It's been referred to as "an unlikely weapon in the war;" a joyous fragrance at the beauty counter made from organic essential oils that help farmers in Afghanistan get off of the illegal poppy crop that accounts for 90 per cent of the world's heroin supply. When I launched The 7 Virtues fragrance line out of my garage on my Visa card because no bank would give me a loan, there were a few raised eyebrows. When I hit my break-even analysis in the first four weeks, I knew we were on to something. The laughing subsided. The bank took notice.
We don't have skinny models. We don't have famous movie stars. We prefer to pay our supplier above market value so the farmers see the value in growing these legal crops. We have been known to outsell Chanel.
Our essential oils travel on the most dangerous highway in the world from Jalalabad to Kabul in order to reach us in Canada. I order half of the oils at a time in case they don't make it. There is always the possibility that the bombs on that highway could cut off our supply. I cold-call like a woman possessed, getting our fragrance out to market so I can buy more oils from my supplier, a wise and good man, Abdullah Arsala who dreams of liberation for women in his country. Abdullah has a vision: to produce half the world's rose oil supply and get his tribe and all of the farmers off of the illegal poppy crop. He employs women and men. I have jumped on board his vision. We have 2,500 farmers counting on us.
We launched at the West block of Parliament last year on International Women's Day. We had the wife of Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada take the stage and share her story with the female Senators, MPs, and guests. In a very short amount of time, we landed our fragrance collection at the beauty counter at the oldest department store in North America, The Bay. When I met with Macy's in New York, I had 2,500 Muslim farmers praying for me. That's beauty.
I am half-Jewish. I am a woman. I am an Honorary Colonel. The fanatics can hush down now. Our collective job is to be louder than the fanatics. Anyone can destroy and grab a headline. It takes courage to rebuild. Our job is to make rebuilding more exciting than destruction. We have our work cut out for us.
Beauty is a virtue. I know it can end war. Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists and philosophers of all time, taught that beauty is expression over form. That expression is your power and your dignity. Never hand it over and never strip another of theirs. It's a simple principle that takes daily practice. Like a muscle, the more you practice it the stronger our skill becomes.
Heroin goes against all laws. It goes against Islamic law to grow the illegal poppy crop. Our purchases of the oils from legal crops of orange blossom and rose petals help farmers buy books and shoes for their children. It also gives them their dignity so they do not have to compromise their faith. We were not raised in the same faith. However, virtues that give dignity and power to another are universal. Virtues know no religious boundaries. They are for all of humanity. Giving farmers in Afghanistan their dignity is key to building peace.
Imagine if our mothers taught us that our beauty came from our power and our dignity and not our physical form. Imagine if they taught us to never ever hand our power and our dignity over to another.
Imagine a world where young girls and all women (and men) fully understand that their power and dignity is their true beauty. More women would run for office. More women would launch companies fearlessly. More women would have a voice at the decision-making tables. More women would be in roles of leadership in the military. More women would say, "I will not stay locked in my home, I will learn to read if I so desire. I deserve to go to the doctor. I deserve to live beyond 40 years of age." (The average woman in Afghanistan's life expectancy is 40 years young). Women, if given the chance to work in Afghanistan, will reinvest 90 per cent of their incomes into their families. It's in our best interests to give all women their dignity and power, their true beauty at home and in our global village.
This weekend I will present our work at the Halifax International Security Forum. I will meet with Ministers of Defence from around the world. I will meet with world leaders who are in government from Yemen, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Europe, North America and beyond.
And even if we don't agree, we will ensure that we maintain one another's dignity and power. Beauty is a virtue that could end war.
Barb Stegemann is the best selling author of "The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen" and CEO of The 7 Virtues Fragrance Collection and an Honorary Colonel for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
She will speak at the Halifax International Security Forum.
She was the first woman from Atlantic Canada to land a venture capital deal on CBC's "Dragons' Den."