Anishinaabe entrepreneur Jennifer Harper’s company Cheekbone Beauty seeks to educate and uplift Indigenous youth through beauty products. (Courtesy Cheekbone Beauty)
This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 edition of Native Business Magazine.
As an Ojibwe, Jennifer Harper has always known she wanted her life’s work to support fellow Indigenous communities, but she was unsure how it could manifest. In January 2015, the answer appeared to her in a dream as two young Native girls played together, covered in lip gloss. From the moment Harper awoke, she told her husband and opened her laptop to begin brainstorming. Less than a year later, Harper officially established Cheekbone Beauty, a company that honors her favorite facial feature and Anishinaabe roots.
“The beauty industry has never paid attention to Indigenous people in any shape or form, and now we are a brand that exists solely so they feel and see themselves represented,” Harper said.
Although Cheekbone Beauty is based in Canada, as an online retailer, consumers across Canada, Australia and the United States can purchase Harper’s products. Through each purchase, Cheekbone Beauty strives to support, enhance and empower the lives of Indigenous peoples of all ages, but especially youth, through its lip gloss, contour kits and more.
“That is our next generation. Their narrative of their story is going to be the opposite of our histories,” Harper explained. “We have this history of generational trauma, and well, you know what? Now we’re going to have a history and a story of a generational resilience and resistance, and ultimately, a new story that our young people will be able to tell.”
Since the beginning, Harper has leaned on others with more experience, which she credits as a key component to reaching her entrepreneurial goals. Early into Cheekbone Beauty’s development, a mentor advised her to utilize a business advisory board.
“I went to them with my business plan … and they are a really unbiased group of people that are entrepreneurs themselves,” Harper said. “Some have been accountants, some have been lawyers. They take your plan and they sort of tear it apart, and without having any personal emotional connection to you, tell you what they think about it.”
She formed the groundwork of Cheekbone Beauty on these recommendations, allowing for evolutions and changes.
“The beautiful part of entrepreneurship is navigating through the data that you’re collecting as you’re building your business and realizing that it’s the market, the consumer, that is going to decide what’s best for your business, and you have to listen to that in order for your business to be successful.”
With more than 15 years of sales and marketing experience, Harper has a keen understanding of business, from product manufacturing to advertising. Cheekbone Beauty uses the power of social media to target key audiences and demographics, and Harper’s vast network within the industry provides access to high-quality ingredients that are as ecologically friendly as possible.
Harper knows firsthand the implications trauma can have. Her grandmother survived residential school, and as someone who has battled alcoholism, Harper explained that entrepreneurial success is like scaling a mountain and requires the same dedication that is essential to overcoming addiction.
In a few years, Harper plans to establish a foundation in her grandmother’s name that supports education across Native communities, but until then, the company donates 10 percent of all profits to the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society based in Ottawa, Canada. “That’s our way of supporting an organization that’s not-for-profit that actually does real work with the community.”
She hopes Cheekbone Beauty can provide inspiration to others that achieving anything is possible with hard work and determination.
“I now believe I can literally do anything, and I want our young people so much to see that in themselves,” she said. “That is so powerful, when we actually show someone and teach someone that it’s possible.”