Can Business Create Peace?
Nath Fedorova spoke to Barb Stegemann, inspirational speaker and founder of The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., about the story behind her company, and its mission for peace through fairness in business.
Award-winning entrepreneur, sought-after speaker and bestselling author Barb Stegemann is on a mission. And the mission is: enable sustainable peace for nations in strife by establishing fair business partnerships.
Barb Stegemann is the founder of The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., a Canadian company that sources essential oils from regions that need to be rebuilt, and creates beautiful niche fragrances that customers can blend to create their own, unique signature blends. Barb’s success story is inspiring; a story of courage, wisdom and beauty.
Raised by a single mother in rural Canada, Barb – Honorary Colonel of Royal Canadian Air Force, Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada WXN, Top Game Changer History of CBC’s Dragons’ Den and creator of award-winning ethical fragrances – is living proof that determination and passion can get you anywhere.
Barb’s life as a PR and communications consultant changed when her best friend, a Canadian army captain, was wounded in Afghanistan. His fate moved her to think about supporting peace in her own way, and got her looking for the “how”. Upon seeing a documentary about an Afghan farmer who tried to establish legal crops – roses and orange blossoms – in his community, the “how” was found, and the perfumes were born.
Barb’s company, The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., is named after her eponymous bestselling book about stoic wisdom, designed to empower women to lead a better life and meet more success with their business. The 7 Virtues Beauty company sources essential oils from farmers of Afghanistan, Haiti, Middle East and next, Rwanda.
Establishing stable commercial relations helps rebuild suffering communities in a fair and sustainable way.
Paying competitive prices is part of the solution; in Afghanistan alone, the young company has invested about 100,000$ since its launch some three years ago.
Today the collection consists of four fragrances: Middle East Peace, Vetiver of Haiti, Noble Rose of Afghanistan and Afghanistan Orange Blossom. The scents are crafted from the highest quality essential oils sourced in the respective regions. The fragrances are also vegan, phthalate- and paraben-free. All four Eaus de Parfum can be blended to create your own signature fragrance, and a beautifully packaged custom blend box, which contains all four fragrances, is available.
Let’s hear Barb Stegemann’s highly inspirational thoughts on…
TNW: ... her best business decision so far (and why):
BS: I’d say that would be creating processes following my gut. If banks don’t give you money, take the risk yourself. It’s powerful. It says: “Look, I believe in it.” And I really don’t want to sit on a porch as a 96 year old and ponder on how I could have, or should have, or would have.… No! I want to think: “I did it all!”
Of course I have met many decisions on my way; some were maybe not so great. But the greatest was finding my mentor. It just lifted me so much, personally and professionally. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. It was very hard in the early days, when people wouldn’t really understand the whole idea or would misunderstand it. Also, maybe I just got better at explaining it today. But yes, looking for and finding my mentor was the best decision. W. Brett Wilson is also renowned for supporting our troops. So, yes. The best thing I could’ve done.
Another advantage of following your gut is: there are no rules to break if you create it your way. When I decided to publish my book, I had those 3,000 books in my garage. I could’ve renovated my kitchen instead, and frankly it still needs a bit of renovation today. But I decided to publish the book, and the book broke even the first weekend.
The lesson is: if you’re not afraid of failure, you will succeed. If your purpose is big, entrenched in who you really are, then the rest falls into place.
And while I look at my book as an entrepreneur, not only to spread the word but also to make a living, there are moments when I reach out to women who really need support and wisdom to make their life the greatest, and I can give them the book – those moments are amazing.
TNW: ... choosing to found the company on Dragons’ Den rather than crowdsourcing it:
BS: I chose Dragon’s Den because I needed more than funding. I needed a mentor, and a big audience to get my message out there. With Dragon’s Den, I reached out fast to millions of Canadians and YouTube viewers, to tell them about doing business with nations in strife, which was part of the solution. And as much as I love the grassroots communities, they wouldn’t get me a mentor, which at that point was just as important as money.
So here I was able to find a person who would give much more than business support and networking opportunities - somebody to challenge me; not just an investor, but a mentor, a friend, a real game changer.
