Barb Stegemann is founder of The 7 Virtues, a social enterprise that helps rebuild nations and communities all over the world by supporting farmers to grow organic, natural fair trade fragrance oils; now one of today’s top selling clean fragrance brands at Sephora. She is an author of The Seven Virtues of a Philosopher Queen and subject of the award-winning film Perfume War. She’s been chosen as the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, earned Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and as a guest on Dragon’s Den (Canada’s Shark Tank) become one of their highest grossing brands that has come out of the show. She uses everything she’s learned to help inspire other people, giving talks around North America at organizations like Facebook, Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired you to start The 7 Virtues?
I used to be a journalist and had my own boutique PR firm. My best friend Captain Trevor Greene was wounded in Afghanistan by the Taliban while serving there. In the hospital, I promised that I'd take on the mission of peace. And I realized I didn’t have a way. I'm not a brave soldier or a world leader, so I started writing a book called The 7 Virtues Of A Philosopher Queen, which is now the eighth edition, and it's empowered women to launch companies, end bullying and run for office — I realized women own the voting power, it was crucial to harness that buying power. I brought the thesis to life and started buying the perfume oils in Afghanistan to support farmers getting off the illegal poppy, which is the biggest heroin supply in the world. So for the following 11 years, we became his biggest orange blossom buyer, and I found that if my supplier was farming orange blossom and rose, the Taliban couldn't go near him and his family. Then other countries started coming to us and now we work with farmers in Haiti, Rwanda, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and beyond.
Do you have any morning routines or evening rituals to help you stay balanced?
I go for a walk with my husband every day, holding hands by the waterfall and lake near our home. I sleep 8 hours every night. If I don’t get my sleep, I will nap to ensure I get my full 8 hours. I work out a lot, but changed my regime from jumping to swimming and weights; I am finding this has also been a very calming change and so much better for my muscles! I also take long Epsom salt baths, and read and stare at the birch trees out the window - my absolute favorite de-stress ritual. And now we have our gemstone perfume oil rollers. I love using the Santal Vanille Tiger Eye Perfume Oil Roller to set intentions and stay focused on being grounded.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I launched The 7 Virtues out of my garage on International Women's Day in 2010. I had no idea what I was doing, I just wanted to help farmers. Looking back, the packaging was just shameful.The smell was... well, my daughter wouldn't wear it. But many did like it. Fast forward a few years and we were in some department stores, but then things changed. Gen Z and Millennial kids were becoming the buying power. My Gen X generation was really no longer visiting the stores we were in. And then Hurricane Matthew hit and I went to Haiti [to volunteer]. But we were in bad shape and too far ahead of our time — there was no "Clean at Sephora" back then. I told my friends there about it and one of them told me about the Sephora Accelerate Program. I was like, I'm getting into that program. And then they reached out — I couldn't believe it. I will always be exclusive to Sephora because they saved me. We really cracked the code on how to make a natural scent in the program because I was around the most incredible mentors. And now, we're the number one best-selling clean fragrance brand at Sephora.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
“Get Mad. Take a bath. Have a nap.” I would look at a situation that was now beyond my control due to Covid and I would get mad, let it all out, really just express it, talk it out with my husband and team. Then I would take a bath and reflect on it, after that, I would take a nap so my subconscious mind can do the sifting and sorting while I rest and wake up with the solutions to my issues. Try it — it’s really powerful and good for you.
What tips or advice do you have for other women who would like to start their own businesses?
Follow your instincts, not the crowd. Find something that is not being done and go do it. Find a problem out there and fix it. If you fix people’s problems, that’s the core of sales.
What is a social enterprise and how does The 7 Virtues embody this?
We support nations rebuilding, sourcing organic, fair trade oils. Fair wages and sustainably sourced products. Our focus is Return on Love. We lead with the ROL and the ROI (Return on investment follows) but we don’t lead with the ROI.
What was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Going into business with an old friend. NEVER do that. Business is business.
What does success mean to you?
Having the means to live your dreams and take care of the ones you love. Having the flexibility to take care of your mind, body, and soul. It takes resources. Coming from humble roots, I cherish this very much.
What’s your favourite book, podcast, or show? Why?
I love Marcus Aurelius Meditations. It’s such a classic, I read it over and over to help me in life, personally and professionally. My husband and I love watching shows together. We love Modern Family. Could watch it over and over again. We are a modern family, merged after years of really not being in love and now finding love and our mix of adult children, it’s really so lovely.
What’s your favourite quote?
“When you wake up, be prepared to meet the angry, the lost, the jealous, the jaded…Now LEAD!” - Marcus Aurelius
Breath no life into it. It’s par for the course.
Did you always know you wanted to start your own business? If not, what did you dream of doing growing up?
I always wanted to do business for good, ever since I was little. Business that gives people dignity and a chance. Not charity. We were raised on assisted living and although people meant well when they dropped off a Christmas hamper and drove away, we just wanted to be invited to the banquet, to be included.
How do you balance your entrepreneur life with being an author and social activist?
I love all of it. If you do what you love, it’s naturally balanced.
What is your biggest challenge as a business owner? What is your favourite part of being a business owner?
Control. Ensuring we are manufacturing to keep pace with demand. When your perfumes are loved, you feel badly if you can’t make enough to keep up. And there are many dominoes in the chain, so if a label isn’t done right, it could cost you a month or more. It’s challenging. [My favourite part is] designing lovely perfumes that people love. It brings us all such joy to read all of the IG posts and emails. To think we did this out of thin air.
Follow Barb Stegemann:
Personal Instagram: @barbstegemann
The 7 Virtues Instagram: @the7virtues
The 7 Virtues Website: the7virtues.com
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