- Barb talks about being prepared for things when they go wrong, which they do
- How her brand became the No.1 best-selling clean fragrance brand in Sephora
- How her natural Perfume company was born out of the struggles in Afghanistan and is the subject of the award-winning documentary Perfume War
Barb Stegemann is the Founder of The 7 Virtues – a socially and environmentally conscious clean beauty brand that meets the lifestyle and performance levels of today’s consumers. She talks to 35 Thousand about navigating her brand through the last couple of years and pursuing her obsession to end corruption in the world.
Describe yourself in 3 words…
Curious, passionate, unstoppable
Tell us about your work…
My best friend got wounded in Afghanistan by the Taliban while serving there. In the hospital, I promised that I’d take on the mission of peace. But I’m not a brave soldier, so I started writing a book called The Seven Virtues Of A Philosophy Queen, which is now the eighth edition, and it’s empowered women to launch companies and run for office — I realized women own the voting power. I brought the thesis to life and started buying the perfume oils in Afghanistan and tried to get the farmers off illegal poppy, which is used for heroin. 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. But then in the last six months or so, all the troops left and people had to evacuate because the Taliban took over.
Today I continue to make clean perfumes which as a social enterprise help rebuild nations and communities all over the world by supporting farmers grow organic, ethical fair trade fragrance oils. Along the way, we’ve been the subject of the award-winning documentary Perfume War, I’ve been chosen as the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, earned Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and been one of the highest grossing brands that has come out of Dragon’s Den (Canada’s Shark Tank). I use everything I’ve learned to help inspire other people, giving talks around North America at organizations like Facebook, Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations.
Do you work in a spare room, skyscraper, or other?
I work in a state-of-the-art sound studio in my hometown Halifax that we built during the pandemic, so I can continue hosting speaking engagements, providing my retail partners education, managing product development, and all the other important meetings that go into running a business.
What parts of your work drain you?
You have to be prepared that something is going to go wrong, because in running a business something always pops up. It’s about how you handle it – picking yourself up and making smart choices on how to fix the problem – that keeps you going. I make it a point to swim every day to clear my head, and take an hour long walk with my hot husband.
Most pivotal point of your career so far?
I launched the perfume out of my garage on International Women’s Day in 2010. And it was shameful — the packaging was awful. The smell was… well, my daughter wouldn’t wear 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
Best piece of advice you received that you now pass on to others?
The DNA of our brand is to help people. And my whole thing is get mad, take a bath, have a nap, and then get mad again. There has to be a way for us to end poverty, end war, and stop going back into this patriarchal cycle of spending billions in bloodshed.
Pets, hobbies, external commitments?
Tuxedo cat, Waldo, a rescue kitty.
I love to make hickory smoked vegan cheese for my friends and have slightly boozie afternoon tea on the weekends (sometimes without the tea). Pre Covid I travelled to the countries we do trade with, and volunteered and taught marketing in Haiti to startups.
Describe your pre-pandemic day-to-day…
Catch up on emails 6 am – 6:30.
Swim laps at the Olympic size pool for 50 minutes at 7:15 am – I get all my ideas here under the water away from all sounds.
Take a long bath and read.
Morning meeting with our team 10 am.
Usually back-to-back virtual calls and often speaking engagements through my agents in LA and Toronto.
Afternoon 45-minute walk with my husband where we can find a break by the lake, holding hands. More head-clearing.
4:30 to 5 pm I make dinner, I love how the sun comes in while I cut the vegetables.
6 pm family supper, we sit around and talk.
7:30 go back and do some catching up on work.
Spend quality time with my hot husband alone.
Watch part of a Netflix show with my husband.
10:00 – 10:30 pm sleep.
How has your daily life changed, what’s your new normal?
It’s actually the same as it was just minus the flights. I used to live out of a suitcase, but when I was home, I was home exactly as I am now, making dinner for my family, spending time with my closest friends in my bubble, working virtually.
Has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally? How?
It was really hard at first as our 600 stores shut down, all of my speaking engagements were canceled or postponed. However like everything you find the silver lining. You really have to. There is no alternative. My son and I love to train our Sephora stores personally and suddenly we could not cross the border. So we adapted and our son Victor built a state-of-the-art studio and we began to train virtually and saw our sales rise 132%. It gave me the idea that we could actually expand and now we are expanding into Sephora EU in 13 countries this summer.
I also learned to never get back on the hamster wheel. I have a much calmer, more efficient life now and I am going to maintain this.
What, if anything, keeps you up at night?
Nothing keeps me up at night. My head hits the pillow and I have the best sleep. Oh wait, there is one thing that keeps me up at night(!) and that is my hot husband. So hot.
