A True Color Of Beauty Business And Bonding

By Lakmina Jesmin Soma

February 20, 2024 at 12:00 AM

Interview with Jenn Harper, CEO of Cheekbone Beauty

Interview with Jenn Harper, CEO of Cheekbone Beauty

Jenn Harper, an Indigenous eco-inventor and the CEO of Cheekbone Beauty, talks to Farzana Kabir of Ecomilli. As an entrepreneur, Jenn aims to revolutionise the beauty industry, ensuring inclusivity for all skin tones. Cheekbone Beauty is a beacon cosmetics company in Canada dedicated to crafting products catering to diverse beauty needs. Lakmina Jesmin Soma has condensed Jenn's interview into a concise written form for our readers' convenience. Listen to the full interview in the Podcast.


“If I went into a lake or an ocean with my lipstick on, would that live in that water ecosystem forever, or would it biodegrade? I am trying to think about things in the sense that we don't want to have a negative impact here; we want to be a positive one, not only on people that we love in our communities and around the world but also on the planet. So, we are doing business differently, where love, respect and humility are part of the core of our business and our brand.”

Jenn Harper, an Indigenous eco-inventor passionate about creating a more inclusive beauty industry, was describing to the Ecomilli. She is the CEO of Cheekbone Beauty, a Canadian-born first-indigenous beauty brand that paves the way for sustainable product development and manufacturing in the cosmetic industry. She strongly advocates for Indigenous youth, and her Cheekbone Beauty donates a portion of its profits to support educational opportunities for them. Jenn recently participated in the Ecomilli podcast and talked about her journey to starting Cheekbone Beauty, her vision for the beauty industry's future and her advice for other entrepreneurs.

“I am featured in this issue of Entrepreneur Magazine along with 99 other women of influence, one of them being JLO (Jenifer Lopez), who's on my cover; that is so exciting!” Jenn had no idea about starting a business. “When I started the brand, I probably didn't even know what the word- ‘entrepreneur’ really meant. I remember buying this magazine and reading the other stories and how people have built businesses. I had no experience in the business world except for working for other people. So, becoming an entrepreneur truly has been a journey, a very exciting and rewarding one”, she added.

Jenn Harper shared her incredible journey of becoming an Entrepreneur. She had been in the food industry for most of her career. She worked in more boutique-style hotels for the first part of her career. Then, she ended up in a sales and marketing role for a seafood company. When she worked for them then, she got the idea to become an entrepreneur. In her words, it was a ‘crazy and life-changing dream.’

“It was in January 2015. I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a dream of indigenous little girls.” Before going further about her dream, she explained her background. “So, I'm Ojibwe or ‘Anishinaabemowin’, one of the first people of North America. And for thousands of years, my ancestors lived around the Great Lakes. I think we have one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world.” Again, she described her dream- “But these native little girls had the rosiest little cheeks, and they were laughing, and they were having so much joy because they had just made like such a big mess of themselves.” She said, “I just grabbed my laptop, and it was so clear to me that I was on this new journey, and I'm going to figure out how to make a lip gloss.’’ Further, Jenny said, “What was happening in my personal life simultaneously, it's interesting. I had battled alcoholism for many years, and November 26, 2014, was the day I got sober. And then I had this dream in January, only a few months later.”

At that time, Jenn was also learning about the history of her grandparents in Canada. She highlighted the history and what happened to their family. “They went to what is called a residential school. It has made you known by the global media coverage over the last few years, but when colonisation happened in North America. Obviously, my indigenous people were here long before the Europeans arrived. What happened was that they created this school system that they put indigenous children in. It was to assimilate them to a more European way of life. They thought that we were savages, that we were, you know, just, I guess, this wild bunch of folks. But the reality is that the people that were here were thriving and living very healthy lives before settlers arrived. Now, we see the massive negative impacts of this residential school system. They have been digging up children's bodies for the last few years; there are almost 10,000 unmarked graves.”


Jenn continues to describe the history and the reality of their life. “The government created these residential schools at that time in the church, and if you're finding children's bodies and unmarked graves, there's a big problem. So, we know what happened at residential schools. What happened to my grandmother? The fact is that they wanted to remove our language from us. If she spoke to Anishinaabemowin, she would be physically beaten for doing so. And so, she came out of that school system with many traumas. Over the last few years, I learned that there's a term called ‘generational’ or ‘transgenerational’ trauma when we or somebody is faced with an event that they're not equipped to deal with, and that's passed on to the next generations.”

That is why Jenn believes many indigenous people are still suffering from the effects of that trauma. She might have been an alcoholic because of that trauma. “I have this dream. I'm still working full-time, but I was bound to determine how to make a product, put it on the market, and use a portion of the profits to support our indigenous community here in Canada. I'm grateful for what I've been able to do. We've donated well over, I think, like $200,000 to incline and cash donations to indigenous youth programs across North America.” 

Jenn informed Ecomilli that their business had recently become a ‘B group’ certified business. She said- “what that means is we talk about putting people and the planet before profits. It's a new language, something the investor world probably doesn't want to hear often.” Jenn says, “It's all about how much money we can make to donate or give back and help the community. You know it's a journey of learning. We are just doing our best. Also, we are proud of how far we've come.”

