x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Canadian perfumer scents a means to Middle East peace

It takes some courage to copyright the words "Middle East Peace" but that is exactly what Barbara Stegemann, a deaf Canadian entrepreneur, has done.

Barbara Stegemann has actually trademarked the words “Middle East Peace”. That takes some nerve.

It may not be the most evocative name for a perfume but the light and crispy notes of the fragrance, which blends sweetie grapefruit from Israel and lime, basil and turmeric from Iran, are fresh and youthful.

How did the idea for a perfume dedicated to peace in the Middle East come about?

Ms Stegemann has been made an honorary Colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force after impressing military leaders with her vision and humanitarian works.

In this role she was asked to chair a panel at the Halifax International Security Forum, a non-profit annual event where decision-makers from governments, militaries, business, academia and the media meet to discuss emerging threats in the world.

On her panel were Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Territories’ minister for development and reconstruction, and Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defence minister of the time.

“We all got along so famously. Both are now friends. I thought, ‘what I am seeing is beautiful relationships and I want to communicate that,’” she says.

She began by trying to get a distillery for essential oils set up in the Palestinian Territories but it was difficult. These are nations with risky supply chains, so you have to be patient, she says.

But then she saw something on YouTube that set her on another path. “I saw this amazing campaign. ‘We love you Iran’.”

When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent last year, the Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: “Iranians ... we [heart] you.”

Ms Stegemann was inspired and approached Mr Edry who helped her to find essential oil sources in Iran.

At this point there were trade sanctions between Canada and Iran, which meant you could swap items but not purchase. Also, because the parent company of the supplier she found was in the UAE, Ms Stegemann was able to swap items.

“Well, it became such a huge hit that we had to double production and buy more. Now Canada has just changed the sanctions but I still have some oils left,” she says.

“This scent says, ‘We smell great together, we have citizens that care about each other, we have world leaders that care about everyone.’ We had the new president of Iran wish everyone a happy Rosh Hashanah this year,” Ms Stegemann says.

“The point is we work better together. You don’t have to strip anyone of their power and dignity. You can say “We care about your people. We want to get to know you better.’”

And her perfume is proving popular among Middle East consumers. Ms Stegemann tells how an Arab lady came into Selfridges in London recently and bought 30 bottles of Middle East Peace.

She also has had many Arab customers at Lord & Taylor in New York and is keen to take the product into Dubai and Abu Dhabi because she knows from sales in the UK and US there is demand for it here.

Ms Stegemann is hopeful that in the next few months she will be able to have conversations with the right stores to get her product into the Arabian Gulf markets. She is already talking to Gallerie Lafayette in Berlin and hopes to be introduced to its stores here in Dubai.

“I have people from Columbia, Mexico and Yemen wanting me to do fragrances for them,” Ms Stegemann says.

“I’d love to do something from Syria or from Lebanon.

“At the end of the day, people want to be able to see their farmers buying books and shoes for their children but from a legitimate product,” she says.

Ms Stegemann also wants to inspire other entrepreneurs to trade with poor or war-torn nations.

“Buy from them. When you get down to it, they don’t care about your gender or your faith,” she says. And as she points out, there is no need to actually visit such places.

“There are verified agents and charities that will help you find the products that people are proud to make.”

business@thenational.ae