FOUNDER THE 7 VIRTUES FRAGRANCE
FOUNDER THE 7 VIRTUES FRAGRANCE
Introducing: A visionary woman and the fragrance of peace
Beautiful niche perfumes that are customisable and gorgeous while being vegan, free of phthalates and parabens, and helping nations in strife? Of course. Or is there any other way?
Barbara Stegemann is a natural force. Committed, authentic, positive and logical; a person of action. Celebrated both as entrepreneur and bestselling author, Barb is the first female Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a sought-after inspirational speaker.
After publishing her bestselling book The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen – A woman’s guide to living and leading in an illogical world, a highly inspiring modern journey through the stoic philosophy, Barb brought the book’s message into life by establishing economic connections with nations in strife and giving peace a chance – through business.
Barb’s company, The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc. sources essential oils from Afghanistan, Haiti and Middle East, thus establishing a connection like never before between those who build up a better future in a country torn by war or natural catastrophes and those who admire perfume. Barb hopes to inspire more entrepreneurs and investors – and eventually, consumers – to think out of the box and beyond charities.
Most of Barb’s business happens online. She shops essential oils for her perfumes online, and she sells them online (as well as at The Hudson’s Bay department stores across Canada, Lord & Taylor in NY at The Selfridges in London as well as on board of Air Canada – American Airlines launching next). Appropriately enough, our interview happens across time zones via Skype.
Barb’s life as a PR and communications strategist changed as her best friend, a Canadian army captain, got wounded in Afghanistan. It was his fate that moved her to think about how she, herself, could carry on his mission of peace. She was determined to support peace, just looking for the “how”.
Upon discovering an Afghan essential oil farmer who tried to establish legal crops in his community, the “how” was found – and the perfumes were born. To my first question, why perfumes of all goods Barb states she always “saw a perfume on the back of (her) book”, long before she knew she would start a perfume business. And so far, the journey has seen a lot of development from a first order, made on Barb’s own Visa card, and about 100,000$ invested in essential oils from Jalalabad as of today; from banks denying money to the notorious pitch at Dragons’ Den, giving The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc. not just the needed founding but also the support of Canada’s number one investor and philanthropist W. Brett Wilson. And Barb emphasises that she was, indeed, looking for more than for money – she was looking for a mentor:
“Brett Wilson is like the Richard Branson of Canada, an investor, a philanthropist, a supporter of our troupes,” she adds quickly in case I don’t know the name. But I do, and Barb goes on. “He has strong work ethics. We are really going to change the game. Money is only the half – mentorship is key. It is absolutely important to have a mentor to help accelerate your business, support you as an individual, to believe in you, and to constantly challenge you.”
Barb, there is a social business trend arising across the globe. And the 7 virtues of a Philosopher Queen – wonder, moderation, courage, truth, justice, wisdom, beauty – remind of Arianna Huffington's Third Metric mission as well as of many projects that seek to empower women, initiatives to make our life wiser and more meaningful. There’s a paradigm change in the air, right?
Yes, there is a change going on, to define success and leadership not by size but by wisdom. This kind of business and communication that values our mind and soul – there’ll be a shift. And it’s so exciting to be a part of the change. While there is so much change needed still, it gives us all so many opportunities to create new things.
Not everybody can or will start a business to make the world a better place. What would you advise consumers?
Oh there are so many ways for pushing your government. There is volunteer work. You can choose change-making products and you can then share them. If products are created to help and you like them – sing it from the rooftops!
There are so many beautiful products out there, and we, the consumers have the power. We decide what to buy; what educational institute to send our children to and so on. This is really an untapped power.
And you don’t need any sacrifice – there are so many beautiful things to choose from.
I think due to the social media the consumer can really drive a movement.
For example, I think that products like Toms shoes and the Sky bracelets (editor’s note: a for-profit social enterprise and a trade-not-aid company) are really exciting, and I wear them, and talk about them, in my speeches, or now. This is my way of a statement, of supporting change, and of having something nice, too.
As an example, I’m not a singer, but by God I love and appreciate good music, and I support the music industry, I buy records, go to concerts, share on Facebook, tell my friends.
We should be lifting others. Keep cross-pollinating, keep sharing the stories of others.
Brands need your support. We need the support of our consumers.
