Illegal poppy crops make up 90% of the worlds Heroin supply, but a lot of the people who work on these farms just need work to support themselves and their families. Citizens of war-torn countries often have no other choice than to turn to illicit means of steady income.
Perfumes and peace are not usually two things that people put together, which is why The 7 Virtues is so unique. Barb Stegemann started her company back in 2009 and has had amazing success since then. After her best friend was injured in a mission in Afghanistan, Barb saw an opportunity to continue his work while he recovered. She did this by supporting legal crops for orange blossoms and rose essential oil, which frees the farmers and saves their daughters from becoming opium brides.
The idea of perfumes for peace was something that came to Barb after reading about a farmer in Afghanistan, Abdullah Arsala, who was growing legal orange blossom and rose crops to help farmers get off the illegal poppy crop. So she bought his essential oil and started from there.
No matter how noble the cause, Barb was still starting a brand new social enterprise and face some difficulties. « The banks would not give me a loan. I had a perfect credit rating, I owned my own house, but I did not fit the typical cookie cutter plan they had for loans. I had never made perfume and I was working with risky supply chains in their mind. Back then in 2009 when I was starting out we didn’t even know what the word social enterprise was. I just knew it was the right thing to do. So I did it anyway on my visa card. I broke even and paid it all off in less than 6 weeks. That felt good! » Barb had enough passion for her plan to make it work, no matter the hurdles she faced.
In the beginning, Barb didn’t have a large support system, but she did have a few very good friends that supported her. The media coverage of her business also helped it’s growth. The biggest support she got was the venture capital deal she landed on the Dragons Den and made her fellow Nova-Scotians proud. After the episode aired, her circle of support grew to be much bigger than when she started, with positive messages pouring into her inbox.
To future entrepreneurs, Barb suggests getting a mentor. « Find someone who inspires you, has a vast network and someone who believes in you. » After the Dragons Den episode, Barb had philanthropist W. Brett Wilson helping her along the way and giving her the support she needed. «The world needs more social entrepreneurs. Go for it. Don’t let anything stop you from leaving a better footprint on this earth than you found. »
Before becoming the successful social entrepreneur that she is today, she was a flight attendant between university degrees at Dalhousie and the University of Kings College. This position gave her access to conversations with powerful business people on the plane. Eventually, she went on to become a business advisor for start-up companies in BC. With her experience, Barb had a tight business plan to go along with her strong vision and willingness to take action.
You can check out her products at www.the7virtues.com and find her vegan, paraben free, phthalate free and animal cruelty free perfumes. You can also take a look at her book The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, or the documentary Perfume War in which she is a feature subject.