Kresse Wesling is an environmental entrepreneur and the co-founder of Elvis & Kresse. With her partner Elvis, she rescues raw materials, transforms them into luxury lifestyle accessories and gives half of all profits to charity. What’s not to love?
In 2005 she began with London’s decommissioned fire-hoses, converting them into elegantly designed bags, wallets, belts, and more. Thanks to Elvis & Kresse, in over a decade no fire-hoses have gone to landfill and over 175 tonnes of material have been reclaimed. Now working in partnership with the Burberry Foundation, Elvis & Kresse is tackling the 800,000 tons of leather waste generated globally each year.
We sat down with Kresse at their workshop in Kent, England to learn about her plans to reconstruct the fashion industry, why she wouldn’t hire Jose Mourinho and how she intends to make luxury products from sewage…
Describe Elvis & Kresse in 20 words or less
Elvis & Kresse rescues material that would otherwise go to landfill, transforms it into awesome things and donates 50% of its profits to charity.
How did Elvis & Kresse begin? Why did you choose fire hose?
When I first came to the UK I discovered that 100 million tonnes of ‘waste’ was going to landfill every year. I went to landfill sites to see what this looked like. It was appalling and I felt that a lot of this material could be saved. I had a chance meeting with the London Fire Service and we started talking about their waste fire hoses. I fell in love with the material and I just couldn’t let it go to landfill.
What do you think is the biggest problem with the fashion industry?
It’s pace, processes and materials are all extractive and exploitative. It’s not one problem, it’s the whole thing. It’s a systemic issue.
What will it take to make the fashion industry truly circular?
Circularity has to be designed. Designers are powerful, well-paid, even sacred within their organisations and they don’t answer to anyone. They are not thinking about designing for deconstruction or for reinvention. This leads to design errors, which means environmental degradation and social problems within the supply chain.
We also have to revaluate the concept of creativity. I think that Elvis & Kresse are like alchemists; we make something from nothing. However, the fashion industry, which prides itself on creativity, is actually very destructive. How can you say a £5 t-shirt is a creative product if the cotton farmer is not paid enough or it overuses water and natural resources? How can you just not call it illegal?
What does beautiful design mean to you?
To both Elvis and I, beautiful design means longevity. The aesthetic and manufacturing process needs to have longevity at its core. You need to think about the birth, utility and death of a product. If you don’t think about all of these things, what’s beautiful about it? Actually, what’s the point of it?
What’s next for Elvis & Kresse?
A lot more of the same. We are currently only getting to grips with 4 to 5 tonnes of leather waste a year, while 800,000 tonnes are produced annually. We are not going to solve that by bringing the world’s leather waste to Kent. We are going to solve it through collaboration and partnership.
Are there any waste materials you are excited about working with?
Water. We do not treat our water well. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish and it will also be filled with oestrogen and heavy chemistry (which aren’t removed by water treatment systems in the UK). At Elvis & Kresse, we currently treat our own water. We have plans to add two further layers of treatment to make it the cleanest water in the world. It won’t be expensive and it won’t be difficult and it will mean that we can make products from our own sewage… Maybe I need to work on the marketing language!?!
If money/availability etc. was not an issue, who would you hire to work for Elvis & Kresse?
Interesting question. We would like to make a video with Sir David Attenborough or Greta Thunberg. We want brand ambassadors who aren’t models or actors but have done interstellar things in the green space.
The digital team at Burberry is pretty good. We have got some apps we want to develop and they have in-house app developers who are excellent.
We have an amazing atmosphere with people who all get along and treat each other well. We would happily have a Jurgen Klopp but we don’t want a Jose Mourinho. If you are talking about big money salaries, there are a lot of Mourinhos.
What is your biggest sustainability frustration?
Anybody that defends cheap fashion by arguing that it is democratic drives me crazy. The reality is that you’re kicking problems down the road. You’re saying that it’s fine to have a cheap t-shirt as long as the person who is underpaid is invisible to me. The myth of cheapness bothers me a lot.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your sustainability thinking?
My grandmother. She was raised on a farm where they had to grow their own vegetables in the summer or they wouldn’t have food in the winter. Her generation didn’t waste anything and that attitude characterised her whole life.
From a business perspective, Interface. You have to look at their miraculous turn around from being totally linear to totally circular while growing and taking on a whole industry. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any heroes in the fashion industry.
If I made you Supreme Dictator of the UK for the day, what three things would you do for the environment?
- If you can’t recycle it, you can’t have it.
- Businesses would have 5 years to become regenerative or they can’t exist.
- Science-based emissions targets.
When are you happiest?
Friday night in the summer time. Elvis and I take Monty (their rescue dog) for a walk and we feel like we are at the end of a week when we have done something; kilos of waste have been saved and we have raised money for charity. I genuinely feel good. The evidence suggests that being rich doesn’t make people happy whereas I am happy because we are doing our best to be good, and do good.
What would be your last meal?
Homemade pizza and red wine with Elvis!