How Cheekbone Beauty Founder Jenn Harper Is Empowering Indigenous Youth

Photo courtesy of Jenn Harper. Design by Danielle Campbell.

Welcome to My Story, our weekly series dedicated to creative people of color and their paths to success. By standing up for these diverse histories and origins, we hope that our understanding of cultural conversations around beauty and fashion will expand and respect for our differences will flourish.

Meet Jenn Harper, the founder of Cheekbone Beauty, a Canadian-made cosmetics line of colored lipsticks and lip glosses, as well as foundation products, focused on waste reduction and sustainability: think biodegradable packaging and with ingredients from sustainable sources. Additionally, 10% of Cheekbone Beauty’s proceeds go to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, a nonprofit that provides reconciliation-focused public education, research and support to promote safety and good. -be First Nations children and their families. . Formerly a sales professional, the idea for Cheekbone Beauty – which was created in 2016 and puts Indigenous youth at its center – came to Jenn in a life-changing dream. Here the entrepreneur shares, in his own words, his brand’s philosophy and how it has transformed the trauma and struggle of the past into the triumph of good.

On the dream that started it all:

“I was a serious alcoholic for many, many years and got sober in 2014. Then, in January 2015, I literally dreamed of doing lip gloss – and I don’t dream very often. The highlight of this dream was the little native girls with the most rosy little cheeks, and they were laughing and being so happy. So I jumped out of bed that night, grabbed my laptop, and typed out what I now know is called a business plan (I didn’t know it was like that. it was called at the time). It was the beginning. I took 2015 and 2016 to learn as much as I could about entrepreneurship and the beauty industry, from product development and supply chain, to market research and marketing. I didn’t go to business school. I read literally over a hundred books between those two years.

Going through this insane experience of getting sober and living together, I thought about how I wanted the world to work: how could I be a real force for good and for positive change? How can I take money and use it for good causes? How to rethink the operation? It was an opportunity to create a company that I had not seen in the world before and to integrate all these ideas directly into the business plan. I always say I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the trauma and pain in my life. I had to go through there to get here now. I am a grateful and recovered addict who wants to be a good role model for Aboriginal youth, for my own family, for my own children. And I want to show that you can use business as a force for good. “

Learn and grow from your traumatic past:

“[That dream] came after me, having my own struggles and long researching why my community is constantly struggling. And when I learned in 2015 about the residential school system and its impact, what is called transgenerational trauma, it all started to make sense. Many Indigenous families are still affected by the residential school system – a system that attempted to eradicate Indigenous peoples from their language and practices. Learning this was really humbling because I just thought there was something wrong with me and something wrong with my family. It gave me a real understanding of the importance of the role played in the person I had become because of my family background, but also the opportunity to realize that change is possible for 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 these traumatic experiences and become better people. We can be better citizens, better community leaders. We can be better parents and families. It is all possible. I want to represent Indigenous perspectives and stories, and I realize how important it is to be vulnerable and share that part of myself because someone struggling can hear your story and remove something. And the truth is, when I was wrestling, I would listen to other people’s stories and find empowerment in them thinking, “Well, if they could do that, then maybe I could too?” That’s all hope with my whole brand. As the Warrior Woman Collection is ultimately this platform of incredibly inspiring and strong Indigenous women that we want our Indigenous children to see and think about: If you can see it, you can be.

On the importance of being able to tell your own origin stories:

“In mainstream industries, I don’t think indigenous peoples have ever been really valued, unless it’s an appropriate version. We see that in sports teams, in the butter of Land O’Lakes, even in stories like Pocahontas where no one even got the correct story. And there’s this Hollywood version of what it means to be indigenous in North America. It’s unfortunate that our stories have never really been told from us, from us – the true stories. So, I’m just happy that Cheekbone Beauty is part of the storytelling.

To help Indigenous youth:

“We’re not just building a brand that sells lipsticks. The real power of our brand is really to create that representational space for Indigenous children and to raise awareness of unequal funding for Indigenous children. We are doing our part by doing what we can financially and, to date, we have given just over $ 8,000 to the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. And in total, we’ve donated over $ 25,000 in products and money to organizations as a whole that exist to improve and improve the lives of Aboriginal youth. For us, it is really important that the education of these children is taken care of and that people understand that they deserve an equal education, just like the rest of Canadian children.

On his brand’s social media visuals:

“They are all part of our community. We repost whoever has purchased our product. We repost images with community members’ thoughts on the products. You’ll notice that we’ll make a comment in the caption about the shades they wear, but then we’ll let people speak in their own words. Our whole strategy on social media is about giving people this space to share their stories with the rest of the world. “

On the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement:

“Business has just skyrocketed. It got super overwhelming, and I honestly believe the Black Lives Matter movement has played a giant role in our success. I will always be grateful to the community members who really propelled this and made the whole world stop and pay attention to something that should have been paid attention well, far, far sooner. These movements also help us make better business decisions, for example, who is going to work here? What does our board of directors look like? Very important things. Even as a “awakened” brand, we can also learn and listen, because there is so much more awakening to be done.

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