Elvis & Kresse converts industrial and commercial waste such as fire hoses and coffee bags into luxury goods and accessories.www.elvisandkresse.com
Kresse Wesling has a rather extraordinary passion: ‘I’ve been passionate about waste for years! I want to add value to waste and build a valuable product from it,’ she says. The result is a company she has co-founded to make luxury goods from waste.
Yes, that’s right: luxury from waste.
The adventure started on an auditing course she attended in 2005 to learn more about ISO 14001, the environmental management standard, where she met members of the London Fire Brigade. They told her about their disused fire hoses, which cannot be traditionally recycled. ‘I asked to see some and they took me to their fire hose assessment site. There were coils and coils of it piled on the rooftop. It was beautiful.’
Passion equals vision
Some might be hard-pressed to see how old hose could be beautiful, but this is exactly what makes Kresse’s passion extraordinary: her vision. ‘When you polish it and see the lustrous red rubber it becomes this fantastic material!’ Kresse and her future business partner, Elvis, set about figuring out what they could make from it. ‘If a use couldn’t be found for the hose, most of it would go to landfill, which to me is simply uncivilised. Waste is a mix of inherently valuable materials. It’s shameful to shove it in the earth.’
A lengthy process of trial and error ensued, as they made the hose into roof tiles, furniture, Christmas ornaments… and finally belts. ‘Elvis’s leather belt split so we cut off a bit of hose, added his buckle, and hey presto!’ It wasn’t quite as easy as that, of course. More work was required to find machines sturdy enough to cut, rivet and sew the rubber, which is as tough as nails, let alone to clean the sooty grime off it. ‘We’re on uncharted territory so we have to innovate!’ Kresse enthuses.
All in a name
Fast forward two years and the enthusiasm is not just contagious, it’s hit the big time: Elvis & Kresse belts, bags, and accessories are sold in the world’s most luxurious department store, Harrods, alongside famed luxury labels, and have recently been launched in New York. So how did they get this far so soon? ‘First there was the Live Earth music festival that chose our belts as some of their green merchandising. We made 500 and they sold out – they wanted double, but we simply couldn’t deliver that many!’
A love of craftsmanship
To up production they would have to offer more products, so embarked on what Kresse enjoys most: looking for more waste. ‘I go to waste transfer stations and hang around supermarket depots and industrial estates watching the trucks and nosying around.’ That’s where she found their next material, old coffee sacks. These have been used to make unbranded shoppers for a major UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s. Other offbeat materials include reclaimed sail cloth or parachute silk, which become linings for their range of firehose bags. Even shipping is waste-oriented: ‘we send out the belts in the padded envelopes that contact lenses come in, which we get from our optician. We’re a tiny business but we’ve made partnerships with some of the biggest names. Now we’re at a crossroads and need to scale,’ says Kresse. ‘Sustainable luxury is a real possibility nowadays. People aren’t just buying green because it’s green any more. They want design and craftsmanship too.’
None of this luxury is going to their heads, however. 50% of all profit from sales is donated to charities associated with the wastes used. Turnover soared from £8,000 in their first year to £267,000 in 2010, so Elvis & Kresse donated over £3,000 to The Fire Fighters Charity, while the shopper bags generated £6,000 for coffee-grower programmes.
Kresse grew up in Canada, where she developed a need to be in contact with nature, but at the age of 17, went off to study the International Baccalaureate in Hong Kong. ‘It was seminal. Had I stayed in Canada, I wouldn’t have seen the scale of destruction that can exist in the world. In Hong Kong, they don’t hide their waste, they pump it into the sea.’ She returned there to work in venture capital after university, and went on to start up two ventures in the environmental waste management sector, before moving to the UK. But how did someone who needs to be in contact with nature manage in Hong Kong? ‘I had a blow-up kayak!’ she says. ‘There is always wilderness and nature somewhere!’
What's new?'Drawing up the business plan for the Award made us scrutinise what was truly profitable and discontinue what was not, which we had perhaps been less inclined to face.’'
In the past semester, Elvis & Kresse has seen revenue leap 30% and two markets for growth have been Asia and the US, with the company particularly expanding its presence in New York.
Kresse, recently named a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum, is proud to say half of their profits are donated to charities associated to the wastes they use. The company, which converts industrial and commercial waste such as fire hoses and coffee bags into luxury goods and accessories, has taken on two new wastes to turn into designer products.
The coaching from McKinsey will focus on the company's growth strategy, while the Award funds will be used to finance equipment and expansion.
In December 2012 Kresse Wesling was nominated Member of the British Empire in the New Year Honours list, for services to corporate social responsibility!
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