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How One Beauty Brand Supports Indigenous Culture, Heritage, and Joy
How One Beauty Brand Supports Indigenous Culture, Heritage, and Joy
by The Luupe
Cheekbone beauty creates thoughtful beauty products with indigenous culture in mind. We speak with founder about their origins and an exciting new campaign with Sephora and Sid Lee.
In 2016, Jenn Harper founded the digitally-native, Canadian cosmetics company Cheekbone Beauty to "create a space in the beauty industry where Indigenous youth could feel represented and seen."
Intertwining Harper's Indigenous roots with contemporary beauty savvy, the brand creates high quality, cruelty-free products that keep cultural and environmental sustainability at the forefront. Product lines like "Sustain" lipsticks and pencils and "Warrior Women" liquid lipsticks are designed for low environmental impact and long-term wearability.
Beyond their products, Cheekbone Beauty gives back through product, monetary, and project-focused donations to various indigenous youth-related causes including Shannen’s Dream and the FNCFCS, the Navajo Water Project, One Tree Planted, and a variety of non-profit organizations across North America.
And just last week, they launched a powerful new campaign with Sephora Canada and leading creative agency Sid Lee, drawing attention to water issues in various indigenous communities.
On the heels of their new campaign, and in celebration of Indigeonous History Month, we speak with founder Jenn Harper to learn more about the story behind Cheekbone Beauty and what lies ahead.
▲ Meet Jenn Harper
The Luupe: Aside from your amazing product, your brand name is, no pun intended, incredibly sharp and spot on. What’s the story behind the name
Jenn Harper: Before Cheekbone Beauty existed, I spent all of my nights and weekends obsessed with trying to figure out how to start this brand. Between doing market research and product development research, I was also researching more on both the history and present experiences of Indigenous people.
One day, the word “cheekbone” came into my mind after hearing Sarah Blakely, the founder on Spanx, talking about the “K” sound being memorable on a podcast.
Certain facial features, such as prominent cheekbones, are common in Indigenous people. It is one of my personal favorite facial features. I ended up doing home research and learned that people with high cheekbones are perceived as more trustworthy and trust is important when you’re trying to build a business.
The Luupe: Your product names have similar tie-ins - from “Sustain” to “Warrior Women," which feel so conected to your mission.
Harper: The SUSTAIN Line is named that because it was our first product that met our internal sustainability standards – each of the shades are also named for different Indigenous languages’ word for “Land”.
As with everything in our business, we start from our indigenous roots, and then build out our storytelling from there. Whether that’s nature-based (like our Mattifying Moon Dust, Amethyst Eyeliner, or Sweetgrass Lip Gloss) or named for Indigenous representation (like our Warrior Women collection or the SUSTAIN Lipstick line), they all have a basis in representing Indigenous people and culture in the beauty industry.
The Luupe: It was incredobly moving to learn that each shade is named after an indigenous woman who has dramatically impacted the community, often named in homage to the thousands of indigenous languages. How did you select these women?
Harper: One of the foundations of our brand is representation of Indigenous people in the beauty industry, and each of the women we’ve named a lipstick after signifies that aspiration and inspiration. There are so many people we would love to name a lipstick after, but while we were naming them, these were the women making big moves and inspiring me.
The Luupe: How does your product design + aesthetic fit into your mission?
Harper: Our product design and aesthetic align with our mission by being sustainable and high quality. Our products are packaged in a way that will help preserve the earth for future generations.
The Luupe: Building on that, one of your brand missions is “let us right the future together.” How has this factored into your product development, community work, and so on?
Harper: To “right the future”, we have taken a sustainable approach in the development of our products, which are also vegan and cruelty-free, and their components. In terms of community outreach, Cheekbone Beauty has donated upwards of $150,000 in product, monetary contributions, and project-focused initiatives.
Community outreach is one of the most important parts of Cheekbone’s identity - Being able to give back to the community and serving as a role model or just representation for Indigenous youth was part of the reason Cheekbone Beauty was founded.
▲ "Like many foods, maize (corn) and Indigenous communities have developed a harmonious relationship with one another. As a food staple that has sustained our communities, we regard it as one of our sacred plants, carrying and passing down our knowledge and history." Cheekbone Beauty's 2021 Blush/Bronzer Duos use corn as one of their main ingredients – mainly cornstarch, to treat oily skin, take advantage of its fine texture as an exfoliator...
The Luupe: Since 2016 when you launched, what are your proudest moments as far as a brand, in your community development, impact...
Harper: Some of our proudest moments as a brand so far has been getting into Sephora Canada stores, collaborating on campaigns with Sephora and attaining our B.Corp certification. It also goes without saying that being a source of representation, hope and advocacy for Indigenous youth is also something that we are extremely proud of.
The Luupe: Absolutely! Can you talk a bit about the community projects you’re working on/ particularly excited about right now?
Harper: Right now, we are collaborating with Sephora Canada on a campaign called Glossed Over, which focuses on the water crisis that various Indigenous communities are experiencing. During the month of June, all Cheekbone Beauty sales from Sephora will be donated to Water First.
The Luupe Yes! It's also really exciting to see you working with Sid Lee. How did the campaign come about?
Harper: June is National Indigenous History Month, and so now is the perfect time to talk about this issue affecting Indigenous People across the country. This month is already heavily focused on Indigenous issues and knowing that attention is on us, we wanted to use that visibility to start a conversation about this.
The Luupe: What has it been like working with SidLee to develop the concept and vision around the campaign?
Harper: SidLee has an incredibly creative and talented team, and their work on this project was a huge asset. Working on concepts with them is such a pleasure, as they always seem to have another idea to take things to the next level.
The Luupe: Thanks so much for your time and thoughtfull words. Bringing this all together, you started Cheekbone Beauty in 2016 with little experience in the industry and have grown it into an amazing sustainable brand. What have been some of your biggest learnings on this journey? And what bits of knowledge might you tell your past self?
Harper: I learned quickly that the world did not need another lipstick brand. It needed a brand focussed on preservation of resources and representation for Indigenous youth. Something that was lacking throughout my childhood and contributed to my feelings of not belonging. Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster of emotions.
The Luupe: What bits of knowledge might you tell your past self?
Harper: To celebrate the small wins. We too often get caught up on the next task at hand and don’t truly give ourselves the recognition we deserve for how far we have come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Luupe is a one-stop production platform designed to help brands collaborate with underrepresented photographers across the globe, providing resources and opportunities that boost creator’s impact and income, while streamlining traditional workflows to create high quality, diverse content, at scale. Our brand purpose is to help underrepresented photographers and creators further their career and generate income with the goal of improving diversity in front of and behind the lens in the commercial photography industry.