My Story: Jenn Harper is On a Mission to Empower Indigenous Youth, One Power Lip at a Time
Welcome to My Story, our weekly series dedicated to creatives of colour and their paths to success. By championing these diverse stories and backgrounds, we hope that our understanding of the cultural conversations around beauty and fashion will expand and that respect for our differences will flourish.
Meet Jenn Harper, the founder of Cheekbone Beauty, a made-in-Canada cosmetics line of colourful lipsticks and lip glosses, plus complexion products, focused on low waste and sustainability: think biodegradable packaging and sustainably sourced ingredients. What’s more, 10 per cent of Cheekbone Beauty’s profits are donated to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, a non-profit organization providing reconciliation-based public education, research and support to promote the safety and wellbeing of First Nations children and their families. Formerly a sales professional, the idea for Cheekbone Beauty – which was established in 2016 and puts Indigenous youth at its centre – came to Jenn in a life-changing dream. Here, the entrepreneur shares, in her own words, her brand’s ethos and how she turned past trauma and struggle into do-good triumph.
On the dream that sparked it all:
“I was a serious alcoholic for many, many years and got sober in 2014. Then, in January of 2015, I literally had a dream about making lip gloss — and I don’t dream very often. The highlight of that dream was little Indigenous girls with the rosiest little cheeks, and they were laughing and just so happy. So I jumped out of bed that night, grabbed my laptop and typed up what I now know is called a business plan (I did not know that’s what it was called back then). That was the beginning of it. I took 2015 and 2016 to learn as much as I could about entrepreneurship and the beauty business, from product development to supply chain, market research and marketing. I didn’t go to business school. I just literally read over a hundred books between those two years.
Going through this insane experience of getting sober and getting my own life together, I thought about the ways I wanted the world to work: How could I be a real force for good and for positive change? How could I take money and put it towards good causes? How can I rethink how to operate? It was an opportunity to build a business that I did not yet see in the world and incorporating all of those ideas right into the business plan. I always talk about how I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the trauma and pain in my life. I had to go through that in order to get here now. I’m a grateful, recovered addict who wants to be a good role model for Indigenous youth, for my own family, for my own children. And I want to show that you can use business as a force for good.”
View this post on Instagram
Happy September Warriors!⚡⚡⚡ Personal email invitations will be landing in your inboxes this week. We are are launching a whole NEW Brand Advocate program. Super excited to share the details! Watch your inboxes all week! Thank you for sharing your swatches #Repost @tobyandrocket — Should I make #swatchsaturday a thing on this page? Here are swatches of the @cheekbonebeauty lip products I got recently. From top to bottom: Agave gloss Autumn liquid lipstick Melina liquid lipstick Keyah lipstick Melina and Keyah are really similar on me. For normal times I’ll definitely prefer the lipstick but the liquid lip is way more smudge proof for mask wearing Happy weekend! . . . . . #makeupflatlay #makeupswatches #makeupswatch #lipstickswatches #cheekbonebeauty #crueltyfreemakeup #crueltyfreecosmetics #makeupplaytime #makeupparty #newmakeup #veganmakeup #veganlipstick #indiemakeup #indiemakeupbrands #makeupcollection #lipsticklover #makeupfavorites #igmakeup #lipstickswatch
On learning and growing from one’s traumatic past:
“[That dream] came after me having my own struggles and searching for a long time on why it is that my community constantly struggles. And when I learned in 2015 about the residential school system and the impact that it had, which is called transgenerational trauma, it all started to make sense. Many Indigenous families are still impacted by the residential school system — a system that tried to eradicate Indigenous people of their language and practices. Learning that was really humbling because I used to just think there was something wrong with me and something wrong with my family. It gave me a true understanding of how big of a role that played into the person I had become because of my family history, but also the opportunity to realize that change is possible for so many of us.
I want to share with Indigenous youth that, yes our lives are imperfect, yes we can make mistakes along the way, but we can overcome a lot of those traumatic experiences and turn out on the good side of it as better people. We can be better citizens, better community leaders. We can be better parents and families. That’s all possible. I want to represent Indigenous views and stories, and I realize how important it is to be vulnerable and share that part of myself because somebody who is struggling may hear your story and take something away from it. And the truth is, when I was struggling, I would listen to other people’s stories and find empowerment in them by thinking, ‘Well, if they could do that, then maybe I could too?’ That’s the whole hope with my entire brand. Like The Warrior Women collection is ultimately this platform of incredibly inspiring, strong Indigenous women that we want our Indigenous kids to see and think: if you can see it, you can be it.”
On the importance of being able to tell your own origin stories:
“In mainstream industries, I don’t think Indigenous people have ever truly been highlighted, unless it’s an appropriated version. We see this in sports teams, in Land O’Lakes butter, even in stories like Pocahontas where nobody even got the story correct. And there is this Hollywood version of what it means to be a native person in North America. It’s unfortunate that our stories have never really been told from us, by us — the true stories. So, I’m just glad that Cheekbone Beauty gets to be a part of the storytelling.”
