Making the move from marketing and sales to becoming the founder of a beauty business, Jenn Harper is blazing her own path with Cheekbone Beauty. She’s creating environmentally conscious products—including lip gloss, eyeshadow pencils, lipsticks and more—that pay homage to inclusivity in beauty.
Jenn shares her passion for her brand with Elixuer as well as her insights on business while she continues to learn and help Indigenous communities
Can you talk about your background, interests, and why you decided to start Cheekbone Beauty? Why the name “Cheekbone?”
I definitely did not have the traditional path into the beauty space. I was actually in the food industry, including hotels and hospitality. I later worked in sales and marketing for eight years. Then, in 2015, I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream. What I remember the most from that dream was little Native girls covered in lip gloss. When I woke up, I grabbed my laptop and wanted to figure out how to make lip gloss. I always knew I wanted to start a foundation in my grandmother’s name, as she was a residential school survivor.
During all of my nights and weekends, I became truly obsessed with figuring out how to start this beauty brand. I spent thousands of hours on market research and product development. I was also reading about Indigenous people and their history, as well as the problems they’re still facing. I was often on the road, and while driving [one day], the word “cheekbone” popped into my head. I had listened to a podcast where Sara Blakely [Spanx CEO] was talking about how the “K” sound is really memorable. I thought about cheekbones and realized that Indigenous people are known for really high defined cheekbones. It’s one of my favourite facial features. I did more research when I got home and learnt that people with high cheekbones are perceived as more trustworthy: trust is also really important when you’re building a business.
As an Indigenous-owned and founded company, Cheekbone Beauty also gives back to communities, youth, and charities. Why was it important for you to form a company that gives back?
Success actually comes from how much you give back to your community instead of how much you attain for yourself. Giving back is inherently embedded within me as a person as well as for many [other] Indigenous brands and people. It’s really been built into the foundation, as I didn’t want to do this unless there was some way that I could support others. Because of who I am and where I came from—especially now as an adult, a mother, and an aunt—representation is more important than we ever realized.
Even the initial layer of having Indigenous faces represented was part of that. I was really moved to look at how we can support Indigenous kids. In particular by examining funding and power gaps for individuals and groups, especially in education. It just made sense to me that supporting others was always going to be a part of my business.
What kind of a customer base has Cheekbone Beauty attracted so far with its mantra “Do Good; Feel Good; and Look Good”? What is the vision of beauty supported by the brand?
I don’t think any business—particularly on the scale that we want to grow to—can focus on one group of customers. As an Indigenous brand, that is, of course, a part of our story and customers. However, at the end of the day, the reality is that we want many people buying our products. Currently, about 79 per cent of our customers are non-Indigenous.
Our whole purpose was to create allies through beauty, and that’s what we’ve done. We built this community on shared values and principles. We can show that it is possible to offer support, even if you don’t come from the same community. It’s social capital and community; I’m really proud of that.
Your products are vegan, not tested on animals and paraben-free. They are also developed to meet sustainable packaging requirements while being environmentally friendly. Can you share with us the inspiration behind the SUSTAIN line of cosmetics?
I felt that there was no point in starting a business unless there was a sustainable vision included. I think we’re at a critical time in history where it doesn’t make sense not to have sustainability. It took us almost two years to start our journey to achieve this, which we knew from the beginning we wanted to do, but could not afford because it can be really expensive and not always accessible for smaller businesses. As a society, I think we have to realize the power we have, and it’s important to support brands that are working towards sustainability
Lack of sustainability in the world is what’s created the state we’re in now. I wanted to prove to myself that a market existed, and that’s what we did in our first 18 months. Then, we made a massive pivot and invested an enormous amount of money in creating our SUSTAIN line of products
Cheekbone Beauty does not have an extensive portfolio of cosmetic products. Is there a conscious choice to stick to the basics? What does the future for the brand look like?
It’s important to bring things to the market that the customer actually wants. We weren’t revolutionizing the industry at the time, but we certainly are now in terms of what we are doing with research and development as well as making our own raw ingredients. We know that consumers have the power to decide what a brand can offer, and why not simplify that process by including them in the conversation?
With Cheekbone Beauty, the community we built online is 100 per cent organic. We engage regularly with [our customers] and ask what products they want. Everything that we have—all of the items they love—they’ve wanted us to make and want us to continue to make.
Stephanie Hawkins | Contributing Writer