Founder of Canada’s first Indigenous-owned cosmetics company shares success at open house

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It’s open house season – and to mark it, Laurier ran a multitude of campus-related events this past weekend.

On Saturday, Nov. 3, the Indigenous Student Centre welcomed Jenn Harper, CEO and founder of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc. to speak to current and prospective Indigenous students about entrepreneurship.

The event, hosted in The Turret, began at 3 p.m. with light refreshments and an introductory presentation on student entrepreneurship initiatives at Laurier’s Waterloo campus.

It was noted in these opening remarks that the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is Laurier’s business development hub, and students who wish to pitch ideas there are welcome to do so at any time.

Then came keynote speaker Jenn Harper, who was quick to enlighten the crowd with her wit and humour. Harper told the story of Cheekbone Beauty from its conception, and explained how it all began in 2016 with a single eureka moment.

Harper started the revolutionary beauty company out of her desire to give something back to the Indigenous community to address issues of generational trauma from the residential schools system.

She cites both her grandmother, who survived residential school, and her brother B.J., whom she lost to suicide, as driving forces of both her entrepreneurial spirit and the success it has returned.

What differentiates Cheekbone Beauty from the average cosmetics brand is its charitable giving. 10 per cent of all proceeds from Cheekbone sales go to Shannen’s Dream under the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which helps advocate for better access to education for Indigenous children in Canada.

It is also Harper’s hope to begin a scholarship fund in honour of her grandmother, which she says will be open to any Indigenous women pursuing any kind of post-secondary education or vocational training.

I really wanted to take a different stance on student recruitment – you see the tables, and they have the free stuff, but I wanted to plan a new experience for students, and that’s why I did it in tandem with open house.

– Jessica Duke, Indigenous student recruitment and outreach officer at the Indigenous Student Centre

After the presentation on the story of Cheekbone Beauty, Harper did a Q and A with the attendees.

Students asked questions on all areas of the spectrum, and Harper had answers; rather than the session being lecture-like, it evolved into a discussion on environmental ethics, social and Indigenous justice initiatives, and how to uplift fellow Indigenous businesswomen.

To conclude the presentation, Harper touched on her own struggles with alcoholism, highlighting self care as a crucial part of her daily routine. She explained that being in touch with yourself and with the earth every day are only the first steps to becoming the best successful version of you.

A number of Cheekbone Beauty products were then given to attendees through a raffle, and the crowd was very excited to be able to check out the lip and brow products that Harper generously donated for the event.

The goal of the afternoon was to disembark from the status quo on student recruitment and provide a safe space for current and future Indigenous students to get inspired.

This type of event was the first of its kind, but the Indigenous Student Centre hopes there will be more to come.

“I really wanted to take a different stance on student recruitment – you see the tables, and they have the free stuff, but I wanted to plan a new experience for students, and that’s why I did it in tandem with open house,”  Jessica Duke, Indigenous student recruitment and outreach officer at the Indigenous Student Centre, said.

“I hope to plan something for Brantford in March break, but hopefully we can bring [in] another social innovator,” Duke said.

Through these events, Laurier is hoping to highlight its on-campus entrepreneurial resources to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Making Indigenous youth feel empowered in their educational endeavors is a shared focus between the Indigenous Student Centre and Cheekbone Beauty alike.

“I’m helping Indigenous youth because I feel like I can relate. Having grown up not feeling worthy, feeling ashamed … ultimately, I don’t want any kid –Indigenous or not – to ever feel that way,” Harper saaid in an interview.

“You can overcome those deep traumas and not only survive, but … thrive.”

Students of all backgrounds interested in attending upcoming events through the Indigenous Student Centre are encouraged to follow the Centre on Instagram and Twitter at @wluindigenous.

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