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