Leigh Joseph – A Resilient Indigenous Woman Entrepreneur to Watch Out For!

Leigh Joseph - A Resilient Indigenous Woman Entrepreneur to Watch Out For!

Leigh Joseph (born with the name Styawat) is a researcher, entrepreneur, and ethnobotanist from the Squamish First Nation. She contributes to renewing cultural knowledge related to indigenous plants and earth connections and adds an indigenous lens to her study field. As the founder and CEO of the Skwálwen Botanicals, she combines indigenous science with self-care to provide effective and gentle skincare products that paint the conscious side of plants. She blends modern beauty rituals with ancestral traditions, allowing people to connect with themselves and the natural world.

Her research takes a community-focused approach and is influenced by her cultural roots and the experiences of reunited Aboriginal women. Whenever possible, she draws on ancestral teachings related to land and traditional plants and land in her research. 

Leigh graduated from University of Victoria in 2012 with a Masters of Science in ethnobotany under the teachings of Dr. Nancy Turner. She’s presently pursuing her PhD. Over the past decade, she has worked with many of Canada’s aboriginal communities on projects related to ethnobotany.

Leigh’s Connection to Nature

Joseph likes to go out with a basket and head to forests, estuaries, and subalpine meadows to collect medicinal herbs. In Skwxwú7mesh culture, plants are considered to be relatives and should be respected. That is why she takes a moment to connect and breathe with herself, bringing her heart and mind to an area of peace and presence. She likes to thank the trees and plants she harvests from.

As a botanist, Joseph is passionate about plant identification. She notices plants during their growing season and looks for signs that certain plants are ready for harvest. This awareness of the surroundings leads to connections with places and knowledge that develops over time.

Leigh follows cultural teaching that ensures lasting relationships based on reciprocity when harvesting plants. Understanding a plant’s individual structure and life cycle provides several ways to ensure plant regeneration. She is careful not to harvest too many single plants so that the plants return for years to come and be used by other living things that depend on them.

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Many of the ingredients used in Skwálen products come from seasonal harvests. It adds to the anticipation for the next harvest season, which will bring wonderful things and the charm of harmony with the nature that cares for it.

The Idea behind Sḵwálwen Botanicals

Sḵwálwen Botanicals is an indigenous luxury cosmetic brand offering botanical skincare inspired by the knowledge of native plants. Sḵwálwen is translated as “the essence of being” or “heart” in the Squamish language. The name was picked to represent the inspiration behind the business. In other words, creating a connection with the Earth using plants that nourish the mind and spirit. 

Leigh succeeds in finding creative ways to use indigenous knowledge in a modern way. Sḵwálwen products follow basic business principles to enable people to integrate local botanical knowledge and the pure and powerful properties of herbal ingredients into people’s everyday beauty and personal care rituals.

Leigh will continue to develop Skwálen in the field of advanced skin care and believes to become a leader in the industry. She wants to collaborate with top retailers and expand her direct-to-consumer (D2C) business by driving continuous growth. As Skwálen develops, she will continue to build on the teachings and knowledge of indigenous lands.

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Process of Creating Skwálen Products

The creation of Sḵwálwen products begins with spending time on the ground (in forests, estuaries or sub-alpine meadows) collecting medicines and plant foods. Joseph Leigh uses the cultural teachings of the Squamish to harvest crops in an ethical and sustainable way that is gentle and respectful of the natural world. 

With the plant harvested, she processes it. Typically, this involves scraping the skin, peeling it, hanging it to dry, soaking it in oil, etc. After processing, she creates it. Joseph loves this part of creation –  each recipe by combining the highest quality oils, clays and vegetable oils with specific plants based on their medicinal properties. 

Each batch of Sḵwálwen products is created with care and intent, providing premium skincare products that are free of harmful chemicals, synthetic fragrances, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, parabens, and synthetic colours.

If you want to take a look at all their range of innovative skincare products and feel like bagging them, you can visit their website and learn more.

For more such features on women entrepreneurs in Canada, subscribe to our monthly CanadianSME Small Business magazine. 

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