- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

After military fatigues bear the heat, sand and sweat of war, some face an usual form of retirement.

The pockets are ripped off, the holes are stitched up, pink trim is added and they are sewn into — purses.

All Fired Up Candle Co., founded by military wives in 2001, makes and sells the military-inspired purses, as well as clothing and candles, on military bases across the country. For the 25 women who make up the company, All Fired Up serves as an outlet to express their professional goals as well as their support for the military and their husbands.

Roxanne Reed, founder and chief executive officer, began molding candles with military insignias in her home in 2001 as a way to stay busy and make extra money.

As her business continued to grow in 2003, she attended Jane Wayne Day. She and other Marine wives jumped out of airplanes, fired artillery and experienced some of the other activities their husbands do. Wearing heavy combat gear, participants threw their rucks, or backpacks, into a confusing pile.

“So I had tied a pink bow on my husband’s ruck,” Mrs. Reed said. “I saw the combination and went, ‘Jane Wayne Gear — that’s so cool.’”

Jane Wayne Gear, a subsidiary of All Fired Up, now includes a line of purses, T-shirts, pins and accessories. One set of donated fatigues can make four bags.

Operations manager Joetta Libby said the bags, which are the company’s top product, sell for between $45 and $65.

All Fired Up shops sell products from all military branches outside Marine Corps bases Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Twentynine Palms, Calif. Although they aren’t military stores, they are associated with the military because of their locations. All Fired Up also sells products in post exchange stores on bases including Quantico, Va., and on the Web at allfiredupcandlecompany.com.

The company plans to expand to bases in the other military branches and eventually in civilian boutique stores, and is pursuing investors.

Next month, employees plan to tout the line to retailers at the AmericasMart wholesale products show.

Mrs. Reed declined to reveal figures, but said sales have doubled each year. From 10 percent to 20 percent of proceeds go to the Jane Wayne Foundation, which provides startup money and professional mentoring to military wives who want to start businesses.

The 25 women who run All Fired Up, based outside Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., are scattered at military bases throughout the country. For many of them, it is the only kind of work that fits the lifestyle of their career-military husbands, whose assignments force them to move frequently.

“Most military wives are professionals at some levels … but we move so much we can’t really integrate ourselves into the natural corporate sector,” Mrs. Reed said. “The private sector sometimes considers our transient lifestyle a prohibitor.”

The women of All Fired Up find a bond with other military wives, who take pride in the fact that the candles and clothing come from their “inner circle.”

“With the war right now, there’s some people trying to make a buck off of Americana. For us, we come from that world. [Camouflage] is something we see every day,” Mrs. Reed said.

For some of the women, carrying a piece of their husband’s wardrobe is a reminder of their strength.

“It’s a constant reminder of how strong I’ve become,” said Devony Fenn, a spokeswoman of All Fired Up who lives at the Quantico base. Her purse is made of the worn desert fatigues of her husband, Capt. Aaron Fenn. “If he wasn’t gone for 10 months, I wouldn’t be half the independent person I am. It’s a constant reminder of where we’ve come and where we’re going.”

When their husbands are deployed, the women tend to work harder and rely on the business to keep them busy and away from TV channels showing news of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Eight military wives and two dozen contractors sew about 3,000 products per month.

“We have sewers who, when their husbands are gone, they’ll stay up until 2 in the morning sewing,” Mrs. Libby said. “Their husbands don’t like them doing that when they’re home.”

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