S+T Feature: Cheekbone Beauty’s Jenn Harper
We’ve been looooong time fans of Jenn Harper. An award-winning social entrepreneur, Jenn is the founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty, building a socially and environmentally responsible powerhouse cosmetics company all while fervently supporting Indigenous youth.
Talk about looking good AND feeling good about it! Cheekbone Beauty is an Indigenous-owned and founded cosmetics company with the mission of ensuring every Indigenous youth on the planet sees and feels their enormous value while creating sustainable colour cosmetics. Jenn has been making a name for herself in the beauty industry for years but gained popularity quickly after being on the hit CBC show Dragons Den in 2019.
During Cheekbone Beauty’s infancy, Jenn endured a heavy personal loss with the suicide of her brother B.J. This loss, though difficult, remained a driving force behind the desire to see Cheekbone Beauty succeed with its mission: to empower Indigenous youth. As part of that pursuit, Cheekbone Beauty donates 2% of revenues to organizations that support Indigenous youth.
You can see how inspiring Jenn is, so to no one’s surprise she has inspired us to follow in those footsteps. To honour Indigenous History Month, we teamed up with Jenn and Cheekbone for the launch of our new Coffee Date Dress! We’ll be donating $5,000 from the collection to Water First – which you’ll learn more about below – an organization hand-selected by Jenn. Plus, the first 100 people to purchase our new Coffee Date Dress will also get a Cheekbone Sustain lip gloss! It’s really a win-win-win.
We’re grateful to Jenn for teaming up with us and for taking the time to share her incredible story with all of us today.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey creating and running Cheekbone Beauty for anyone who hasn’t met you yet.
I started in my basement as a side-hustle in 2016 with the goal of making sure no other Indigenous youth felt the way that I did about seeing no one who looked like me in the beauty industry. Learning about the effects of a residential school on my grandmother as well as overcoming my own personal struggles with alcoholism; having a literal dream of native little girls covered in lip gloss. I woke from that dream and started writing out my business plan. Then worked every evening and weekend on Cheekbone from that corner in my basement, appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2019.
Since then, we have moved into an office space, we built our own Indigenous Innovation Lab, we hired a full-time chemist, and launched on Sephora.ca then in select Sephora Canada stores. This relationship with Sephora Canada continues to drive our mission in helping Indigenous youth see themselves in the beauty industry, on store shelves. Losing my brother to suicide is still the driving force behind Cheekbone. Thinking about how much my brother valued seeing people like us succeeding, I know we must keep working to make this happen for all Indigenous people. I whole-heartedly believe that representation saves lives.
How can style help us to accept and express individual and/or collective identity?
For me, I love incorporating pieces of my culture into my fashion to express myself both individually and collectively. I would say that the collective identity expression is done through the use of jewelry and other accessories created by Indigenous artists, or wearing pieces created by Indigenous designers and the individualized expression would come from the way I choose to style those pieces as part of my look. All in all, I would have to say that the expression of oneself through style is all about what and how they feel wearing certain pieces.
You’ve provided important visibility for Indigenous women in Canada and beyond. What advice would you give those who don’t feel represented in mainstream media?
This is something I always say to other entrepreneurs – If you don’t see a seat at the table for yourself, build a new table. Create a new spot for yourself.
Do you have any experiences or anecdotes that demonstrate just how important it is to provide representation in the beauty and fashion industries?
Before I lost my brother BJ, he would always message me anytime he saw Indigenous representation in the media, expressing his admiration. It wasn’t until after his passing that I saw Reservation Dogs on the red carpet and realized that this would be something he would be so excited to share with me. Representation in beauty, fashion, and the media is so important because it helps people to feel belonging in spaces where they don’t normally see themselves.
Cheekbone Beauty’s products are all low environmental impact products. Why was this important to you when building Cheekbone?
As I often say, Indigenous people are the OGs of sustainability. While sustainability, protecting the environment, and social responsibility are big drivers in business, these are things we would have done regardless. At Cheekbone Beauty, we began our sustainable journey after our first year in business when we started to see the negative impact of packaging and mass production. We spent our last three years in research and have started to create products with the idea of using less. To ensure our cosmetics have a minimal environmental impact, we offer products that are safe, containing raw ingredients with ethical sourcing. For our packaging, we use a lot of recyclable and biodegradable components, the packaging for our new Mattifying Moon Dust setting powder is a tin that can be reused. Our sustainability journey is never over, and we will continue to innovate and find new ways to make our products and packaging as sustainable and clean as possible, which ensures that we show our promise to the land for generations to come.
The proceeds from our partnership are going to Water First, which addresses water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada. Could you tell us more about why this cause is near and dear to you?
Water First focuses on the water crisis and advisories being experienced by over 30 different Indigenous communities in Canada. According to the Water First Organization, as of January 2022, approximately 94 (or about 1 in 6) First Nation communities in Canada don’t have access to clean water. These numbers include both short-term and long-term boil water advisories as well as ‘do not consume’ advisories. While not Indigenous-run, Water First employs many people from Indigenous communities and are on a mission “to help address water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada through education, training and meaningful collaboration.” This aligns with Cheekbone Beauty’s values with their focus on providing Indigenous youth with the tools and education needed to make decisions surrounding water and potential careers in the water industry. They also offer a paid Indigenous intern program on how to become water treatment plant operators to assist their communities with the infrastructure that allows for safe and clean drinking water.
What other Indigenous brands, businesses or organizations do you love?
I love B.Yellowtail from LA, Eighth Generation from Seattle and Lesley Hampton from Toronto.
You have a mandate to help every Indigenous youth see and feel their enormous value in the world. How can we all contribute to that goal?
The best way to contribute to that goal is to serve as an ally to Indigenous youth. It is crucial that non-Indigenous folks make a conscious effort to educate themselves on the complex issues surrounding our communities. Support Indigenous brands, purchase and read books by Indigenous authors and do your own research. Representation and allyship are so important for Indigenous youth to feel seen and heard.
Thank you, Jenn, for taking the time to share your impact with us. For more information on Water First, visit waterfirst.ngo.