After her best friend was wounded while serving in Afghanistan, author and motivational speaker Barb Stegemann was moved to find a way to help the war-torn country rebuild. In 2010, she started her social enterprise, The 7 Virtues, and began turning imported Afghan orange blossom oil into perfume.
The Halifax entrepreneur hoped to offer local farmers a fair-trade, sustainable source of income. After becoming the first woman from Atlantic Canada to ink a deal on Dragons’ Den, Stegemann exported her idea to more struggling countries and began importing other essential oils—vetiver from Haiti and patchouli from Rwanda.
Beyond being fair trade, all 7 Virtues perfumes are vegan and phthalate, sulfate and paraben free. Today, her original line of six scents is available at Hudson’s Bay, and a recent collaboration with Sephora has led to the release of a brand-new line of contemporary perfumes that stay true to her original vision.
Q: Your new line of perfumes hit Sephora’s shelves in February. How is it going?
We were the No. 1-selling fragrance for the entire month of February in my hometown store and have remained in the top five to date. I think people are ready for vegan, cruelty-free, clean and conscious fragrances.
Q: What is the aim of your new line of scents?
I wanted to create something new using the same oils, but also something that my 18-year-old daughter would wear.
Q: What’s behind the name The 7 Virtues?
Ten years ago, on International Women’s Day, I launched a book called The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen. The book helps women launch companies, end bullying and run for office; that’s where the brand came from.
Q: What is a social enterprise?
The core of a social enterprise is an issue you feel committed and passionate about resolving. For me, it was trying to build peace by sourcing essential oils from farmers.
Q: Any advice for budding social entrepreneurs?
Find a mentor. I’m blessed to have W. Brett Wilson, who I met on Dragons’ Den. Go and sit with local venture capitalists in your community; tell them you’re not necessarily looking for money, but for wise counsel to prepare your social enterprise.
Q: You’ve been visiting Sephora stores across the country. Do you enjoy travelling?
I was a flight attendant for nine years and I love being on planes. People ask me all the time, “Don’t you find flying tiring?” I say, “No, [because] now I get to sit down.”
Q: How do you pass the time while flying?
I look forward to getting on a plane and having that quiet time to put my headset on, listen to some jazz and just write.
Q: What’s your best travel tip?
Bring your eye mask, a neck pillow, some aromatherapy roller balls for calming and lots of water.
Q: What’s next?
The Sephora USA launch in August is very exciting and then Sephora Europe in 2019, after we knock it out of the park in the States. Every minute is thrilling. We’ve spent seven years working for this.
[This article appears in the July 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]