Overcoming adversity: An inspired conversation with Barb Stegemann

Barb Stegemann has been named one of Canada's 100 most powerful women. Her company, The 7 Virtues, sources organic, fair trade essential oils from nations rebuilding from war or strife. On the newest episode of A Wealth of Women’s Stories podcast, hosted by Manjit Minhas, Stegemann shares how her entrepreneurial journey began from a tragic incident in Afghanistan.

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“My best friend was sitting in a peaceful shura, discussing how to bring clean drinking water and healthcare to the families of a village in Afghanistan, and [was severely wounded],” says Barb Stegemann. “He survived. It was a miracle, and I told him, ‘You heal. I got this,’ because that's what you would do for your best friend, right?”

“Then I realized, ‘I don't have this. I'm not a brave soldier. I'm not a world leader,’” says Stegemann. “I thought, ‘Wait a second. Women own the voting power. We own the buying power. Why aren't we harnessing that to reverse this ridiculous cycle of war and poverty?’”

Stegemann read about a farmer in Afghanistan growing legal orange blossom and rose essential oils. She found him, started buying his oils, found a perfumer and launched her company.

“We were a clean and social enterprise before there was a word for it, really,” says Stegemann. “I thought if people are going to help me help these farmers, I'm not going to put harmful chemicals in their perfumes.’”

Manjit Minhas describes Stegemann’s bestselling book, The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen as a women’s guide to living and leading in an illogical world. Stegemann says she dedicated the book to her best friend and brought her thesis to life when she read about the farmers in Afghanistan.

Stegemann pitched the idea of bundling her book with her perfume to Sephora.

“I was told ‘No, we don’t sell books at Sephora,’” says Stegemann. “I was like ‘That’s where women are and I need to empower women to launch social enterprises and run for office.’”

Sephora said they’d try it. And it was a success. The book sold out very quickly.

“I love that they give me the room to prove that this is different,” says Stegemann. “I think that's an important message for anyone out there.”

“I think when it comes to business, it's really important to realize you can do anything. You could make any kind of product. Just get the expertise and consultants, and trust them. Find the right ones, and you're going to go through people. You're going to have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince,” she says.

That dedication shows in her work. Working with her chemist and perfumer, Stegemann says it took 51 iterations to get their product where it is today.

“They actually read about us in The Sunday Times and loved our philosophy, helping farmers in Rwanda,” says Stegemann. “They reached out and took me under their wing, and they don't go 51 versions for anybody.”

“I surround myself with people that I love, and I think that's really important. I treat each day like this could be the last. So, it's got to be the best,” says Stegemann. “If you choose to buy one of my products, I want you to feel like it's the loveliest product ever. Everything should be that way. Then if, heaven forbid, tomorrow we're not here, it was the best day ever.”

You can listen to the full episode here or on your favourite podcast streaming app!

Learn more at ig.ca/women.

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