Every entrepreneur is driven by the power of a dream.
For Jenn Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty, putting her head down was literally and figuratively the impetus for creating the business.
“I recall putting my head down on my pillow and having this vivid dream of seeing three native girls covered in lip gloss, with the rosiest little cheeks, and watching their pure joy and laughter,” remembers Harper. “I woke up, grabbed my computer, and started writing: Figure out how to make a lip gloss…”
Since its inception in 2016, Cheekbone Beauty has made it its mission to help Indigenous youth see themselves in a beauty brand, paving the way for sustainable product development and manufacturing.
As a Certified B. Corporation and member of 1% for the Planet, Cheekbone Beauty intertwines its Indigenous roots with westernized science to craft the best product for people and the planet.
“We want to honour the gift that is this planet,” says Harper. If you look at nature, it is perfect; everything is used and recycled and repurposed. This is the vision for the Cheekbone Beauty brand: “Sustainable by Nature.”
Based in St. Catharines, ON, Cheekbone’s definition of success is not based on what you attain for yourself but instead on what you give back to your community.
To date, Cheekbone Beauty has donated more than $150,000 to a wide variety of causes focused on Indigenous youth education.
For National Indigenous History Month, Cheekbone Beauty partnered with Sephora for its latest philanthropic endeavour (#GlossedOver) to raise awareness about water contamination issues in Indigenous communities, where an estimated 94—or approximately one in six—First Nations communities in Canada don’t have access to clean water either intermittently or continuously.
From the sale of Cheekbone Beauty products throughout June, the beauty retailer will donate all proceeds to Water First, a charitable organization which has collaborated with 60 Indigenous communities while supporting Indigenous youth and young adults to pursue careers in water science.
As an Anishinaabe woman who battled alcoholism and has been sober since 2014, Harper expressed her surprise at how far she has come in an interview she gave to Postmedia at the launch of the campaign:
“When I look back now, it’s bananas that someone with no experience in this industry would even think that they have the wherewithal to even begin, but I was really working off passion. This whole idea of why isn’t there an Indigenous-owned and operated brand that’s bringing 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 goodness, there’s so much room for change.”
As a small business managing exponential growth, the need became much greater for a more sophisticated supply chain and logistics solutions that would make order fulfillment easier and the customer experience more seamless.
“We started working with UPS, and it’s been amazing because you never feel small with UPS – and we’ve grown so much together,” says Harper. But Cheekbone’s growth has been purposeful: it opened its Indigenous Innovation Lab in 2021 and hired an in-house chemist to create formulations with local ingredients and by-product ingredients from local industries.
After gaining popularity following an appearance on the hit TV show “Dragons Den,” Harper is intent on forging a path to true sustainability, in line with the teachings of her Indigenous roots, creating a perfect circular economy in the cosmetics space.
“The Cheekbone culture and tone is based on an Indigenous worldview; our customers are our community, and we gather in circles to share what we have,” says Harper.
It has indeed come full circle for the little girl who remembers sitting and smelling her mom’s palettes and feeling the powders in her hand – and now inspires other young women to dare to dream.