Where are they now? FP Entrepreneur sent out its Dragons’ Den writer to report back on how some of the startups that did deals on the CBC reality show in the past seasons have fared since.
Dragons’ Den alumnus The 7 Virtues Beauty proves social enterprise and perfume can go hand-in-hand
For Halifax-based The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., two big things are happening on Sept. 21, which is the United Nations International Day of Peace: founder Barb Stegemann, who landed a deal with Brett Wilson on Season 5 of the Den in 2011, will release her first celebrity fragrance, the Lisa Ray Jasmine of India, and that evening, the documentary Perfume War about The 7 Virtues, will receive a red-carpet gala premiere at the Atlantic Film Festival. The social enterprise sources fair market organic oils from farmers in countries rebuilding after war or strife, such as Afghanistan, Haiti and Rwanda, to produce perfumes in Canada, which are now sold internationally.
“The ideas for both the fragrance and the documentary took hold five years ago and now they’re both happening on the same day,” Stegemann said of the documentary directed by award-winning film director Michael Melski.
Stegemann, who has been helping advance socially conscious goals for decades through talks and providing strategy, has a clear goal. She wants to make rebuilding a sexier news story than destruction. “That’s really my job and it’s manifested through perfume, through these essential oils that provide farmers far higher wages than any other crop.”
The self-described retail activist, which she defines as creating products that make meaningful change, is succeeding. After reading about the launch of her Rwanda fragrance two years ago, CPL Aromas, one of the biggest buyers of essential oils in the world, reached out.
“We met in London with the High Commissioner for Rwanda and now they are working with our farmers, adult orphans who survived the genocide and HIV widows, who make twice the income with patchouli oil over the next crop of coffee,” Stegemann said. “They are now helping the farmers improve their distillery and the quality of the oils.”
It was also CPL Aromas that connected Stegemann to jasmine growers in India.
“You can see how a social enterprise isn’t just about dollars made. It’s about, are we really leaving a better footprint on this earth? And are we really empowering families so that their children are not beholden to oppressors because if they can buy books and shoes, they are going to be all right.”
Stegemann views 2016 as a turning point. Perfume is s $29-billion industry, “without hundreds of thousands of marketing you don’t last, and we’ve lasted,” she said.
Then and now
In 2011, The 7 Virtues forged a relationship with Hudson’s Bay, released its first scent and generated $500,000 in domestic sales. Today, it produces five scents, including Middle East Peace, which has become its most popular fragrance even though Stegemann was warned it would be controversial.
“As a retail activist, I thought ‘let’s do it anyway.’ So I trademarked it.”
The fragrances are now available in department stores in the United States, Britain, Austria and Germany and sales have doubled. She is also getting requests from Australia, and Stegemann is looking at India as a key market.
In November, The 7 Virtues will launch a new line of vegan, organic lipstick with oil from Haiti.
The best-selling author of The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, is an in-demand speaker. Recently, more of those speaking engagements have been in the U.S., which is helping Stegemann spread the word about her growing social enterprise.
She recently launched a series of book club Master classes based on her book and in addition to being able to buy the book, participants can also purchase the perfumes. The classes are offered in areas where she often gives talks and where there are no Hudson’s Bay stores.
“We’re now building community through these book clubs and we’re doing it profitably,” Stegemann said. “We started getting requests from women who wanted to host their own book clubs.”
That has led Stegemann to work on a business plan based on a direct selling model that would create another sales channel for all her products.
“The book itself is all about empowering women and with Book Club Master Classes we’re creating an opportunity for women to become entrepreneurs,” she said, adding that the plan is to train Philosopher Queens to host the clubs and do product sales. There are also plans to create custom fragrances, giving people who attend the book club the opportunity to create their unique fragrance.
“We can keep freshening the Book Club Master Class all the time as we grow.”