Sḵwálwen (skwall - win) products are simple, safe, and effective, but, more importantly, they hold tremendous cultural meaning to the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. We sit down with Sḵwálwen Botanicals founder Leigh Joseph to learn more about the inception of this exemplary brand and why Leigh trusts in the power of plants.  

Can you introduce Sḵwálwen Botanicals to us?
Sḵwálwen Botanicals is a luxury Indigenous beauty brand offering plant-based skincare inspired by, and grounded in, Indigenous plant knowledge. Sḵwálwen (skwall-win) translates to "heart" or "essence of being" in the Squamish language. Honouring traditional Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) plant knowledge, I incorporate sustainably harvested and sourced plants and high-quality organic ingredients. Each product has a Squamish name to honour the place where this plant knowledge comes from. This name Sḵwálwen was chosen to represent the inspiration behind the business: building connections to the land through working with plants in a way that feeds one's heart and spirit. 

An image of the Sḵwálwen Botanicals team - natural nontoxic skincare sold at The Green Kiss

What inspired you to start a clean skincare brand?
I thrive on finding creative approaches to draw on Indigenous knowledge in a contemporary way. Sḵwálwen products offer an opportunity for people to incorporate Indigenous plant knowledge and the clean, effective properties of plant-based ingredients into their daily beauty and self-care rituals in keeping with the heart-centred foundation of the business. 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.

Tell us about your own connection to nature
My ancestral name is Styawat, and I am from the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. As an ethnobotanist, researcher and community activist, I aim 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. I love walking out the door, basket in hand, heading into the forest, estuary, or subalpine meadows to harvest plant food and medicines. Skwxwú7mesh culture considers plants to be relatives, thus they are to be respected. This is why I always take a moment to breathe and connect with myself, bringing my mind and heart to a place of peace and presence. Then I offer thanks to the plants and trees I will be harvesting from.
An image of the Sḵwálwen Botanicals product - natural nontoxic skincare sold at The Green Kiss

How has your upbringing shaped your appreciation for the land? 
My interest in our relationship with the land started as 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, the smell of the woodstove steadily burning, the counters full of jars of Indigenous medicines. 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 increased my awareness of the impactful link between plants and culture.

Tell us about the sourcing and selection process for Sḵwálwen ingredients
Our ingredients are sustainably sourced or hand-harvested. Using Squamish cultural teachings, I approach the natural world gently and respectfully, harvesting with ethical and sustainable techniques. As a botanist, I'm passionate about plant identification. I observe plants throughout their growing season, looking for the cues and signs that a particular plant is ready to be harvested. This awareness of one's surroundings leads to a connection to place and knowledge that can only be developed over time. 

We don't just take from the land; we give back, honouring the principle of reciprocity. By using regenerative practices, we ensure the life-giving cycles of the plants continue unbroken, without undue pressure on wild plant populations. We foster the growth of new plants and nurture the land that nourishes them.

Whether the ingredients are sourced or harvested, I love developing the formulations, pairing particular plants based on their individual properties with the highest quality oils, clays and plant butters. (My daughter calls these her potions.) Each batch of Sḵwálwen products is made with care and intention, bringing luxurious skincare products free from harsh chemicals, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colours and parabens to the market. An image of the Sḵwálwen Botanicals founder, sourcing natural ingredients - natural nontoxic skincare sold at The Green Kiss

How does your brand prioritize sustainability and eco-friendliness in its practices? 
Sustainability is one of our key pillars at Sḵwálwen. For us, this means sourcing and harvesting our botanical ingredients in a way that is sustainable for the plants and the species that depend on them. We craft natural, cruelty-free products with zero harsh chemicals, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colours or parabens. Our packaging and shipping materials are primarily paper, glass and tin. And we give back to the environment through The Hiýáḿ Project, facilitating thousands of seeds planted on Indigenous lands. 

You've just released a book that many of our clients have been raving about. What did that writing process look like for you? 
I carved out periods of time where I went away to write, staying in a location close to the ocean and forests. I felt a deep sense of grounding in the process of immersing myself in thought, memory and imagination in connection to plants. Each day I'd walk and think about the parts of the book I was working on. Feeling the wind on my face, the trail underfoot, I would experience the lived connection between what I was writing on the page and what I experienced when I spent time on the land. I want to translate this feeling of being present and held by the land through the reading experience and offer reflections that inspire readers to consider how they have felt this or may want to cultivate it in their own lives. 

Can you share any upcoming product launches or developments for Sḵwálwen?
We just moved into a beautiful new headquarters in downtown Squamish, and we will be launching some exciting new packaging and products in the coming months! 

Do you have an all-time favourite plant ingredient for the skin?
Wild rose (Kalkay in Squamish)

To find the right Sḵwálwen Botanicals product based on your skin type or skin concern, please contact us for a complimentary skin type analysis and custom natural skincare routine.