24 May 2021 --- Talking to Jenn Harper, founder of the Indigenous-owned and founded cosmetics company, Cheekbone Beauty, BPC Insights explores the importance of having a social consciousness in beauty.
How do you ensure that being socially-conscious drives your brand and your color cosmetics ranges?
There is this beautiful power in cosmetics because it gives people that are using the product the ability to take themselves somewhere else. That could be with a simple aesthetic look. But it is also the ability to take our mind somewhere else because we legitimately feel better about ourselves when we can have that glance in the mirror and feel that we look super cute with a little bit of lip gloss on.
Growing up as an Indigenous woman, not feeling like I have ever seen myself anywhere or could relate to anyone, I just knew how powerful that would be for our kids to feel like they can see themselves. How proud are you going to feel when they realize that our history is built on people, thousands of years before us?
Indigenous people have always paid attention to sustainability. At Cheekbone Beauty, we say: "We are the originals, the OGs, the original gangsters of sustainability," and that is because there are teachings. Our ancestors, my great grandparents, always thought about: What are we doing today? And how is that going to impact our great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren?.
Click to EnlargeJennifer Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty.Nothing was done in any Indigenous community for the sake of one person to gain this enormous wealth. Our Indigenous success is defined by what we do for community and what we do for the world, not by what we do for ourselves or attain for ourselves. So it is very opposite, I believe, to what the Western world teaches us about success, and this moment in history and time is when we really need to harness those concepts to change the world that we are living in.
How does protecting Indigenous communities and sustainability guide everything that you do?
Our first priority was centered on sustaining our communities by focusing on our youth through representation, and now we're asking, "How do we actually make products that leave less of an impact on the planet?".
So now we are taking the concept and using that idea of life cycle thinking, along with the whole concept of the scientific method while building a business. We are also realizing we need to test and test again to try to figure out how to make these really great products that are more sustainable, and not just say that they are. That is the hardest part because there is a lot of greenwashing, but we are trying to really do it authentically.
How does your cause-based philosophy shape Cheekbone Beauty today?
Over the last few years, we have been able to do streams of giving instead of streams of revenue. In spring 2020, Cheekbone Beauty launched its give box, which takes a seasonal box and adds Indigenous businesses to it. Highlighting these businesses, we take a big portion of the money from these give boxes and give back to big causes that we are really passionate about.
In 2020, Cheekbone Beauty’s particular cause focused on helping to provide clean drinking water and solar power for communities on the Navajo reservation in the United States. We partner with organizations that are already in that space and who can help us make sure that the right people are getting the right stuff. DigDeep out of California has a project called the Navajo Water Project, and we partnered with them to get solar power and clean water to a family on one of those nations in Arizona.
Then in the summer of 2020, we partnered with One Planted Tree to plant 2,100 trees in California and Ontario, Canada. We pick a cause because, as we have grown, we really have discovered through even more research, that the connection that we as Indigenous people have to land is so important. So we are really trying to layer in the next level of sustainability.
In terms of achieving inclusivity in the beauty industry, do you see the industry as a whole transforming for the better?
We are Indigenous people that are building Cheekbone Beauty. We authentically know our history and our story, and there is a connection there that you can't just hire a team to build a campaign around. I firmly believe that with all of the movements that are happening, those stories have to be told by the people that have lived that experience.
By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe, BPC Insights Senior Journalist