View this post on Instagram
When we use to gather, miss it.🙌🏾 We them Boujee Natives @snottynoserezkids ⚡⚡⚡ All Wearing MELINA Liquid Lipstick named after another Boujee Native @melina_miyowapan 💚 Melina is named after an Indigenous Rights advocate from the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, Canada, Melina Laboucan-Massimo. Melina has been a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights for the past 10 years and is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. Melina has also produced short documentaries on water issues as well as Indigenous cultural revitalization.💚 Melina is a Rosy Peach Nude.💚 What Warrior are you wearing?!⚡ ❤️🙌🏾⚡❤️🙌🏾⚡❤️🙌🏾❤️⚡ #Repost @ericavioletlee — O, for the heady days of meeting friends at a cafe. 🖤 #cheekbonewarriors #CheekboneBeauty #thelipstckforacausecompany
On helping Indigenous youth:
“We aren’t just building a brand that’s about selling lipsticks. The real power of our brand is truly about creating this space for representation for Indigenous kids and creating awareness around the unequal funding for Indigenous kids. We’re doing our part by doing what we can financially and, to date, we’ve donated just over $8,000 to The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. And altogether we’ve donated well over $25,000 worth of products and cash to organizations as a whole that exist to improve and enhance the lives of Indigenous youth. For us, it’s really important that these kids’ education is taken care of and that people understand that they deserve an equal education, just like the rest of the Canadian kids.”
On her brand’s social media visuals:
“They are all of our community. We repost anyone who has purchased our product. We repost pictures along with community members’ thoughts around products. You’ll notice that we’ll make a comment in the caption about what shades they’re wearing, but then we let people express themselves in their own words. Our entire social media strategy is about letting people have this space to share their stories with the rest of the world.”
View this post on Instagram
Imagine your lipstick could make a difference!!! ⚡⚡⚡ Wear, share and tag your shade to @cheekbonebeauty ⚡⚡⚡ SUNNY Liquid Lipstick.💋 Sunny is named after the Lakota speaker, writer, poet, activist, and advocate for sexual abuse prevention from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Sunny is an advocate for Indigenous Women, from helping coordinate the Remember the Hearts of Our Women MMIW March in Rapid City to empower women by sharing her own stories about abuse, finding her own identity and her journey of healing. Sunny also published articles with NativeMax Magazine entitled ‘The Mother Of Racism’ as well as ‘Pursuit of Innocence’ in Last Real Indians.💋 Sunny is an Orange Coral.💋 Thank you for wearing and sharing your @cheekbonebeauty #Repost @lesalove — As a proud Cree woman, daughter, sister, auntie & mother. I am finding myself and my identity to be proud of who I am and where I come from. I’m Registered Massage Therapist and in search of ways of our peoples old traditional healing to incorporate into my practice. As I learn more about my people and our customs and traditions, it’s more and more important to me to support indigenous businesses as they find their way too. T-shirt from @therezlifestyle Warrior Women Liquid Lipstick from @cheekbonebeauty wearing colour (Sunny) #ecommerce #therezlifestyle #firstnations #model #indigenousowned #entrepreneurship #rezBAE #BigAuntieEnergy #landback #supportindigenousbusiness #proudtobeindigenous #creefirstnations #plainscree #cheekbonebeauty #cheekbonewarriors
On the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement:
“Business has just skyrocketed. It’s become super overwhelming, and I honestly believe that the Black Lives Matter movement has played a giant role in our success. I will forever be grateful to the community members that have really propelled this and made the entire world stop and pay attention to something that should have been paid attention to far, far, far earlier. These movements also help us to make better business decisions as well, like who’s going to be working here? What does our board look like? Things that are super important. Even as an ‘awakened’ brand, we also can be learning and listening, because there’s so much more awakening to do.”
View this post on Instagram
BUILD YOUR OWN ECO + REFILLABLE PALETTE IS LIVE!!!💚 Applying change.🙌🏾 Do good.❤️ Feel good💚 Look good.💋 You can now build your own face palette! Choose between your favourite cheek, contour, and highlight shades to create your perfect palette. It's important to us that our products are both not harmful to the environment but also accessible to everyone. This new packaging is refillable, sustainable, and true to the core of our journey to be stewards for the earth. Our original palettes just didn't have a shade that was complimentary to deeper or more fair complexions. With this new launch of shades, we hope you can find your perfect colours! These silky, pigmented powders are so easy to use and add the perfect amount of colour and warmth to your look. A do-it-all addition to your makeup routine. Made in Canada. Made with Biodegradable paper and refillable. Sustainable. 10% of Cheekbone Beauty's Profits Support shannensdream.ca #cheekbonewarriors #cheekbonebeauty
Missed our last My Story column? Click here.