Female Founder: Leigh Joseph, Sḵwálwen Botanicals

By Holly Coccimiglio

Starting your own business is a lengthy process that requires passion and drive, but also calls on your ability to have fun and learn as you go. For Leigh Joseph, these lessons and more are some of the key things that she’s learned throughout her journey of creating and growing her own luxury Indigenous skincare brand, Swálwen Botanicals. With a guiding philosophy rooted in building connections between humans and the land, Sḵwálwen Botanicals keeps sustainability at the heart of all that they do, and encourages product users to do the same. This month, we chatted with Leigh about her path to becoming a brand founder, her experiences along the way, and what she hopes to share with up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Can you tell us a little bit about your ancestral and professional backgrounds?

I am a Squamish woman and an ethnobotanist—a plant scientist who studies the interrelationships between people and plants. My research examines the link between healing and the renewal of Indigenous Plant Knowledge and practices related to ethnobotany.

How and when did you become interested in our relationships, as humans, with food and plants? What inspired you to transfer that interest into a business?

As a child I spent hours in the garden, playing amongst the flowers and building little towns and stories among the earth. When I was an early teen I remember my grandmother noticed how much I loved to take care of my skin. I enjoyed creating rituals for skincare and facial care—it made me feel good to care for myself in that way.

Early on in my academic studies, I began creating skincare products as a creative outlet, crafting them with plant ingredients that I sustainably harvested. I gave some of these as gifts to elders and had very positive responses, which led me to consider starting a skincare business. 

How do you think Swálwen Botanicals is promoting diversity and inclusion in the skincare space?

Through Sḵwálwen’s storytelling, imagery, and connection to the land, we are increasing Indigenous representation, helping to shift the cultural narrative from trauma to resilience. We elevate Indigenous voices, perspectives and lives through the interconnectedness of plant science and beauty.

What are some of the biggest roadblocks you’ve faced in starting and running your own business?

Some of the biggest challenges have been learning on-the-go, as I don’t have a background or training in business. That has also been an exciting challenge and one that has led to the opportunity to look at doing things in a new way. 

Another challenge is imposter syndrome. Because I am not trained in business, sometimes I will second guess myself or feel overwhelmed by the big picture. But when I feel like this, I remember that the path that has brought me here is my own; it is based on my story and life experiences, and I know that I am contributing in a way that is meaningful to me. Remembering these things helps me through these more challenging moments. 

What advice would you give to young womxn who are trying to find their way and discover their passion?

My advice is to take the time to observe and think about what it is you are passionate about; what holds meaning. Sometimes this process isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s born from difficult places or struggles that highlight a particular contribution we wish to make in the world. For me it has been finding a pathway to reconnecting with my Indigenous culture and identity through learning about and harvesting plants. Building relationships with the land and plants has brought me strength and grounding and continues to inspire me along my entrepreneurial path. Developing my business was a way to bring together cultural expression, creativity and to share stories of beauty and resilience from an Indigenous perspective. Having the foundation of your greater ‘why’ will carry you through challenges. And don’t forget to celebrate your successes!

To learn more about Leigh and Swálwen Botanicals, you can visit their website or find them on Instagram @skwalwenbotanicals.

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