It’s so crucial for all of us to have mentors. I’ve had amazing mentors in my life – social workers, army personnel and now W. Brett Wilson, the businessman and philanthropist.
TNW: ... female entrepreneurs:
BS: Women are actually good at doing business. But we aren’t that good at growing our companies. We are afraid to hurt the feelings of others – without any reason. Let me give you an example. I was doing really well in two beauty boutiques with my perfume. But I needed to sell in department stores in order to support my farmers, and this meant exclusivity and leaving the boutiques. So, to explain this strategy, I met with both boutique owners. And you know what? They were more than fine with that! They were happy for me!
So yes, we can sometimes hold ourselves back from growth. But growth is good if your motives are pure, your mission is big and your communication is clear.
TNW: ... choosing to start a perfume business:
BS: I always said that I saw a perfume on the back of my book. Ancient philosophers believed in predestination; I call it spiritual energy. And it was very spiritual for me, because I could see the design and the vision of the perfume long before the journey began. I believe in the predestined track, and that if we’re focused we can recognise the right thing.
When my friend Captain Greene was wounded in Afghanistan, I knew I needed to support peace in my own way; I was just looking for the “how”. And when I saw a documentary about Abdullah Arsala, an Afghan farmer and owner of Gulestan Essential Oils in Jalalabad, whose legal orange blossom and rose fields kept being knocked over, I knew it immediately – this is it.
I told my friends: that’s what my intuition was saying. I contacted the
Canadian development agency the week afterand researched the farmers who have
tried to establish legal crops where illegal poppy crops were much more
popular. You need to believe in yourself, to trust your intuition.
I paid for my first 2,000$ essential oil order from Afghanistan on my own VISA card, because no bank would give me the money. (NB: At this point The 7 Virtues has invested about 100,000$ in essential oils of the region, paying highly competitive prices and thus hoping to be an example to other businesses and investors.)
I didn’t pay any attention to people who doubted me or made fun of my idea. Had I listened, I’d still be sitting paralysed.
It’s important to trust your intuition, to do your research, your homework, and get to the right people; be willing to take the risk for something you believe in. It’s important to be a person of action.
TNW: ... her mission, and how it helps to connect communities across the borders:
BS: The orange blossom and rose oils from Jalalabad are really the highest quality essential oils. And it’s a great joy to know we’re here for Abdullah – he told me he had almost given up just before I found him. Isn’t it beautiful when things start falling into place?
And it keeps being great: when I was in Haiti with [Former] President Clinton, I was contacted by people from France who had heard of The 7 Virtues perfumes, and who now buy essential oils from our Afghan friends.
You’ve got to love this journey! When we’re engaged with our hearts and souls, opportunities show up and people get connected.
Also, all those risks wouldn’t mean anything if people didn’t understand and support it. I love the democracy of everyone involved – not just everyone who helps create the perfumes - it’s also about our consumers, right? If they weren’t loving and buying our scents, we wouldn’t be able to support Abdullah and other farmer families.
TNW: ... the most sought-after stoic wisdom, a.k.a most popular topics as an inspirational speaker:
BS: There are various crowds. Many understand that while our mothers haven’t taught us philosophy or politics, stoic wisdom really helps break the cycle.
I also often share Michelangelo’s idea of beauty. He believed in expression over form.
It’s important to teach girls the power of dignity. We should never be losing ours or stripping others of theirs. We as women deserve to be taught all of this and more. And young girls are constantly asking for this wisdom.
Another thing that girls often ask for is “the story of the emerald”. Marcus Aurelius stated that whatever you say about an emerald’s beauty, its properties are in no way changed. What others say has no bearing, no power in changing who we are. We can get through anything in power and grace.
This isn’t knowledge just for women, but we deserve to finally have this knowledge too.
Plato might have written that it’s about the Philosopher King to lead us out of the darkness, but I think it’s time for the Philosopher Queen!
Nath Fedorova is an independent quadrilingual digital strategist and brand consultant, and is also a freelance Editor and Creative Director. She has qualifications in German Literature/Linguistics and Communication Science/Computer Linguistics and has over fourteen years’ experience working in online/software and publishing industries in Germany.
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