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This is a story about a candle company, but let’s start where it really begins: With Diesel and LuLu, the two French bulldogs that bring joy and companionship to Ian Ash and his husband, Michael Keaney. 

“Not having kids of our own, the little nuggets are our children,” Ash says. “They complete our family with their unconditional love.”

So when the pair decided to turn their candle-making hobby into a business, their love of their dogs guided their plans. 

“We discovered that we wanted to use our spare time to do something that does good: To support animals in need, giving them a second chance at life,” Ash says.

The result was French Press Candle Co., a Salem-based brand that combines all-natural soy candles with unique fragrances and a mission to share its profits with animals in need. Since its start nearly two years ago, the company has sold more than 8,500 candles, developed a solid base of loyal customers, and raised more than $25,000 for shelters and rescue organizations across the country. 

The seed of the business was the couple’s “obsession” with buying candles. Wherever they went, they looked for candles made from quality wax, with interesting scents and beautiful design. 

Eventually, Ash decided he wanted to try his hand at creating the candles he so enjoyed. He did his research, reading up on candle-making techniques and joining online groups of more experienced practitioners to seek advice. Then he was ready to make the leap. One night, he told Keaney he was interested in making his own candles. 

“The very next day, hundreds of pounds of wax and fragrances arrived,” Ash laughs.

As they got deeper into their candle-making hobby, the pair decided to stop buying candles and instead make their own, both for personal use and gifts. This commitment eventually blossomed into the idea of starting a mission-driven business, which they launched in January of 2020, using their dining room table as their company headquarters and production area.

French Press candles are all made from clean-burning vegan soy wax and feature scents formulated by Ash and Keaney. They aim to create fragrances that evoke emotion and suggest stories. The smoky, warm “Campfire” scent conjures up the feeling of gathering around a fire pit with friends on a cool autumn evening. Ash’s favorite is one named “Diesel,” which combines leather and white birch to suggest the smell of a well-loved leather jacket.  

Fall Harvest Collection adds a warm fragrance to the home. 

To kick off the business, they began to apply as vendors to local fairs and festivals. They built a website where they could conduct online sales, mainly because it was a requirement for entry into a showcase event planned for May. Then COVID-19 hit, and the world and their plans were thrown into disarray.

“We had to reinvent ourselves,” Ash says. 

They started sharing their story and their plans for helping animals online. Partnering with shelters and rescue organizations, they spread the word about who they were and what they were doing. They quickly generated a buzz and, by fall, had sold 3,000 candles and raised $7,500 for their partners. And while their mission may have been what first caught people’s attention, the quality of the product made them into repeat customers: Nearly 85 percent of buyers placed another order for even more candles. 

Even as the business has expanded, Ash and Keaney remain a two-man operation, making as many as 600 candles in a week in a rented warehouse space. They both have other full-time jobs – Ash is a hospital executive and Keaney is a pediatric nurse practitioner – but they spend most of their spare moment blending scents, pouring wax, and packing shipments. 

If the pandemic made French Press shift its plans, it also made the work they do more urgent, Ash says. During the months of lockdown, many people decided to adopt a pet. As the world began reopening and people returned to work and school, families started abandoning their new dogs at alarmingly high rates, he notes. 

Ash and Keaney are committed to expanding their business and their impact. Since starting, they have added reed diffusers and room spray to their offerings, and they also intend to offer some home decor and bath products. 

“We will continue to grow,” Ash says. “We won’t stop until – who knows?”