What do you do when you’re a 24-year-old studio art grad from CofC living in a city that doesn’t exactly have a big contemporary arts scene? You ride pedicab, you hustle, or you move to New York City to figure things out. Zachary Mallard did all three, but along the way he hit on a business idea that allows him to continue to paint while tapping into a burgeoning market: men’s grooming products. Mallard is the founder of Empire Apothecary, a six-piece line of pomades, aftershaves, and beard drops.

See, Mallard has great hair — thick, ebony locks swept into a retro look. Style websites call it the undercut, shaved tight on the sides, long on top. He looks like he just walked off the set of Boardwalk Empire. And that’s on purpose. Mallard believes in first impressions.

“Women are expected to look their best all the time, but the same isn’t true of men,” Mallard says. “But first impressions can change how people view you for life.”

That became all too clear after Mallard left Charleston for New York City two years ago. He crashed on a friends couch for a month in Brooklyn before a catering job earned him enough to afford his own place where he slept on the floor to allow more room for studio space. “I built a loft out of three-inch plumbing pipe, so my bed was about two feet from the ceiling on the loft, and then I had room to project and set up and draw properly,” he says. Then he went about the most difficult task for a lot of artists, self promotion.

“I went to a few Manhattan galleries and realized the true contemporary Chelsea, Meat Packing, LES gallery artists all had two things in common, that I didn’t — most notably money, and secondly, plugged-in friends and families,” he says.

But he wasn’t too discouraged. Instead, Mallard continued to paint his watercolors — the only kind of paint he could afford. “I approached a couple galleries in Brooklyn, with a decent response. I never got any shows, but I made some work I really feel helped me progress artistically, for whatever that’s worth,” he says. Charleston native and friend Tim Hussey got him into a group show in Los Angeles, too. But he continued to cater to pay the bills. That was until a friend helped him get an interview at Bank of New York Mellon at 1 Wall St.

There, men and women strode into work dressed for success. These were individuals whose sartorial efforts weren’t a matter of narcissism, but a business plan. The right suit could close a deal. But what did the dapper gents have to choose from when it came to hair and body care? Not much says Mallard. “There aren’t a lot of options for guys,” he adds. And what is available, he observed, is chock full of weird chemicals.

“You look at some of the ingredients in men’s products and it says ‘holds like a wax, washes out like a gel.’ But anyone that’s used wax knows it doesn’t wash out. The companies are treating those chemicals to react that way,” he adds.

Wanting a clean product that could tame his mane, Mallard started fiddling with natural oils and waxes from his East Village kitchen. Vintage recipes got him started. “If it had an ingredient I couldn’t pronounce, then it didn’t go in,” he says. That means that his Whisker Wax is made with shea butter, beeswax, and castor and jojoba oils. While his Beard Oil is a blend of kukui nut, coconut, and grapeseed oils. There’s an alcohol-free aftershave, and a Kaolin clay-based molding product. When Sustainable NYC — an eco-friendly store — picked up his line, he knew he was on to something.

But New York is expensive, and managing the demands of overhead and the confines of his small kitchen just didn’t make sense, so the entrepreneur decided to continue the business back in Charleston. Since moving back, Holy City Barber has begun sourcing Empire Apothecary, and Mallard has launched a lavender latte candle sold exclusively at Black Tap Coffee. “The candle is a way for me to enter the home goods market,” he says.

Of course, his company is in its infancy. To make rent, he continues to paint on commission. “I do huge contemporary paintings, but will do work on request, too,” he says. Attempting to continue working as an artist was part of the reason he started Apothecary.

“Launching a career … isn’t really the goal,” Mallard says. “I realized that the personal way it was going to go was that I’d paint sometimes, I’d build sometimes, I’d write sometimes. That cycle is constant and continual. I just want to keep creating, whatever that looks like.”

To buy Empire Apothecary goods, visit empireapothecary.com.

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