Who: Barbara Stegemann, founder of The 7 Virtues natural fragrance collection. Barb, as she is known to all, was born and raised in the evocatively named Antigonish, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Although a proud Canadian, she acknowledges the strong influence of the UK, particularly Scotland, over her and her local community, and admits her husband wore a kilt to their wedding and her wardrobe holds at least 12, much loved, tartan skirts.
Barb founded The 7 Virtues, after her best friend, Canadian army captain Trevor Greene, was wounded serving in Afghanistan. The journey to help her friend heal was to prove a momentous one for her. She wrote her first book, The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, a woman’s guide to living and leading in an illogical world, to empower women to launch companies, end bullying, run for public office and to end the cycle of war and poverty.
As if this wasn’t a bold enough plan, she began supporting and buying organic essential rose and orange blossom oils from farmers in Afghanistan so they would not have to grow the illegal poppy crop. Eventually other growers began coming to the brand to set up a similar system in their – often war torn – countries, including Haiti and Rwanda.
Now the brand is sold exclusively at Sephora in 16 countries and in the US, it’s Sephora’s best selling organic perfume. It’s just launched in Sephora UK in its Clean + Planet Positive space and we were blown away by the delightful scents, particularly the reusable gemstone roller ball bottles, what a great idea!
As well as being consciously sustainable at every step – the corporate head office is powered by 100% renewable energy and the brand has partnered with CPL aromas, to improve its reach for sustainable, raw and natural ingredients – it has a strong social conscience. There’s even an award winning movie, Perfume War, on the brand’s story. We met up with the infectiously enthusiastic Barb at the recent Sephora event, where she filled us in on her fragrance journey.
Today I’m Wearing: Lotus Pear by The 7 Virtues. Lotus Pear has aromatherapy written right on the back. It makes me feel blissful. Recently we were renovating, I was super busy and didn’t have a chance to wear it. When I finally showered the dust off of me and put Lotus Pear on, I was just washed over with joy.
Lotus Pear has sustainably sourced geranium from Egypt, upcycled rose and orange water, pear from King Charles’s Highgrove Estate and lotus for rebirth (?). It also supports 1000 women and young girls in Nepal to end period poverty. That’s truly the way to end war. They would otherwise have been locked away and not allowed to eat with their families when on their periods. Now they get washable underwear, pads and the boys are educated on why a period is a miraculous thing. I feel like we can change the world and be a voice for our sisters.
I swim in fragrance. Because it’s made with organic sugar cane alcohol, I put it on my hair, clothes, neck, wrists, back of my knees, ankles. Then I love how it wafts. As you move through the day your body heat releases the scent.
I actually never set out to make fragrance. I just wanted to help farmers in Afghanistan and around the world. But like anything in life, I aim to do it with excellence. I wanted to show that you can be a social enterprise, be excellent and stand up against the big brands. I don’t mind being a scrappy David against Goliath.
My business model is to ensure no one makes all the profit. I believe in the Return on Love, the ROL. If you lead with the ROL, the ROI, the return on investment will follow. Not the other way around. Now our Vanilla Woods perfume outsells many of the big brands with multimillion dollar budgets. And we are just this little family run company.
For me, perfume has to be clean. That means no phthalates, parabens, sulfates, hormone inhibitors. Natural perfumes historically got a bad wrap. People said they didn’t last. So we doubled our fragrance oil concentration. Vanilla is a natural fixative, you just need to have more. Then we infuse it in organic sugar cane alcohol. It’s like biting into an organic pear, it just tastes better. And our gemstone perfume oils use organic jojoba oil. Your skin is your largest organ. If I am going to help farmers I don’t want to harm your skin. It’s so simple to do what’s right.
The big launch in the UK at Sephora was thrilling. We are expanding our clean perfumes with our new launch Coconut Sun, a happy sparkly scent, on International Women’s Day (?) and it will fund an entire water project in Egypt. Then we are working on body and hair scenting products because we love to swim in clean perfume.
I just bought my first home diffuser. Our chemists made me an ambrosial blend of all of our perfumes, since they are made from natural oils, I am using them in my diffuser. It’s really quite something to smell our entire collection at the flick of my remote control! (?)
As a kid, I loved the smell of gas at the gas station. No idea why. But with our electric cars (the whole company drives electric) it’s been a long time since I have smelled that. Probably a good thing. Also anything freshly baked with butter and Chinese restaurants. I used to waitress during university at Chinese restaurants and it makes me happy.