Makeup by Michelle Willis. Image by © Clayton Upson
By Raye Mocioiu
“When I was a young girl, I did not see anyone in the mainstream media that looked like me, and that contributed to me feeling ashamed of who I was and what I looked like,” says Cheekbone Beauty founder Jenn Harper. “I do not want any other Indigenous youth to have to feel that way.”
Based out of St. Catharines, Ontario, Cheekbone Beauty is an Indigenous-owned beauty brand paving the way to true sustainability, in line with the teachings in their Indigenous roots.
Known for creating high-quality, vegan, cruelty-free beauty products designed for low environmental impact and maximum wearability, Cheekbone Beauty’s vision has been to build a perfect circular economy in the cosmetics space—one that mirrors the spirit of reuse and repurposing that nature does so effortlessly.
“We as Indigenous people have an innate connection to the land, earth, and water,” Jenn told InStyle last year. “The importance of paying attention to brands that have experience in sustainability is going to be really important for the world going forward.”
More than makeup, Cheekbone also works to carve out a place in the cosmetics industry where Indigenous people can feel seen. True to her Anishinaabe roots, founder and CEO Jenn Harper aims to make a difference in the lives of Indigenous youth.
Each shade of Cheekbone’s liquid lipstick is named after an Indigenous woman working to better their community and the world, from Ashley Callingbull, the first Canadian and the first Indigenous woman to ever win the Mrs. Universe title; to water activist and youth hero Autumn Peltier.
“When we tell you our pigments are powerful, we are referring to their captivating depth and colour, but also the hard work they help us do for our community,” shares Jenn.
Giving back to their community is the centrepiece of Cheekbone’s mission, whether through product donations, monetary donations, or project-focused donations.
To date, Cheekbone Beauty has donated more than $150,000 to a wide variety of causes, from addressing the educational funding gap to supporting organizations like Shannen’s Dream, the FNCFCS, the Navajo Water Project, One Tree Planted, and many more non-profits across North America. Cheekbone’s definition of success is not based on what you attain for yourself but on what you give back to your community.
That mission drives Cheekbone to give back through donations and create a space in the beauty industry where Indigenous youth feel represented and seen. Although the beauty industry has made strides in showcasing diversity in marketing campaigns and beginning to cater to the needs of non-white makeup users, there is still work to be done—key audiences in the beauty space are still underrepresented.
Indigenous people, for one, are still all too often left out of beauty marketing, a reality that drives Cheekbone Beauty’s mission to carve out a space where Indigenous people of all ages can see themselves represented in the products they use and, perhaps even more importantly, truly feel like the makeup they wear was made with them in mind.
Women over 40 are another demographic commonly left out of beauty marketing. With beauty marketing campaigns mainly dominated by young women, the beauty industry tells women over 40 to focus on anti-aging products that make them look more youthful—and even those campaigns often use models in their 20s.
“I think that marketers created the narrative that you need to look young and white to be beautiful, and society has embraced it for far too long,” shares Jenn. “We also know that so much of what you see in the media is edited and not real, which contributes to this unattainable view of what is ‘beautiful.’ Now there are apps and filters that you can use to modify yourself, right at your fingertips.”
It’s no secret that the beauty industry tends to prey on women’s insecurities, and the process of editing models to look ‘flawless’ only serves that insidious purpose.
“At Cheekbone Beauty, we want everyone to feel comfortable just being themselves,” says Jenn. “No filters, no photoshop. Leave the lines, show the skin texture, and remind the world that this is what true self-love looks like.”
With this in mind, Cheekbone Beauty launched Warrior Wisdom, a campaign focused on empowering mature audiences to embrace their natural beauty and experiment with makeup they’ve been told is “for younger people.” With three models between the ages of 40 and 60 years old, Cheekbone Beauty wants women to know that age is beauty, and they should show theirs off with pride.
“To us at Cheekbone Beauty, having warrior wisdom means you have experience and knowledge to pass down to younger generations,” Jenn continues. “You wear your lines proudly. We wanted to help highlight another area that the beauty industry leaves out when they are advertising cosmetics. It seems the only time those over 40 are included is when they are being told to look younger. We want everyone 40 and older to know that they hold the knowledge that only comes with experience, and they shouldn’t be afraid to show that off, especially with bold pops of colour!
“Embracing all of you and exuding confidence is far more attractive than surface ‘beauty’ will ever be. Who decides what is beautiful, after all?”