What have been your best coping strategies over the past year? Do you have any objects, routines or tools that you found particularly uplifting? Gin or Gym?
I take cool writing courses. I love the challenge. My first book is now in 8th edition, sold at Sephora with a set of our Vanilla Woods Perfume. I feel it’s time to write another book, but not without learning a few things first. I love to learn new ways to write. I have become obsessed with virtual evening writing classes and I am on my 4th one. This one is memoir writing. Powerful stuff to dig deep. Very cathartic.
My routine that has changed my life literally has become my mantra.
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, then I take a nap so my subconscious mind can do the sifting and sorting while I rest and I always wake up with the answers I need and solutions to the issue. Try it. It’s really powerful. And good for you.
What has kept you sane? And kept your family sane?
Personally, being so grateful that I have time to think and write and read. I never had time like this before and I am not going to waste it. It’s precious. It’s a gift to have this time now. I always see the gift in the situation, likely rooted in our humble beginnings. My sister and I were raised by a single mom on welfare, so we have always been grateful and resourceful.
For our family, I thought a lot about my 80-year-old father who is all alone, his wife has Alzheimer’s and he had periods where he could not even visit her in the home. My in-laws are also 80 and isolated, so I came up with Friday backgammon and Cribbage card game tournaments. They all come over to our house Friday at 4 pm and we all have the most delicious snacks and wine while we play and let our hair down. It’s become a very, very special thing for us all. And sometimes all the kids come over for dinner after. It’s much fun!
Did 2020 change your outlook on life in any way?
I used to have a love/hate relationship with my home province — always wanting to be somewhere more exciting, faster, more cosmopolitan. But I found time to reconnect with people here in my industry and the hate bit is fully washed way. I feel nothing but love, extreme love for my home community. And that’s a blessing, a real gift.
Are you travel ready? Where do you want to go, with who or would you rather stay home?
I am!! I was asked to fly to Las Vegas to give a speaking engagement this summer…So I am going. I might bring my husband, we will decide depending on quarantine rules upon returning home by then. I do love it at home, but I have hibernated enough.
Finish this sentence “If you look in my handbag at any time you will ALWAYS find….”
Perfume samples for strangers, hand sanitizer, my wallet, glasses cleaner, pen, my Invisalign case, sunglasses, face sunscreen, Fenty lip gloss.
What are your work from home saviours?
My apple mug that keeps my decaf coffee at the exact same temperature so it never gets cold.
I drink tea in a china teapot in my bath every day.
I listen to jazz and the blues every day. The classics, Pearl Bailey, Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Dina Washington.
Describe your style?
Big! I am 5 foot 9 and ¾. I love 3 – 4 inch heels. I love big classic outfits, big glasses, I’m a bit androgynous with a feminine edge so I display that when I give keynote addresses the men in the room find me relatable, but so do the women. That style is crucial, you are judged in the first 4 seconds of a person meeting you. Your style should give comfort to others, but also be a real expression of what you love and who you truly are.
Name your 5 essential items of clothing?
- Smythe Blazers (love the Birkin) I have 8 of them
- Black Halo Jumspuits (they make you look 5 lbs thinner and two inches taller) I think I have 15 of them, they are my uniform
- Body suits. I LOVE sexy bodysuits. So fun and easy to be dressed and fabulous quickly.
- Lululemon Body board suit. I have 6 of these, you can wear them for a walk and be fabulous and then literally do yoga, work out and then jump in the pool all in the same outfit!!! I get stopped by women from 18 – 80 asking me where I got them.
- Vans sneakers – with a skirt and a body suit, this is just the most fabulous outfit to run around and train store and yet go out for dinner and walk around a city and still be hip.
How do you see your business or career in two years from now?
We will have launched more perfumes, but more loudly with videos and songs, and just alternative ways to launch perfume creatively. I will have written another book and our team will be bigger so that I can focus more on time with my hot husband and writing and traveling.
What’s something you haven’t conquered yet but really want to?
I am obsessed with ending corruption in our world. I am on a mission to really end it. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but it’s worth doing so that children in Haiti don’t have to live in the streets or get taken into the sex trade. This is my priority.
What could you say to your 20 year old self that would help her the most?
I would reverse the equation. I would have her tell me, “You’re right on track, you stuck to your values, you remain true to your ethics, you are a woman of character and this is your destiny”.
Do you have a life motto or mantra that really resonates with you?
Make Perfume Not War®
Make anything instead of war. I even trademarked it. I believe in this so much.
Take a look at The 7 Virtues website here.