The Colorful World Founded by Jenn Harper
By Shayna Gonsalves, Beauty Concierge
“I always say this, but the world didn’t need another lipstick brand. What the world did need, however, was more representation. I really wanted to create a brand that highlighted Indigenous faces and gave back to the community.”
Born from a dream, Jenn Harper’s idea for Cheekbone Beauty, a line of high-quality, cruelty-free cosmetics, came to her in her sleep: a vision of Native girls happy and dancing, covered in lip gloss. One mid-night business plan and a lot of hustle later, she fleshed out how to create a brand that celebrates beauty, has minimal impact on the earth, and gives back to indigenous communities while offering them something that has been difficult to find within the industry: representation.
Turning down an investment during the 2019 season of Dragons’ Den, Canada’s version of Shark Tank, because their values did not align, she instead received funding from a more like minded group, Raven Indigenous Capital. Going on to receive B Corp Status (a lengthy process which ultimately requires accepted brands to have high social and environmental performance and serves as a legal obligation to the land upon which their business is conducted), this commitment to social and environmental responsibility has deep ties to Harper’s Anishinaabe roots.
Since their launch, Cheekbone Beauty has garnered an ever-growing list of customers and supporters who stand behind the success of this first-ever Indigenous-owned and founded cosmetics brand. All product development is guided by three leading principles: they tell the story of rich Indigenous culture through their names, colors, and brand expressions; they are sustainable and in line with Native teachings, providing maximum wearability with the least environmental strain; and proving that clean and sustainable does not mean boring and bland, highlighting the bold, beautiful, and colorful heritage of Native cultures. While her line of SUSTAIN lipsticks are made for everyone who loves the planet, they are also made with 85% less plastic than average, as well as biodegradable packaging and clean ingredients. This keen focus on sustainability through production and execution extends so far as including sustaining the roots and welfare of Indigenous people and helping to tackle generational trauma head-on. Though on a mission to help the Indigenous community see their own beauty and value in the world, Cheekbone Beauty’s products are made for everyone. As the brand continues to grow, so do their charitable goals: to date, they have donated over $200k to various causes
Here, Harper tells her story to thirteen lune.
What was the impetus to start your brand?
I was never a makeup expert but always loved makeup. It’s my favorite form of self-care and has gotten me through tough times. In 2015, I was still working in sales and marketing in the food industry; I had this life-changing dream that planted a seed – not a metaphorical dream or a vision, a real dream. In this dream, I saw little Native girls dancing, giggling, and exuding such genuine joy, and they were covered in lip gloss. I woke up in the middle of the night, grabbed my laptop, and instantly wrote down what became my business plan.
I always say this, but the world didn’t need another lipstick brand. What the world did need, however, was more representation. I really wanted to create a brand that highlighted Indigenous faces and gave back to the community. I then spent months researching manufacturers and learning about the beauty industry before we launched in 2016.
Do you have a beauty philosophy? What is it?
Yes, my beauty philosophy is all about feeling. I look great when I feel great. I feel the best when I am doing things for other people. I feel great when I am in nature, moving and sweating. I feel great when I get to have a good laugh. To me, this is beauty.
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
I grew up in the Niagara Region with my mom but ended up in Toronto for a short time as I attended school. I did end up returning to the Niagara Region, and I now live in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
What were some of your first memories of beauty growing up?
Some of my earliest memories are getting into my mom’s CoverGirl Pressed Powders. I will never forget the silky feeling on my little fingers and the medicinal scent.
What are some early beauty influences?
Some of my early beauty influences were the 90’s supermodels – Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista. Linda and I share the same hometown, St. Catharines, Ontario, and she even babysat my husband, Paul.
What does self-care look like in your life?
To me, self-care is so important. It includes my morning routine, spending time in nature, movement, and prayer.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
One of the most inspiring things about the beauty industry today is the innovation that we are seeing. At Cheekbone Beauty, we are working on some incredible research and development projects from our Cheekbone Beauty Indigenous Innovation Lab. We are working with a local sustainable winery, Henry of Pelham, and using their grape pomace to extract some incredible phytochemicals for future cosmetics products.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
One of the biggest challenges in starting was finding funding. I started Cheekbone Beauty in my basement with just $500. In 2019, I appeared on Dragons’ Den, where I pitched for investment. I ended up turning down the offer I was given as the stakes were too high at such a critical time in our growth as a brand. After this, we received funding from an Indigenous Investment Firm, Raven Indigenous Capital, whose values and mission truly aligned with our’s.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
I would say that our biggest win so far as a brand has been getting our B Corp certification. The process was extremely lengthy and extensive and took upwards of ten months to complete. As an Indigenous-owned and operated company, obtaining this certification was extremely important to us as it demonstrates our commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Our certification is a legal obligation to our land as we must meet certain guidelines to adhere to B Corp’s expectations of sustainable and ethical practices. Further, B Corp’s mission and standards are true to my Anishinaabe roots; one of the focal points in the Ojibwe cultural belief system is the idea of being interconnected with the land and giving back what we take - as B Lab says, “using business as a force for good.”
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many fellow beauty founders, I would just love to see more authentic collaboration amongst the community.