For Barbara Stegemann, running a business has never really just been about making money. So much so that she didn’t pay herself for years, after starting her venture. Rather the profit is a vehicle to push for greater equity.
Stegemann started The 7 Virtues, a perfume company, over a decade ago before the term “clean beauty” had gone mainstream. Now, her product is sold in Sephora locations across the US and Canada. Though the inspiration for the company and its flagship product came from farmers in Afghanistan, looking for an alternative source of income while living in a conflict (or even post conflict) state, Stegemann has broadened the scope to include ingredients from around the world. What started with the orange blossoms and rose oils from one Afghan farmer (and thus, helped create the company’s tagline, Make Perfume, Not War) has snowballed into a whole line of fragrances with scents just as patchouli, jasmine, and vetiver thoughtfully sourced from around the world in an effort to benefit growers and producers — be it from Rwanda, Haiti, India, or elsewhere.
This year, the company has a new launch, the Lotus Pear, a fragrance designed to exclusively celebrate women and bring to light an underreported issue — period poverty. Still using organic, fair trade essential oils, this fragrance has become symbolic for Stegemann as she deepens her entrepreneurial journey, and learns about the everyday challenges women face globally. By partnering with Days for Girls, sales of the Lotus Pear fragrance will support 700 girls and young women in Nepal and provide access to menstruation products for them.
“The lack of simple resources for women around the world during their periods just frankly surprised me,” Stegemann says. “Even in today’s age, we’re still struggling to get these basics!”
After learning from the non-profit Days for Girls, Stegemann decided to align her company with the cause. Though this launch hones in on supporting women in Nepal specifically, she’s passionate about taking it much further. “This is just the beginning,” she says.
Stegemman has a somewhat unique motto she lives by: “Get mad, take a bath, have a nap, and then get mad again.”
She’s mad this time not only about women not having pads and tampons, but the stigmas that come with a menstruating period — she cannot eat with her family, she cannot work, she cannot go to school. Depending on what corner of the world the woman is in, there are cultural practices that menstruating women still follow. This, she argues, keeps women from pursing their dreams and often, continues to keep them confined to their homes.
While she admits she’s not the expert on period poverty, she sees it as a vital issue and one that her company can get behind wholeheartedly. Women are at the core of her own company, she explains, operating with a primarily female workforce. “We have to pay attention to the needs of women as a society, help them grow, and really listen to their needs.”