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A Contamination Crisis: Cheekbone Beauty Releases Unsellable Products

Published July 28, 2022
Published July 28, 2022
Cheekbone Beauty

According to The Council of Canadians, 73% of Indigenous first nations' water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination, resulting in 28 Indigenous communities across Canada under a short-term drinking-water advisory, and 29 communities under long-term advisories as of January 2022. With many Indigenous communities not having access to the same clean water as non-Indigenous communities, a sizable socioeconomic issue is floating within Canada's water sources. In order to stand up against these issues and campaign for change, many brands have been using their platforms to spread important information about the crisis. For June's Indigenous History Month, vegan cosmetics brand Cheekbone Beauty launched their  #GlossedOver campaign to highlight the problem.

The campaign, created by founder Jenn Harper, an Anishinaabe woman, saw a collection of unsellable lip glosses released to the brand's website. The products were unsellable due to the water content inside the product being severely contaminated. The lip glosses, with names such as "Luscious Lead” and “E. Coli Kiss,” were created to provoke a reaction and get people questioning why humans are being forced to drink contaminated drinking water. If it is not acceptable to sell toxic cosmetics, why is it acceptable for Indigenous communities to be forced to drink contaminated water?

"I have family members who have been directly impacted by the ongoing water crisis in this country," Harper said. "If a major city center in this country had contaminated water, how long do you think it would take for that to be remedied? I'd like to see that sense of urgency for the communities still affected. I'd like to see infrastructure and educational opportunities for Indigenous youth surrounding this issue so that this never happens again."

In a video for the campaign, posted to the brand's YouTube channel, visuals of the products show on the screen as a voice-over questions, "Would you put it to your lips? Some people don't have a choice."

"As a purpose led organization, we have a responsibility to enable change and are humbled to support both Cheekbone Beauty's brand journey, and the impactful work of Water First and the communities they support."
By Debbie McDowell, Director, Communications and Social Impact, Sephora Canada

The campaign name was chosen to emphasize that such damaging circumstances can no longer be glossed over and ignored. With Cheekbone Beauty’s mission to "make a difference in the lives of Indigenous youth through donations addressing the educational funding gap, and to create a space in the beauty industry where Indigenous youth feel represented and seen," to date, the brand has donated over $150,000 CAD to a range of nonprofit organizations across North America. During June's Indigenous History Month, Sephora Canada donated all proceeds from Cheekbone Beauty’s sellable products to Water First, a nonprofit organization supporting Indigenous communities fighting for their right to clean water.

"As a purpose led organization, we have a responsibility to enable change and are humbled to support both Cheekbone Beauty's brand journey, and the impactful work of Water First and the communities they support," said Debbie McDowell, Director, Communications and Social Impact at Sephora Canada. "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".

"The #GlossedOver campaign will increase Water First's ability to support communities from coast to coast to coast. Together, with Indigenous community partners, we will provide more young Indigenous adults with hands-on skills training to ensure sustainable access to safe, clean water—both now and for the future," said John Millar, Executive Director and Founder of Water First.


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