After the death of its founder, Fivestripes candle company looks forward to continuing business in Trenton
When an artist’s vision merges with an entrepreneur’s spirit, it’s difficult to predict what the results will be.
But right now you can count on at least a few things from the Trenton based Fivestripes (which includes Ana Candles), located in a modern industrial building on Ott Street: the annual factory direct candle sales on Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14; a television feature on the entertainment newsmagazine “Extra,” Dec, 11, 7 p.m. on local NBC affiliates; a presence on the Martha Stewart-eBay site, “American Made;” and a dramatic and hopeful transition.
Frank Weeden, the Trenton-based artist who created an original inlaid striped candle and turned it into a thriving business, died at age 53 of pancreatic cancer in early October. But before he died, he had a vision to continue Trenton’s legacy of manufacturing quality products. For the single and childless entrepreneur, that vision included handing over his successful company to someone he trusted, had the knowhow to build on the company’s success, and could take it to a new level.
“I was excited and honored,” says Lauren Polito, a financial analyst and Weeden’s longtime friend who accepted Weeden’s offer without hesitation and is now leading the company into the future.
Polito, who began to help out in the factory a few years ago, says that she became president and head of sales in September. The transfer of leadership allowed Weeden to conclude his life by calling on a group of artist friends and spending the time he had left working on his sculptures — doing what he loved and knowing that the company he founded would continue.
Now Polito is embracing Weeden’s mission to provide a venue where the lovers of the striped candles can find them and other well-designed products from around the world. The company’s offerings have expanded to include home decor and accessories. Made with paraffin wax and cotton wicks, the Trenton-made candles are smokeless, drip free, and engineered to have long burn times.
Those products continue to come from the same factory where the first-of-their-kind inlaid striped taper candles were first set and shipped in 1994. That’s when the company began as a joint venture between Weeden and his sister Elizabeth, with financial help from his father, Donald Weeden, of the family brokerage firm, Weeden & Co., in Connecticut.
About five years ago, Weeden expanded his offerings to include high-end home products and partner with other designers. Today 20 are involved, and the company sells items from more than 10 categories, including laptop cases, rugs, ceramics, totes, pillows, and throws. To accommodate the expansion, in 2012 the Ana Candle website changed to Fivestripes, a name connected to the candles distinctive feature.
In addition to the seasonal Trenton factory sales, Fivestripes products are available from selected retail outlets or gift fairs across the U.S, Canada and the U.K.; locally at the Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park and Twirl Toy Shop in Pennington; or online at fivestripes.com or anadesigncorp.com. Wholesale customers include Dash and Albert, Dwell Studio, and Baggu, and the company’s goals include increasing its pool of distributors and potentially opening its own store.
Polito, who comes to Trenton with several years of business experience, worked in the structured finance bond market in New York City for 11 years. She holds a degree in finance from Babson College, Wellesley, Mass., and studied at the MBA Institute, Paris, France. Originally from Middletown, where she was raised by school teacher parents, she now lives in Tewksbury with her husband, John, and four children. When not working at Fivestripes, she is active in environmental causes and historical preservation in New Jersey.
Polito says she discovered Ana Candles while visiting her sister’s Stockton home and noticing the attractive and striking different candles on a mantle. She recalls wanting to know more about them and discovering that her brother-in-law was the landlord of Weeden’s factory.
When Polito met Weeden 14 years ago, he had been in business for nearly five years.
“He was like no one I had ever met,” Polito says. “Frank had a tremendous positive impact on everyone he met.” She says that she had the same feeling when she encountered his artwork.
Before coming to Trenton, Weeden grew up in New York City and studied in New York, Switzerland, and Connecticut, before moving to New Jersey in the early 1980s and sculpting at Princeton’s Johnson Atelier for two years. It was then that he discovered and fell in with the capital city.
Before the success of Ana Candle, he previously experimented with two other businesses: a building restoration service and a bronze casting foundry that included well-known New York-based artist Julian Schnabel as a client. He also twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor, in 2007 and 2011.
The idea of embedding patterns into candles came to Weeden while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, he said in a 2011 interview. The name “Ana” initially stood for “All New American.” Later, Weeden changed the identity and branding to represent a woman’s name, “Ana,” inspired by one of Weeden’s aunts from Paris, who, like the company, appreciated good taste.
While candles were created by hand for the first five years or so, Weeden and machinist Ron Lessard designed machinery to make the candle process more economical for the company and affordable for the customer, Weeden said in the interview.
Another advantage of that machinery — still used today —- is its adaptability to new designs. Today the Fivestripes team is developing new color palettes and new patterns, and expanding its product line, including designer linen tableware, says Polito.
Everyone (in the company) is involved in coming up with new ideas, Polito says. Besides her, the company employs four others: two candle makers, artist and sculptor Clay Ervin and Junior Rodriguez; controller Tom Agzigian; and packaging, shipping, inventory, and quality controller Marisol Gonzales. The original machinist, Ron Lessard, is not an employee but leases space in the facility, and Polito’s husband, John, is one of the company’s board members. The staff, Polito says, made the transition seamless.
“We’re working on having more of a marketing presence. We want to be in more stores, and we’re expanding our website,” Polito says. “The press has been great.”
In addition to the Extra television show and the Martha Stewart site, the company is being featured in the 2013 New York Times gift giving guide and on HGTV.com.
Although she has hope, Polito can’t predict whether Fivestripes will bring other companies to the city. But she believes that being in Trenton has a positive impact on the community.
“Trenton used to be a leading manufacturing place,” Polito says. “Frank wanted to bring Trenton back, and he hoped that his factory would bring back other companies.”
Fivestripes and Ana Design, Annual Factory Direct Candle Sales, One Ott Street, Trenton, Fridays and Saturdays, December 6 and 7, and 13 and 14; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for more information go to fivestripes.com or anadesigncorp.com.