Rolling out regeneration

Editor Zoë Fryday catches up with Kresse Wesling, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, a luxury fashion brand with an unwavering commitment to the circular economy

In the world of sustainable fashion, Elvis & Kresse stands out as a beacon of innovation, commitment and conscious luxury. Co-founded by Kresse Wesling and James Henrit (aka Elvis), the brand, which operates from its very own farm based on the outskirts of Faversham, Kent, has redefined the narrative around waste materials, transforming decommissioned fire hoses and other rescued materials into exquisite accessories with a purpose.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kresse during a Kent Christmas charity lunch hosted by the Women in Business Network (WIBN) last December. Kresse captivated the audience with an enlightening keynote presentation that delved into the remarkable narrative of Elvis & Kresse. The room, filled with fellow female business owners and entrepreneurs, hummed with admiration and inspiration. Now, allow me to introduce Kresse and her incredible brand to you.

Kresse’s journey into sustainable fashion wasn’t a predetermined path. Her career, initially marked by a brief stint in venture capital and the establishment of a biodegradable packaging startup, took an unexpected turn. The pivot came from a shared love for the outdoors and a profound passion for sustainability, which prompted her and James to co-found Elvis & Kresse. “I had been reading IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports since 1992 and we were definitely ahead of the curve on sustainability and climate,” she explains. “Elvis & Kresse was a response, and still is a response, to our collective failure to be good citizens. Instead of campaigning, we set up a business that acts as an example of how to work for people and the planet.”

The brand’s inception in 2005 was serendipitous, born from the sight of decommissioned Duraline fire hoses piled on a fire station rooftop in Croydon, London. These hoses, on the brink of an imminent and undignified fate in landfill, sparked a vision in Kresse – an intense urge to rescue and repurpose them. “Fire hoses are decommissioned for one of two reasons – they either reach the 25-year-end of their health and safety life or they are too damaged to repair,” says Kresse. “They either miraculously survive 25 years of active service or die trying. We weren’t entrepreneurs in search of an idea. We didn’t set out to make luxury accessories. We simply wanted to save the hose. We couldn’t let these lustrous, durable, life-saving coils of deep red nitrile rubber go.”

Since 2005, Elvis & Kresse has rescued all of London’s decommissioned fire hoses, donating 50% of profits from its Fire-hose Collection to The Fire Fighters Charity, which is dedicated to supporting past and present fire and rescue service personnel. “We built Elvis & Kresse with three pillars – rescuing materials that were otherwise destined for landfill, transforming them into inspirational goods, and donating 50% of profits. The business only exists with these three key elements as we want to help deliver a circular economy. Fire hose was the first material we rescued, and it made perfect sense, from day one, to build our brand with the fire service community in mind.”

By 2010, the business was ready to take on new wastes and expand its hose collection. This prompted a move to Kent, driven by the necessity for more space. Subsequently, in 2017, Elvis & Kresse initiated a rescued leather project in partnership with Burberry, a venture which saw at least 120 tonnes of leather offcuts, remnants from Burberry’s product manufacturing, transformed into a diverse range of Elvis & Kresse accessories and homeware under the Fire & Hide Collection. 50% of profits from this collection go to Barefoot College International, a grassroots organisation on a mission to forge a first-of-its-kind, women-centred, global network dedicated to sustainable development for marginalised rural communities.

Kresse explains that when the team started working on the leather issue in 2010, they knew they wanted to find another charity partner, and fell in love with Barefoot College. “Given the connection between cows and climate change, we aimed to collaborate with a charity that not only promotes renewable energy but also aligns with nearly all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Barefoot accomplishes precisely that.” Reflecting on the company’s achievements, Kresse highlights the rescue of over 300 tonnes of materials and donations exceeding £430,000 to charity partners.

The Elvis & Kresse journey started with simple belts crafted from the decommissioned fire hoses. Fast forward almost a decade and the brand now proudly boasts a diverse range of handcrafted accessories, encompassing everything from luxury bags, purses and wallets to laptop cases, notebooks, homeware and beyond. But the mission transcends mere accessory creation; it serves as a bold declaration against the perils of overconsumption and the rapid pace of fast fashion trends. “Our material choices and mission will always make us distinct,” states Kresse. By using rescued materials, we are dramatically reducing the embodied carbon inherent in all newly made materials (even those made with recycled fibres). Our materials also mean that each piece is unique. No two items, even if made to the same pattern, will ever be the same. We offer classic, utilitarian pieces and do not follow seasons or trends which fuel over-consumption.”

Kresse and the team had long been contemplating how they could become a net regenerative business, which eventually led to the idea of a farm. Nestled on the outskirts of Faversham in Kent, Elvis & Kresse’s farm became a reality, with its acquisition in December 2020 and the subsequent move in the spring of 2021. While the major infrastructure work on site – including the construction of a straw bale workshop, the implementation of renewables, the establishment of the wetland system and the cultivation of vines, has been completed – this marks just the beginning of a lifelong commitment to farming.

Sustainability is embedded in the DNA of Elvis & Kresse. As one of the founding UK B Corps and a Social Enterprise, the brand constantly strives for more. With approximately 15 different materials in use, each requiring years of research and development, the innovation schedule is relentless. The farm becomes a symbol of their regenerative plan, complemented by collaborations with larger businesses and extensive educational initiatives with universities. “Essentially, we take the view that the business can always do more. We can’t just do one good thing. We have to make the best bags, in the best way but we also have to be actively involved with addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.”

For fellow business owners aspiring to incorporate sustainable practices, Kresse’s advice is simple yet profound: focus on maximising the good you can do. Sustainability, she says, isn’t just a goal; it’s a 360-degree commitment to regeneration. “This isn’t just about doing the right thing. We don’t understand why it is legal for profit to flow from exploitation and environmental degradation, and we can see a time when the laws will change. You need to stay ahead of the curve.”

Looking to the future, Elvis & Kresse promises exciting developments – new materials, epic collaborations and the production of environmentally conscious wines from the farm. With every accessory crafted, every material rescued and every initiative undertaken, this forward-thinking brand is leaving an indelible mark, paving the way for a more sustainable and regenerative future. Those eager to learn more are welcome to visit the Faversham site, which offers workshops, tours and more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cover Stories

Wired for success

Join us as we sit down with Orbital Net CEO Ben Doherty to explore the Kent-based independent internet service provider’s remarkable 25-year evolution

Read More
Cover Stories

Flying high

The corporate travel sector is bouncing back, and ISON Travel, led by Helen Cannon, is supporting professionals with all their needs

Read More
Cover Stories

Make a difference

Troy and Catherine Barratt, directors of Contracts Engineering and Furnitubes, have a track record of acquiring businesses and taking them to the next level

Read More