In response to a question, Jenn said, “It is so hard for us to realize that it's not like everything is about black and white. There's so much grey area as well. So, ‘clean beauty’ was a marketing term made up by people trying to market products to us.” She said, “Everything is a chemical, including water because it's H2O. When I started this, I remember reading those crazy memes or something online where people were like, if you can't say the word, why are you putting it on your skin? And I'm like, because it's a scientific word, maybe we all don't know how to say them, and that doesn't mean it's bad for you. So, there's so much misinformation. What we did is we said we're not using the word ‘clean’ to the best of our ability. We just used my indigenous language word for clean. It's called ‘BNAD’ and what that means to us.”

The CEO of Cheekbone Beauty expressed their mission and vision to Ecomilli. She said, “As a brand, our mission and focus are on sustainability, understanding and being honest and transparent with everybody, though it is impossible. We're human beings. We cannot make anything fully regenerative, right? The real problem lies within all of us as individuals as mass consumers. For example, we buy too much stuff, no matter where we are. This idea of overconsumption must shift, and that's a mindset thing. But as a brand, I, you know, entered this space with just the heavy weight of realizing. Still, there's much education that must happen. So, we try to be open, honest and transparent with people. We stay away from controversial ingredients to the best of our ability.”

While giving an example, Jenn said, “There was so much issue surrounding talc, for instance, for a very long time. So, we removed talc from our powders and the truth is that talc is not bad. It was talc that was contaminated with asbestos. That is bad, right? However, we know it's controversial, so we took that out of our products. Then, we looked at it through what we call our indigenous lens and used this concept that an elder on the east coast of Canada coined. His name is Albert Marshall. This idea, theory, or concept is called two-eyed seeing, where you take Western science and indigenous wisdom.” “We know, historically, we are indigenous people. We make up about 5% of the world's population, but around the world, it is, in fact, true that indigenous people are the ones protecting 80% of the world's biodiversity.”- Jenn added.

Jenn mentioned the Amazon rainforest, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and many different parts of the world. She said, “The indigenous communities are so connected to the land because it's cultural.” She shared a story of her father to explain their culture in the best way. Jenn described, “I visit my father, who lives in our northern community here in Canada on our reservation, and I would go call him, and this one time I remember specifically. I'm like, what's going on, father? And he replied, ‘Your cousins are coming over…they're coming over. I asked, who? I was also naming some of my cousin's names. But he said, ‘No, the bears are coming out of winter hibernation.’ You see, he is calling them our cousins.”

Jenn also mentioned that her family was from the Bear clan. She said indigenous people live by clan systems. So they are close to the animals. “Everything in an indigenous worldview is all in relationship. So, the animal world, the plant world, the water systems, and all ecosystems are in a relationship with them and must be honored and respected. And this is like something innate.”- Jenn added.

As the CEO of Cheekbone Beauty, Jenn said, “When we make and create products here, we use a concept from the Western science world. I think this study and how to do business was coined at a Portuguese university called life cycle thinking or life cycle analysis. So, consider how something is harvested from the raw ingredient to the end of the product's life, which includes the packaging. We look at it now as like, how can we not make anything end up in a landfill? That's our goal, not to have anything become wasted. How do we do that? Again, going back to human beings, we're terrible people. We've destroyed this beautiful gift of this planet. But to the best of our ability as a brand, how can we make things that won't end up in a landfill?”

Cheekbone Beauty is just trying to go with biodegradability and sustainability. She said, “Our belief system here at Cheekbone Beauty is refill ability, probably the best option. We're making things that can be refilled and used for much longer than someone's lifetime. And using ingredients and packaging that can be and have the possibility of being completely biodegradable, which has yet to be invented. However, there are a lot of different choices we've had to make when it comes to raw ingredients. So, when you think of raw ingredients, it's just about understanding that. Will they biodegrade back in the future? If I went into a lake or an ocean with my lipstick on, would that live in that water ecosystem forever, or would it biodegrade? And so, trying to think about things in that sense that we don't want to have a negative impact here. We want to be positive, not only about the people we love in our communities and worldwide but also about the planet. So, we are doing business differently, where love, respect and humility are part of the core of our brand.”

Jenn expressed her feelings on Ecomilli's initiatives. “I think this is a great platform! I feel like so many people want to dabble and don't know where to start. So, what you're doing is incredible because it allows people to listen to our community. We say people have two ears in one mouth for a reason; we should always listen more than speak. And the more you listen, the more you'll learn and realize. Everybody starts these journeys with one step. It doesn't because it can feel daunting and overwhelming when you look at the numbers, and can any human make a difference? You read a lot of the negative side, then look at the positive side, combine it, and then make your own choices individually. But it is important to hear how other people, including other businesses, have gone down the path in the journey. You can learn a lot, and so this is an incredible platform. Thank you so much for creating it.”


Ecomilli, we're on a mission to transform the world into a greener and more socially just place. We believe that everyone has the power to make a difference, and we're here to help you do just that.

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