Sḵwálwen Botanicals: The Heart of Skin Care

012-Global Heroes News - Skwalwen Bontanicals - Skin Care - Leigh Joseph - Sustainable natural products

By Allie Murray | Leigh Joseph © Courtesy of Sḵwálwen Botanicals Skin Care

When Leigh Joseph first began creating skincare products, it was to give herself a creative outlet that would include her research from her day job as an ethnobotanist. Working as a plant scientist studying the interrelationships between people and plants, she began creating products with plant ingredients that she sustainably harvested and gifted them to elders within her community.

Soon, her hobby turned into Sḵwálwen (skwall-win) Botanicals—a luxury

skincare brand handmade in British Columbia.

Joseph is from the Squamish First Nation and created her brand with Indigenous history in mind, honouring her heritage and love for the land.

“Sḵwálwen  translates to ‘heart’ or ‘essence of being’ in the Squamish language,” she explained. “This name honours the inspiration behind the brand: building connections to the land through working with plants in a way that feeds one’s heart and spirit. Our products incorporate heritage botanicals that are gentle on your skin and carry ancestral knowledge and place-based alchemy.”

The products, which range from face and body products to home items, are given Squamish names, which Joseph explains is a way to acknowledge where the plant comes from.

“Each Sḵwálwen  product has a Squamish name, and every order we send out includes a translation card with the English pronunciation so you can say the names aloud and feel their presence,” Joseph shared. “This is my way of honouring the Squamish language, sharing it with others, and contributing to its resurgence.”

When discussing the Squamish names, Joseph noted that the Squamish language, like many Indigenous languages, has been impacted almost to the point of extinction. Today, there is an active language resurgence happening in the Squamish Nation, and more speakers are being trained in the language every year.

Joseph’s brand has not only been a way for her to share her Indigenous roots with the world but a way to give back to the land and Indigenous communities that surround her own. Through their partnerships, Sḵwálwen  works to uplift Indigenous communities and shine a light on the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. To do so, Sḵwálwen  launched two key initiatives: their Ceremony Series and the hiýám´ project.

The Ceremony Series is a seasonal offering of small-batch, handmade skincare and wellness experiences, with 10 percent of proceeds being donated to organizations that support Indigenous causes.

The hiýám´ project is a collaboration with Satin Flower Nursery that facilitates thousands of seeds planted on Indigenous lands.

“One of the most powerful ways I have found to connect to culture and community has been through learning from and working with Indigenous plants,” Joseph said. “My family history has shaped who I am. As a mother of two young children, I am aware of how my work with plants can offer them a connection to the land and to our traditional Squamish knowledge.”

When it comes to creating the products, Joseph uses Squamish cultural teachings to harvest the materials sustainably. Once they are harvested, the plants are processed, which usually includes scraping bark, cleaning, hanging to dry, infusing in oil, and more.

After processing, it’s time to create, where Joseph develops each recipe based on the particular plants.

Each batch of Sḵwálwen products is made with care and intention, bringing you luxurious skincare products free from harsh chemicals, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colours, and parabens.

ABOUT LEIGH

My ancestral name is Styawat and I am from the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. As an ethnobotanist, researcher and community activist, my aim is to contribute to cultural knowledge renewal in connection to Indigenous plant foods and medicines. Wherever possible I draw on teachings learned from family and community members that are connected to Indigenous plants and the land.

My interest in the relationship between food and culture started when I was a young girl. My paternal grandmother’s family is from the Snuneymuxw, or Nanaimo First Nations, and I visited her brother, my uncle Chester, and his wife Eva often on their land along the Nanaimo River. 

My memories of that time include picking fresh carrots, beets and peas from his garden and watching him prepare salmon that he and my aunt Eva caught and smoked on their property. I can still taste the fresh blackberry juice my aunt made to go with each meal. I remember their kitchen clearly: the clear plastic tablecloth over the 1950’s-style table, smell of the woodstove steadily burning, the counters full of jars of Indigenous medicines like Devil’s Club and Cuxmin. Hanging above the doors were the clean white stalks of dried Devil’s Club to offer us spiritual protection. 

These early experiences instilled in me a deep respect for the natural world. They also developed my awareness of how important the links between food and culture are.

My father’s parents both attended residential school and came out deeply wounded by the experience. My grandmother, one of the sweetest and gentlest people I have known, lived with pain and loss and yet loved fully. Over her lifetime, she reconnected to her culture and was given her Squamish ancestral name, Quaw-iss-sult, towards the end of her life. This was a big step for her as she had spent much of her life feeling afraid and ashamed of who she was and the culture that she came from.

Much of my adult life has been spent thinking about the intergenerational effects of residential school on my family. I have early memories of visiting my grandparents at their home on the Stawamus Reserve in Squamish where I spent time with the elders who told stories of our territory and how we are connected to the land. These same elders had survived traumas that I did not yet know of. I was fortunate to have had the chance to experience a good childhood, to spend my early years learning from my parents and my extended family.

One of the most powerful ways I have found to connect to culture and community has been through learning from and working with Indigenous plants. My family history has shaped who I am. As a mother of two young children, I am aware of how my work with plants can offer them a connection to the land and to our traditional Squamish knowledge.

 

THE PROCESS

Creating Sḵwálwen products begins with time spent on the land — forests, estuaries, or subalpine meadows  — to harvest plant foods and medicines. Using Squamish cultural teachings, Leigh approaches the natural world gently and respectfully, harvesting with techniques that are ethical and sustainable. (Learn more about this stage here.)

Once the plants are harvested it’s time to process them. This usually includes scraping bark, cleaning, hanging to dry, infusing in oil and more. After processing, it’s time to create! Leigh loves this part — developing each recipe, pairing particular plants based on their healing properties with the highest quality oils, clays and plant butters. (Her five-year-old daughter calls these her “potions”.) 

Each batch of Sḵwálwen products is made with care and intention, bringing you luxurious skincare products free from harsh chemicals, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colors and parabens. 

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