- Entrepreneur creates luxury fragrance brand with ingredients from war and disaster zones
- The "7 Virtues" brand has tapped Afghanistan, Haiti and now Rwanda
Ikirezi's designer scent "Patchouli of Rwanda" is now sold in upscale Selfridges of London, as well as many of the world's leading department stores, alongside the offerings of Chanel and Estee Lauder.
This dream comes true courtesy of Canadian entrepreneur Barbara Stegemann, for whom it is all in a day's work. She is the founder of "7 virtues," an enterprise with the rare mission of producing exotic, luxury fragrances of uncompromising quality, and also building successful businesses in the most devastated regions of the world.
"We are up against giants and we shouldn't really exist," Stegemann admits happily. "But you just have to follow your gut and hope that people will connect with what you're doing."
The mission has been deeply personal from the outset for the ex-journalist, which began after a near-fatal ax attack on a serviceman friend in Afghanistan that made her determined to find a way of supporting development in the country.
She found it in Abdullah Arsala, a Jallalabad supplier of oils, on the verge of quitting under pressure from the Taliban. Stegemann extended her credit card to its limit to buy a single cup of orange blossom for $2,000, and via a Canadian perfumer released the first bottles in a few local stores.
An appearance on entrepreneurial reality TV show Dragon's Den secured her publicity, investment and a long-term business mentor in philanthropist W. Brett Wilson, enabling her to scale up production.
Four years later, 7 Virtues has produced fragrances from Afghanistan, Haiti, Iran and Israel, and now Rwanda. Stegemann's line is carried in the boutique stores of Europe and North America, and airlines such as Virgin Atlan