company that sources organic oils from countries (such as Afghanistan, Haiti and the Middle East) experiencing turmoil to encourage change and to reverse the effects of war and poverty. Despite addressing complex global matters in her talks, she uses humour to explain how individuals can effect change both at home and worlds away. Below, Barb talks about staying relevant in the high-pressure world of the beauty industry, and her new film that documents her company’s journey:
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
In September 2009, a man by the name of Simon Sinek delivered a TED talk in which he made this declaration. That talk has been viewed online more than 28 million times and in it, Sinek explains that good leaders “start with why” and inspire others with purpose, not just products. He points to companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines as examples to support his theory, but we don’t need to look that far afield to find one.
The 7 Virtues is a Halifax-based company that sources fair market, natural essential oils from nations rebuilding after war or strife. They empower farmers, enable stability for families and create purpose-infused perfume. Why? Because CEO Barb Stegemann fiercely believes in making rebuilding more exciting than destruction.
“I never set out to make perfume. If my first supplier in Afghanistan had been selling saffron, I’d be the spice lady,” said Stegemann. “The beauty industry grows tired very quickly, so you better have an interesting story.”
Hers began when her best friend Capt. Trevor Greene suffered a life-changing injury at the hands of a member of the Taliban while stationed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces, which lead Stegemann to rally people around the possibility of making perfume instead of war.
On Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace, The 7 Virtues is launching their sixth fragrance as well as a documentary called Perfume War. The launch of a new line of vegan lipsticks, a book club centred around Stegemann’s bestseller The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, and a direct-selling program of the fragrance will soon follow.
“We’re going to start training philosopher queens to sell the product,” said Stegemann, revealing a detail of the company’s future that hasn’t yet been shared with anyone.
“I set out to build community. I want to continue to grow and keep helping women and farmers and empowering them to generate revenue for themselves. No matter how big my dream is to help people, at the end of the day you have to take it to market so that customers can help with the mission.”
The launch of a new fragrance, Lisa Ray Jasmine of India, expands that possibility and the company’s reach to a new country and crop. Co-created with Indo-Canadian actress, model and wellness advocate Lisa Ray, it is also their first celebrity-endorsed perfume.
“The celebrity factor attracts a lot of media coverage,” said Stegemann.“Lisa is an active spokesperson for this growing movement of being more aware of what’s in the products you’re choosing. Partnering with her is raising more awareness that our fragrance is good for the world and good for your skin. That’s an important part of our story, too.“
The next six months will be a pivotal time in the company’s journey that will also allow Stegemann to deepen her connection to the Atlantic region. The upcoming launch of the direct-selling program will start as an opportunity that’s exclusive to PEI, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
“This is where I came from, this is the most important place to me,” said Stegemann, who is pleased that the launch of the program will allow her to spend more time close to home.
“I’m staying true to the kind of products I want to create, but I’m also being an innovator within the shifting tide of retail. I think it’s so important to try things in your own backyard first and once you’ve done that, branch out to other markets. Out of 90 Hudson’s Bay stores across Canada where our fragrances are sold, our top-selling store is right here in Dartmouth.”
She said living in Nova Scotia has enabled her company’s growth because it keeps her grounded and connected.