Maine’s Favorite Candle

From its studio in an old mill building in Westbrook, Near and Native makes candles with scents inspired by nature and Maine.

When Hannah Martin was pregnant with her son, she was sensitive to fragrances and discovered that most candles gave her headaches. She had trouble finding simple, lightly scented candles at a reasonable price point, so she decided to try making her own.

At the time, Martin was crafting her own line of jewelry and selling it at a handful of local shops. She began selling candles under her brand Near and Native at a few of the stores. She expanded to more and more businesses, and eventually she stopped making jewelry and focused entirely on home fragrances.

As Near and Native’s number of retailers grew, so did its production needs. Martin had been making the candles in the basement of her Portland home, and in June 2020 she moved into a 600-square-foot studio in Westbrook’s Dana Warp Mill. By the beginning of 2021, Near and Native had outgrown its small space in the mill and moved into a larger unit with a showroom and an expansive production studio.

Before starting Near and Native, Martin worked in corporate retail. She did buying and product development for Urban Outfitters and later moved to San Francisco to help launch the Gap’s Piperlime brand. But after 12 years of working in a corporate environment, she was ready for a change. “It was a really good thing for us for years until it didn’t serve us any longer, and it was time to move on,” she says. Martin and her husband, who worked in tech in San Francisco, had friends and family in Maine and had visited the state over the years, including for their honeymoon, so they packed up and moved east.

After arriving in Portland in 2017, Martin had an interview at another corporate retail company. The interview went so poorly that it spurred her to work on Near and Native full time. “I had such a bad interview, and I’m so glad I did because it pushed me so far into doing my own thing. I was in tears in the parking lot. I was like, ‘What am I doing,’” Martin says. “It was just a big neon sign saying, ‘This door is getting slammed in your face, do not go in that direction again.’”

In Near and Native’s Westbrook studio, warm, woodsy scents fill the space and envelop you as you walk past a white wall displaying dozens of candles. The cavernous room opens to a row of tables, where candles are in different stages of production. Martin and her team of three full-time employees and two part-time workers prep the glass containers and wooden wicks, blend fragrances with coconut wax, fill the candles, and package them for distribution.

There’s a separate station for the company’s candle-refilling program, a service Martin has been offering since she started, to reduce the waste created by candles. Customers can pay to refill any vessel, including other company’s candles, for about half the price of a new candle. Some will even send in homemade pottery to be turned into candles. The company has done 7,000 candle refills in four years, including 3,300 refills last year alone.

Near and Native candles are now sold in more than 50 stores around the country, including at L.L.Bean and on the outdoor retailer’s website. Martin also collaborates with brands to create custom candles, ranging from national companies like Danner to local boutiques like Fitz and Bennett Home in Portland. She sometimes works with businesses to create scents as part of their brand identity. “Everybody’s getting off the internet and going back to real life, and scent is a really important part of making a place feel special, giving a sense of place when you’re walking into a store, a restaurant, a brewery,” Martin says. For Après, a hard seltzer and cider tasting room in Portland, she created a cedarwood and neroli blend. “When you walk in, that smell right away creates a pathway, and you’re like, ‘That’s the Après scent,’” Martin says.

Most of Near and Native’s scents are inspired by nature and Maine, and its top-selling candle is White Pine. “It’s very bright, woodsy, fresh, kind of like after it rains and you walk in the woods,” Martin says. While her favorite scent is Cedar and Amber, the one that evokes the strongest memories for Martin is Maine Maple. “I grew up in Indiana and we grew up tapping trees and making maple syrup, and for me that scent takes me back to being eight years old in my dad’s sugar shack, watching him boil down sap,” Martin says. “It’s certainly not a top seller, but I love it. I never want to get rid of it.”

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