When selecting items for purchase, the lure of foreign products presents a constant struggle. We often have to be reminded that choosing to support local producers and artisans not only helps boost the economy but promotes confidence in our ability to produce our own and allows us to assert our independence during unstable world trends. Besides, in our local products, we find a connection, a special ingredient that truly makes us Trinbagonian.
This week, we feature local entrepreneur, apothecary Andrew Galt of Galt and Maree Apothecary Ltd, who encourages us to appreciate what’s ours.
Apothecary Andrew Galt believes that scents tell a story. Swayed by warm childhood memories, when faced with the choice of returning to Canada or clinging to his place of birth, he chose the latter. Through their elegant hand-made scented candles, he and his business partner, Christiaan Maree, convey Galt’s experiences of the sweetness of home.
Before you even enter Galt and Maree Apothecary Ltd (G&M) in Maraval, peony, tuberose and teakwood tease your nostrils. Inside, the handsome array of 12.5-ounce candles in glass vessels beneath the owners’ artwork is captivating. So too are those in stacked mason jars lovingly wrapped in burlap and embellished with lace, atop rustic log finishes.
“Our scents at G&M are uniquely ours. Every scent is based on memory. The different things that we do with our families, the different places we go, they all trigger that memory. With “Down the Islands,” you think about an afternoon looking at the sunset with your friends…somebody’s having a sangria, someone else is wearing sunblock. It’s just that kind of lively Trini vibe,” Galt told Sunday Guardian.
Created from non-GMO soy wax from California and exotic oils from London, Marseille (France), Japan, Dubai and California, G&M’s candles are completely natural and blended to evoke the warmth and vitality of T&T’s flora and fauna as well as its people and communities.
With names like “Maracas Sands” and “Icacos Orchid”, the brand’s 19 exquisite fragrances are retired annually and later re-introduced to the line, fully rejuvenated with more complex notes, Galt said. Calming “Tobago” has coconut, lime, fruity verbena, musk and a touch of amber.
“It’s that kind of smell you get when you go into a hotel room. There are fresh sheets. The doors are open looking onto the sea and you’re just getting that ocean breeze. That’s Tobago,” Galt mused.
“Savannah Lime” infuses vetiver (a type of grass, the oil of which is used in perfumes) with lime and mint. Its green, fresh appeal was intoxicating when G&M introduced its products to New York in 2019.
“We started in New York last year. At the market, Savannah Lime is what I had burning and that attracted everybody to come to the booth. It’s a lovely scent. Smells like a mojito, has a nice earthy undertone.”
Galt’s favourite and a hit with his female customers is the “Dame Lorraine” which salutes the voluptuous traditional Carnival character, generously-perfumed in her Sunday best. He loves its peony which they get from London, derived from the fragrant, colourful flowering plant. The candle’s scent is full-bodied with undertones of Arabian oud (a dark, fragrant, expensive wood used in perfumery) and sandalwood.
Ever a favourite to brighten and perfume the ambience, scented candles are esteemed for more than their aesthetics. Such products provide aromatherapy, changing the energy of your space and helping with healing, Galt explained.
“It’s made to be a harmonious addition to your space. We have a scent called “Lavender Eucalyptus” with fig and spearmint. It’s a nice pick-me-up, a perfect spa scent. As soon as you light it you feel relaxed. People want to escape, especially during this COVID, and certain scents trigger that.”
For a nice, warm mood, there’s the “Balandra Bonfire” made with cedar, jasmine, sandalwood and amber. It holds a special place in his heart, Galt, 33, admitted, as it was inspired by fond childhood memories of visiting the beach with his parents and two sisters.
It was in fact the emotional draw and beauty of his homeland that caused Galt to move back to T&T while visiting in 2012 after eight years studying and working in Toronto.
“The Pines, a log cabin that overlooks all of Port-of-Spain, is one of the reasons that led me to come back. It’s beautiful and you could rent it then. It was seeing places like that, seeing my family, that made me want to move back home.”
Following some rough financial times, Galt would purchase a candle-making kit in Christmas of 2016 that would be the birth of their apothecary.
“We always loved scents and thought maybe this was something we could do. So we started making candles and testing them with friends and family. It was great. People started to like what we were doing.”
Having his spinal cord partially severed by a falling 70-pound speaker amp in June the following year served to clarify his vision for the business…and his life.
“I think that was the time I realised that I wanted to do something completely different with my life and became focused on the candle-making business. All of us seem to strive to have this regular 9-5 job where we don’t realise our potential. I have a background in e-commerce management and communications and I always thought you had to work for somebody, make money and be rich. I realised I had to do something that I loved and for that, I put my passion into the candles we make and it’s really rewarding.”
At G&M, Galt immerses himself in marketing and design, while Maree, an optometrist by profession, who studied Biology and Chemistry, acts as the main chemist. In their on-site lab, they combine oils and other ingredients, working 16-18-hour days. Galt has a keen sense of smell and is able to analyse fragrances with ease. His skill comes in handy when someone wants them to replicate a favourite perfume or cologne in a scented candle.
With heavy demand for their products this year, Galt has engaged the help of his parents, Nicole and Nicholas. For their Christmas line, G&M has blended Frankincense, rose, suede, tobacco and myrrh to create “Away in a Manager” and others like their warm “Christmas Spice” which combines apple, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. Galt is especially proud of their “Christmas in Paramin” which has plum, amber and pomegranate and “almost smells like sorrel.”
The company has done custom scents for weddings and private labels. Galt said they were focused on constantly elevating their brand to be a powerhouse on the international market. Miami and London are their next stops and they are currently testing hand lotions, soaps and room sprays, which they plan to launch next year, right here in T&T, he said.
Q&A with entrepreneur and apothecary Andrew Galt
What’s the reason for using soy in your candles?
If you use paraffin or a blend, that’s actually cancer-causing. We pride ourselves on using non-toxic ingredients. We use completely natural products that are safe for you, your skin. If you have children around you don’t feel there’s any danger to them.
It’s also because soy wax is not as flammable as paraffin wax. It burns at a lower temperature therefore the candle is going to last a lot longer. The average candle we have is 12.5 ounces and burns for 70 hours. If you use paraffin, the same size candle is going to last three or four hours.
Any local oils you use?
We try to source as much material down here as possible. Something we would like to do in the future is to start harvesting our own oils, maybe in a couple of years.
What about your hottest sellers?
“Café Tarouba.” We used to have the best coffee in the world coming from that one region in Trinidad. It’s a strong espresso coffee blend, with hazelnut and vanilla. “Icacos Orchid” would be another one. Funnily enough (in 2017), I went driving down South and heading to Icacos I saw orchids on the side of the road. The beautiful sunset would have been inspiration enough that day, but I was like: what about the Icacos orchid? People think of Icacos and think of the beach, but there’s a lot of beautiful flora and fauna around. I’ve added not just orchid, there are magnolia and lotus flower in there, reminiscent of that kind of picturesque swampland.
And your most outrageous order?
(Laughs) People have given me carte blanche with creating a scent. I ask people what are they like, their favourite colour and that helps me build a profile of that person. Sometimes I do massive candles; two and a half feet tall motifs in glass vessels. They’re 45 pounds and last like 1,500 hours.
What’s your fondest memory tied to a scent?
I grew up going to Balandra every weekend as a kid. It holds a lot of good memories. We used to have bonfires on the beach at night and roast marshmallows and tell scary stories. Everybody wants to be a kid again and that’s the reason behind the “the Balandra Bonfire” candle. It has a background firewood smell, but it has also the sweetness of Jasmine.