We never met a local, environmentally-focused, women-led business we didn't love – but we're especially big fans of Maine-based Near & Native candles. They make small-batch, clean-burning candles and offer an amazing candle refill program to help reduce waste. We're so into them, in fact, that we sell their candles at our Toad&Co Freeport store (including a special Toad&Co branded collection!).
We sat down with their founder, owner and fearless leader Hannah Martin to learn a bit more about how she got started, what keeps her going...and the most unique vessels she's ever refilled.
Toad&Co: What’s the inspiration behind Near & Native? How did you get started?
Hannah: This business actually started as a solution to a problem. When we moved to Maine, we bought a house and I was looking for lightly scented, clean burning candles, and I wasn’t finding any great options. Because I have fragrance sensitivity, I started playing around with making my own candles, but fragranced with a light hand with premium ingredients. I was already making and selling jewelry to local stores in Portland and I began offering a tight collection of 8 scents that took off quickly. One store turned into 5, then 10, and now we have over 60 retail partners across the US. We’ve grown from my basement into a 2000 square foot production facility and now have an all-female team of 3 full time employees and 2 part time. Our mission is centered around elevating your home with beautiful fragrance while reducing waste through our candle refill service. Our scents are all inspired by things found in nature, usually in the woods or water of Maine.
Toad: We love that you have an all-female team. Was that intentional?
Hannah: My entire professional career as a buyer in corporate retail was working alongside primarily all female teams. When we would gather for big buying meetings, most every seat in the conference room would be filled with a woman; often the president and leadership team were also women – it’s all I’ve ever known. Now that I run my own company, I’ve found the right women and then created roles around them based on their strengths. I am proud that we are an all-female team, and as we grow I’m open to anyone joining the team that can bring their unique skills and offerings to the table.
Toad: What do you love most about owning a candle business?
Hannah: Over the last couple of years, being at home has taken on a central focus in our lives. We are feathering our nest a bit more. Staying closer to our loved ones, prioritizing comfort, turning inward. Candles and home fragrance are a really important piece of this and I am so proud to be able to bring a bit of comfort and calm to someone’s home or be a part of a special gift or even a big day like a wedding. I’ve also had a dream of employing others with my business, and I am proud that we have created several jobs in Maine for women. Lastly, I love all of the connections we’ve made through partnering with other brands and businesses in Maine (like Toad&Co!) and across the United States. When I am able to help a store or brand hit their sales goals through our products, it’s really a proof point of why I started this brand.
Toad: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Hannah: Scaling the business aggressively during a supply chain crisis was a huge hurdle. We tripled our business in 2021, but faced serious headwinds from a glass shortage, rising shipping fees, backordered supplies...the list goes on. It required a lot of mental gymnastics to get creative around our product offering, lead times, services offered, etc. Luckily we had our candle refill service and we were able to offset the glass crisis and reuse candle vessels that were already in circulation!
Toad: Tell us more about the candle refill service – it's such an awesome part of your business!
Hannah: Last year we refilled over 3000 vessels, from candles to vintage containers to pottery! It started as a personal need – what to do with those beautiful candles that are empty but you can’t bear to part with the vessel? I began this service for myself, then friends, then formalized a process and added it to our website. We were the first brand to completely digitize a Candle Refill Service online, which we are really proud of. How it works: you send/drop off your empty vessels, then we’ll clean them and refill them with the scent of your choice. Voila! It’s a fraction of the price compared to buying new candles. And the best part – you are keeping pounds of waste from landfills/recycling.
Toad: So, we can really send in anything? What’s the most unique vessel you’ve ever received to fill?
Hannah: Yes, as long as it’s glass, ceramic, or metal, we can turn it into a candle! We received a glass parmesan cheese shaker, like the kind at those old school pizza places. It had the lid on it and everything...it actually made a darling little candle! I also love filling things with sentimental value, like a pinch pot someone's child made or grandma's tea cups. It's a great way to continue the lifecycle of an item that would have otherwise languished in a cupboard somewhere.
Toad: Those are such great ideas...love the creativity. What are your favorite scents?
Hannah: Living in Maine, I tend to gravitate towards anything earthy, woodsy, or androgynous. Cedar & Amber is my wind-down candle at the end of a long day. Sage & Sea Salt is the scent I burn after a weekend house clean. The Breakwater scent from our new Toad&Co candle is so good, I want to bathe in it...smells like sea salt, coconut, ozone...a hot summer day in Maine!
Toad: What’s your best piece of advice for other female entrepreneurs?
Hannah: You may get 20 “no’s” before you get a “yes” so you have to get comfortable with rejection at the onset. I think we need to normalize feedback as a critical part of launching a business. Get in front of as many clients or customers as you can IRL, and really begin to listen to what people are wanting and be willing to pivot quickly. Oh, and you cannot underestimate the intangible value of doing the right thing, treating people well, and delivering more value than what is expected – your reputation will precede you.