Speaking of support: I have the feeling that The 7 Virtues perfumes help leverage beauty to a “serious” level quite playfully. Getting the message out without the wiggling finger, doing good that’s more sustainable than simple charity…
With The 7 Virtues Perfume we access people at the beauty counter, and not just with a beautiful perfume – but with a powerful message. Women today are so stressed out by the airbrushed visuals nobody can live up to, and we’re giving them something powerful. Just as a book on philosophy changes the world, our new story of perfume offers a beautiful conversation, reminds us that we’re all the same. Reminds us to follow our belief, to rediscover the true connection and the beauty of humanity. Because to focus only on the physical isn’t complete for a woman. So this philosophy always leads to wonderful connection and communication – and to keep it that way I ask the beauty consultants to never just whiff our perfume on consumers. I want the consumers to discover us by themselves. And this is where the connection begins. I see how our story connects with people, not just the customers, but with other brands in the stores. We’ve all become family with other brands – there is wonder, learning, exchange, help, support and no judgement. There is enough room for all of us.
Speaking of exchange and connection; you have crowdsourced the search for the name of your second perfume, Noble Rose of Afghanistan. Why and what has this process taught you?
The producers of the show What’s in a name asked me for it, and I absolutely liked it. Let’s engage the community! And I love the name, I love how it honours the idea of noble soldiers, and noble, courageous farmers who chose to grow legal roses and orange flowers. Then of course the oils are noble, they are the highest quality essential oils, so they and their highly dangerous travel route are honoured with the very name Noble Rose of Afghanistan. I believe that people are hungry for the noble, the just and the beautiful, and I love that people directed us. The name is so respectful; it honours the philosophy and the work behind the perfume.
And the idea of letting the audience find the name is going back to real democratic ideas. You are not guessing what the market might tell you, you just deliver what people say.
Apart from their noble mission to rebuild, The 7 Virtues perfumes are vegan, free from phthalates and parabens. Why have you decided to make a niche perfume safer than your direct competitors'?
Well it emerged out of mine and Susanne Lang’s (editor’s note: the perfumer) philosophy; you’d say it was kindred spirits aligned. Susanne and I wanted the perfume to be good for the world and good for your skin. Essential oils are healing. And so I love hearing the stories of our consumers, for example there are women who use Afghanistan Orange Blossom as pillow spray for a relaxing sleep. Perfumes should make our lives better.
Right now there are four fragrances. Can you reveal anything about the next, the fifth?
A little bit. It’s going to be our Rwanda perfume and it’s to launch on the International Day of Peace, September 21st. It supports HIV-affected women in Rwanda and contains lemongrass and geranium grown there. In spring 2014 it’s going to be time to tell this new story.
And it surely will blend in beautifully with its four precedents! Why have you decided to create scents than can be mixed and matched?
Funny thing: I had no idea they blended!
I was in a store in New York when I was asked if I knew how well Vetiver and Middle East Peace go together. I was blown away. I was told customers loved the mix. I then rushed to Susanne to ask if she knew it, and she said, why, yes, that’s how I designed them.
And so the blend box happened at just the right time – because I was just asked to do minis and was thinking about it. I then blended the two ideas into one. I love the story of Charlie Chaplin’s filmmaker approach when he would try different takes and then blend the final scenes to perfection. So what can be done with film, can be done with ideas.
It’s truly great how our customers can make their own signature perfume now.
After the successful launch at The Selfridges in September; where will The 7 Virtues perfumes be available next?
Germany is next.
We’re also starting an American Airlines cooperation that launches November 1st – it’s the largest airline in the world – offering the custom blend box. This cooperation follows our successful collaboration with Air Canada where Vetiver is #1 in sales. Coming next is our cooperation with a European airline where another scent is going to be offered. We want to have different, matching offers on board of each airline.
Thank you, Barbara, for the inspiring answers!
Middle East Peace
A warm, green citrus harmony – lime, grapefruit, and basil – on the dry, elegant canvas of bamboo and cedar. Worn alone it is lightweight and invigorating with a hint of sweet.
Vetiver of Haiti
Crisp bergamot opening; a sweet and powdery chord of amber and lime tree to bring out vetiver’s very own character.
Noble Rose of Afghanistan
Opening with pure and strong rose note, this is by no means a sweet bouquet of pink girly roses. Carnation, clove and peppercorn do their best to add a spicy dryness. Earl Grey comes to your mind. Earl Grey with rose petals.
Afghanistan Orange Blossom
Pure happiness made of innocent, gorgeous white flowers: orange blossoms, slightly carnal jasmine, elegant freesia.
To find out more, visit:
The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc. http://www.the7virtues.com
Barbara Stegemann professional site http://www.barbstegemann.com
– by Nath Fedorova