Cheekbone Beauty founder talks about creating a makeup brand with a purpose

An Ontario-based company is partnering with Sephora for Indigenous Heritage Month to help bring clean water to the Indigenous community across Canada.

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Cosmetics played an important role in Jenn Harper’s life.

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“Makeup really has this interesting place in my life,” says the Ontario-based entrepreneur. “I remember when I was a little girl I would sit and smell my mom’s palettes and smell the powders in my hand. I just feel like there’s something about it that’s really powerful.

Later, battling alcoholism as a young woman, Harper recalls that beauty products served as something of a lifeline, grounding her in her present day.

“There were times when I couldn’t leave the house,” Harper recalls. “And it’s only because of the power of wearing makeup or doing a skincare routine that would make me leave the house because I still felt like crap most of the time. It wasn’t a way of life. It was horrible. It was hell.

“It’s like you feel hopeless and in this darkness. But there were days when it was like, ‘OK, I’m putting on lipstick and now I can go try and go to work and feel better.’ ”

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As she worked to overcome alcoholism, getting sober in 2014, Harper explored her family history, uncovering painful truths about her grandparents’ experiences in the residential school system.

“I was really waking up to who I was and where I came from and my family history. So I was learning,” Harper says. “Learning about this generational trauma made me helped to understand my past, my family’s past.”

It was then that Harper decided she was going to work to change the narrative, for herself and for other members of the Indigenous community.

“I’ve been sick and sick with alcoholism for so long,” Harper says. “I didn’t want to admit it was a problem because of the stereotypes that exist among my people. And it’s really frustrating now, when I think about it, how long it kept me from getting healthy.

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During this period of personal exploration, Harper recalls dreaming of young Indigenous women. She vividly remembers them wearing makeup, especially lip gloss. With the memory of the dream fresh in her mind, she approached her family and friends with an idea.

She wanted to start the first Indigenous-owned cosmetics company.

“WWhen I look back now, it’s crazy that someone with no experience in this industry can even think they have…the means to start,” Harper recalls, laughing at that first idea. “But I was really working out of passion and this whole idea of ​​why not?

“Why isn’t there an Indigenous owned and operated brand that brings our ways of knowing and being into this space? And the more time I spent in the beauty industry, the more I realized, oh my, there was so much room for change.

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Launched in 2016, Beauty of the cheekbones is a fast-growing cosmetics company with its own formula chemist at its factory in St. Catharines, Ontario, which Harper calls the brand’s “Indigenous Innovation Lab,” where they can create their beauty products. clean without compromising Harper’s mission for currency.

“Really, the foundation and the original purpose was how can we bring more Indigenous representation into the beauty space?” Harper says makeup products also seek to incorporate Indigenous concepts of life cycle and sustainability.

“The beauty space, just like many others, is about getting a product and selling it into someone’s hands and no one cares too much what happens next,” says Harper. “So we’re really working from a different angle and thinking so seriously about ‘OK, what’s going to happen to this?’ ”

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In April, Cheekbone Beauty received its B-Corp. certification, which allows it to achieve several objectives of sustainability and transparency by the private certification company.

The founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty says the brand’s mission to go sustainable isn’t over with the B-Corp. award.

“We fully understand that sustainability is a journey,” says Harper. “There’s no silver bullet in terms of what we’ve seen in the innovation that’s happening around the world. There is going to be so much more to come.

In addition to its goals of Indigenous empowerment and sustainability, Harper wants its brand to shine a spotlight on issues such as diversity, representation and transparency. She says Cheekbone Beauty’s social media accounts often answer questions from people looking to become a better ally of Indigenous peoples.

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These are questions she is happy to see that she and her team are helping to answer.

“We’ve positioned ourselves to be a good place to land, not only for natives, but for non-natives as well,” says Harper. “We welcome strange questions. We don’t yell at someone because they feel like they asked a weird, weird question to a Native. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we would certainly do our best to find the right answers and resources for people who come to us.

Because of this openness, Harper says many clients turn to Cheekbone Beauty as a resource.

“I feel like because we put ourselves in this position, we really pulled a lot of people in to make it happen,” Harper said.

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Speaking from Vancouver where Harper was visiting Sephora stores ahead of the launch of the brand’s #GlossedOver campaign during Indigenous History MonthHarper explained how the brand’s latest initiative aims to raise awareness of water contamination issues in Canada’s Indigenous communities.

It’s a problem she says few people are aware of – including, at one point, herself.

“I am an Ojibwe woman. I didn’t grow up in my community, I grew up in St. Catharines, the city where Cheekbone operates today,” Harper says. “I never had to think about water and drinking water. Where I now know and fully understand that there are many communities across the country that have to worry about the water coming out of their taps. And it just seems crazy when we live in such a beautiful place.

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The campaign promotes three products specifically designed for marketing, aiming to raise the question, “Would you put it to your lips?” The lip gloss formulas go by the names Luscious Lead, E.Coli Kiss and Mercury Shimmer, each a nod to the water contamination issues facing Indigenous communities across the country.

As of January 2022, an estimated 94 — or about one in six — First Nations communities in Canada do not have access to drinking water on an intermittent or continuous basis, according to water firsta charitable group that strives to solve these water problems through “education, training and meaningful collaboration”.

The entire proceeds from the sale of all Cheekbone Beauty Products at Sephora Canada and until June will be donated to the efforts of the organization.

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“What Water First does is teach communities how to install and maintain infrastructure,” Harper says of the group’s action and education approach. “It’s not just about saying, ‘Let’s put money into something that we can think about to solve a problem.’ They really come to the problem of the water issue with solutions.

“Let’s educate our next generation of Indigenous children on how to care for and treat water treatment systems and how to protect the future of their water.

With the #GlossedOver campaign, Harper hopes to see the impact beauty products have had on her life, further impacting the lives of others.

“It’s makeup doing something it’s never done before,” Harper says. “And that’s something we can actually work on solving – together.”

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