Cheekbone Beauty makes a toxic lipgloss to call out clean water crisis

To begin Indigenous History Month, the brand made an "unsellable" product to raise funds and pressure governments.

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Cheekbone Beauty is using lipgloss to call out lip service paid by federal governments when it comes to providing safe drinking water to Indigenous communities.

The fact that reserves, First Nations and Indigenous communities have struggled for access to clean drinking water has been known for years, and fixing the issue has been a focal point of major party platforms in the last three federal elections.

But change has been slow to come: in May, Indigenous Services Canada announced that five water drinking advisories that had been in effect since 2008 were finally lifted in Southeastern Ontario’s Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation. Other communities, however, have endured decades of advisories, and multiple advisories remain across the country.

In recognition of Indigenous History Month, Cheekbone Beauty is launching its social-driven “#GlossedOver” campaign with agency Sid Lee. It is based around a line of lipgloss that cannot actually been sold, because it has been made with water from Indigenous communities in Canada and has been contaminated.

With names like “Lucious Lead,” “E.Coli Kiss” and “Mercury Shimmer,” the products featured in the campaign raise the question “Would you put it to your lips?”

“It’s time to stop glossing over this issue,” says Jenn Harper, an Indigenous woman with Anishinaabe roots who is founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty. “Everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s why ‘#GlossedOver’ is so important: you wouldn’t put a contaminated gloss on your lips, so why should anyone put contaminated water to theirs?”

This is a human rights issue, says Andrea Pohlmann, digital strategy & marketing manager. “We want this issue to get the attention it deserves, so that hopefully a positive change can be made.”

While these products cannot be sold, retailer Sephora Canada is donating all proceeds from the sale of other Cheekbone Beauty products in June to Water First, a charitable organization supporting Indigenous communities to address the water crisis.

“Addressing the water crisis for Indigenous communities in Canada is mission critical, and this donation aligns with Sephora’s giving strategy of driving meaningful change and championing a more diverse, inclusive and empowered beauty community,” says Debbie McDowell, director of communications and social impact at Sephora Canada. And Sephora says brand diversification, and Indigenous representation specifically, remain central to its diversity & inclusion efforts.

On a more practical, sales-driven level: we’re targeting makeup users who are socially-minded,” Harper says. “People
who love beauty, but in a more mindful way.”

The retailer’s partnership with Cheekbone Beauty began in 2021, when the beauty brand became part of Sephora Canada’s growing offering of BIPOC brands as part of the retailer’s commitment to the Fifteen Percent Pledge.

In 2021, Sid Lee helped Cheekbone with its new look, revamping its branding and packaging, inspired by the beauty brand’s social first approach, leaning into its environmental stewardship positioning and Indigenous people being “the OGs of sustainability,” according to Harper, who previously told strategy its audience “has always been people who care about things like the planet and human beings.”