Kicking off our spotlight on BIPOC leaders in the wellness and beauty space, we sit down with Canadian cosmetic brand Cheekbone Beauty founder Jenn Harper. Based out of St.Catharines, Ontario, Canada Cheekbone is dedicated to bringing sustainable whilst beautiful products to the North American beauty forefront. They just launched at Sephora this fall and we couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity to celebrate that. In addition to their gorgeous cosmetic offering, Cheekbone Beauty gives back to the Canadian Indigenous community through sales of their products.
Check out our interview with Jenn Harper below.
SIDEWALK HUSTLE: Can you tell us about how Cheekbone Beauty came to be? What was the trigger that made you (Jenn) start a beauty brand?
Jenn Harper: I was never a makeup expert but always loved makeup. It’s my favourite form of self-care and got 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. I really wanted to create a brand that highlighted Indigenous faces and gave back to the community. Since the moment I jumped out of bed to jot the idea down on my laptop, I was inspired. Since then, I’ve spent months researching manufacturers and learning about the business before launching in 2016. Fast forward and it is clear that we are driven by passion.
SH: What challenges did you face starting a sustainable, responsible, charitable beauty line?
JH: One of the most challenging things is finding the right partners that are also focused on sustainable and reduced packaging. There are also raw ingredients, and we call those “raws” and where we are sourcing the main ingredients in the products that we make. For years, this industry has relied on petroleum, which does not biodegrade. There are ways, through what is called green chemistry, that you can look for ways to have these products re-enter the planet in a healthy and natural way. We use this concept and we view the entire cycle – from the harvesting of the raws, whether that’s ingredients or packaging, to the end of the product life and what happens along the way. We do not want these to end up in landfills and do everything possible to avoid that. Making sure that we are part of educating the consumer as we begin this path.
For cosmetics of any kind, you have to remember that these are go and travel, whether they are distributed directly to the consumer or to a retail partner, they have to be secure and sealed and meet all compliance standards. As much as we want to pursue more naturally derived ingredients, there have to be some sort of preservative component added to that so we are always evaluating how we can do a better job.
Finally, Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ) are always tough when you are a small business. It is not feasible to purchase thousands of products that you can’t sell before expiry. This is one of the reasons that we have created our Indigenous Innovation Lab. We plan to bring eventually bring some products in-house and use this space to come up with our own special formulations.
SH: Being an Indigenous woman, what would you say was/is the biggest business hurdle for you to overcome?
JH: Not seeing my kind of people in mass media and pop culture settings made me feel like my culture wasn’t valued, raised a lot of questions about my identity and a lack of belonging.
I had to overcome my personal addictions and issues before I could ever be successful in business.
SH: What was your very first product, and how did you market it? Who was it for, and what was its purpose?
JH: Our very first product was lipgloss. Jenn’s dream that sparked her idea for Cheekbone Beauty was of young Indigenous girls covered in lipgloss, so it was only fitting!
SH: Do you have a flagship product that you think every person should own?
JH: I think every person should have a go-to lipgloss. Mine is our SUSTAIN Lipgloss in the shade Sweetgrass. It is a simple touch that hydrates your lips and gives your pout a little extra oomph for those long zoom calls or under your mask. Lip hydrating is key these days and our lipglosses are packed with Vitamin E and other hydrating ingredients.
SH: What is your dream for the users of Cheekbone Beauty?
JH: My dream is for every Cheekbone Beauty user to think about the impact that they have on people and the planet. Whether that is how they treat others, what they are putting on their skin or what they put in their trash; we want our users to be cognizant of their actions. Our users are the present and the future towards changing how society progresses.
SH: What is your dream as the founder of Cheekbone Beauty?
JH: As the Founder and CEO of Cheekbone beauty my dream is to change the narrative for our youth. I do not want any Indigenous youth to feel the way I did growing up – like they don’t belong.
SH: Can you tell us about the organizations you donate proceeds to, and how people can donate and help?
JH: During the development of Cheekbone and after learning about my grandmother’s experience in residential school I did hours of research to find an organization helping to close the educational funding gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. I found the First Nations Chile & Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and felt they were a great fit.
While we continue to support the FNCFCS today by donating 10% of profits to Shannen’s Dream, Cheekbone Beauty has made contributions of over $185,000 cash and in-kind donations to various organizations whose mission aligns with ours: to help every Indigenous youth see and feel their enormous value in the world.
Organizations include, but are not limited to the following:
-Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Women’s Shelter
-Youth Leadership Society of BC
-Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction
-Horizons for Youth
-Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
First and foremost, people can educate themselves surrounding the treatment of Indigenous people in history and then apply their learnings to find an Indigenous organization supporting the issue they are most passionate about.
SH: Do you have any advice for beauty influencers and those wanting to start their own beauty brand?
JH: We’re learned a few things. It’s important to carefully think about what you stand for and stick with it! Especially in the beauty business, it’s now more than just aesthetics, it’s about really helping us with our self-care and bringing out the best in us. We’re still learning. At the end of the day, we’re all human and make mistakes – nobody is perfect. If you do not give up you cannot fail, so consistency is the key.
Shop Cheekbone Beauty at cheekbonebeauty.com or sephora.com.