From a young age, Jenn Harper, the founder of Cheekbone Beauty, had a passion for the world of beauty and fashion. Harper was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and every time she visited her father in Toronto, she would inevitably end up in the Eaton Centre, perusing the aisles of clothing, accessories and cosmetics like a kid in a candy store.
But as a young girl with Anishinaabe roots, Harper never saw herself represented in any of the big-name brands she loved.
“I could never have imagined that I would have a brand that would be available in a store like Sephora,” she says. “Those were thoughts that never crossed my mind, and it’s truly sad if you think about it.”
Turning Challenges into an Opportunity to Give Back
Throughout her life, Harper lived through hardships that no one should ever have to experience, but which are common in Indigenous communities. As a result of the trauma caused by the residential school system, she lost her brother to suicide and waged her own battle with alcohol addiction.
Instead of crumbling, Harper chose to turn her challenges into an opportunity to give back. The loss of her brother motivated her to help others who were struggling in a way that felt unique and authentic to her. Letting her passion lead the way, Harper worked day and night, juggling a full-time job in the seafood industry with her growing side hustle, Cheekbone Beauty.
She launched the company in 2016, later appearing on the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den to share her ideas with the world. Based out of St Catharines, Ontario, Cheekbone Beauty is known for creating high-quality, cruelty-free beauty products including their signature SUSTAIN line of lipsticks and eye pencils, Warrior Women liquid lipsticks and a variety of other products designed for low environmental impact.
Cheekbone Beauty is a Social Impact Brand
Although she’s passionate about the beauty world, Harper has known from the beginning that the brand’s impact would be about much more than just selling lipstick.
Beyond the surface, Cheekbone Beauty is a social impact business that’s dedicated to serving a wide variety of causes that affect Indigenous communities, promoting ethical and sustainable practices and increasing Indigenous representation in the industry.
According to their website, their mission is to “make a difference in the lives of Indigenous youth through donations addressing the educational funding gap, and to create a space in the beauty industry where Indigenous youth feel represented and seen.”
Empowering Indigenous Youth to Foster Their Love of Learning
Since becoming a Certified B Corp organization, Cheekbone Beauty has committed to giving back 2% of its annual sales revenue to environmental and social impact causes that support Indigenous youth education. The brand also created its own scholarship fund to continue strengthening the ecosystem of Indigenous people who want to make a difference in the world.
“We want to grow to give more and to be part of ecosystem of students and people that also want to give back as part of their career,” Harper says. “As a brand that’s Indigenous founded and operated, we get to be an example of entrepreneurship for next generations. Part of this is empowering them to foster their love for learning and discover what they want to do with the rest of their lives.”
Meaningful Indigenous Representation
Aside from the tangible environmental and social impacts Cheekbone Beauty is creating, the brand is also making a difference in the lives of young Indigenous people in a way that can’t always be measured or counted — only felt.
“It’s really hard to define the impact we know we’re making because it’s really on this psychographic level,” Harper says. “I don’t think you could put it in a spreadsheet, but we feel it and we see it in the sense that our next generations are really seeing themselves represented on such a mainstream level, and that was not something I saw as a young girl.”
Harper describes a recent example of this type of impact in action: Cheekbone Beauty was holding a customer event at Sephora in the Eaton Centre — the very same mall she grew up hanging out in — when she met a 12-year-old Indigenous girl who was visiting with her family.
“She was just so spunky and excited to meet the founder of the brand because it’s someone who looks like her, someone who comes from same community she comes from,” she says. “She just had that spark in her that lets you know that she’ll go on and do amazing things in her life. I was driving home, and I thought, ‘This is how much this matters.’ Because she’s like, ‘What can I build now?’ This is just on that psychographic level we’re putting seeds in kids’ minds that anything is possible for them because people like them are doing these things.”
Cheekbone Beauty is Creating Platforms for Next Generations
Today, Harper says Cheekbone Beauty is placing a strong focus on innovation. In 2020, the team built their own Indigenous Innovation Lab, where they have a team of scientists and in-house chemists focused on upcycling packages and ingredients. Above all, the brand is consistently committed to empowering young Indigenous people to know their worth and build a brighter future.
“That’s why there’s so much power just beyond making makeup here,” Harper says. “We’re creating platforms for next generations to ultimately imagine what they want to do and how they can do it. It just takes one person to believe there’s potential in another.”
Lead image: Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harper/Cheekbone Beauty.