I’d love to introduce you today to Elvis & Kresse, a design company creating beautiful luxury accessories made from recycled goods. Elvis & Kresse sent me a beautiful wash bag made from recycled hoses. I loved it and the company concept so much that I had an electronic chat with Kresse to find out more about the company and its zero waste and circular economy ethos.
The Elvis & Kresse Beginnings
Elvis & Kresse Wesling have been working together, reclaiming and transforming materials, for over a decade. The couple first met in Hong Kong in 2002, when Elvis was working for a design consultancy and Kresse was running a green packaging start-up. When they relocated to the UK in 2004 they decided it was time to start ‘something’ together.
That ‘something’ wasn’t altogether clear, but the couple knew that they wanted to tackle the waste mountain in some way. In 2004 the UK sent 100 million tonnes of waste to landfill. In an attempt to understand the problem, Kresse toured landfill sites and waste transfer stations and felt the size of the problem was enormous. Yet the solution wasn’t clear.
From a Chance Meeting to a Fledgling Business
However, in 2005 Kresse had a chance meeting with the London Fire Brigade and went to see their hose and line repair shop. The Fire Brigade does all it can to keep the hoses in service. However, after either 25 years of active duty or a catastrophic tear around the middle of a hose, the hoses were destined for landfill.
To many people, they would see a hose. To Elvis & Kresse they saw potential and the Elvis & Kresse rescue mission began. About the hose, Kresse says “the hose has such a powerful story. It is a strong, durable, life-saving material. Everything we do is about honouring, protecting, and celebrating the hose.
We started with a problem (hose waste). After a lot of R&D and prototyping, we knew that the best way to save the hose would be to pour all our love and creativity into the material“. And that they did – the range of accessories made from recycled hoses are as varied as they are beautiful.
From beautiful bags, briefcases, iPad cases, and more, you can practically see the love that has been poured into the recycled hose range. A range that has really been made to last. An Elvis & Kresse piece feels like it will last a lifetime (and more).
Not Just Hoses
It’s not just hoses that Elvis & Kresse work with. The team is obsessed with reclamation. As such, they work with over 15 different materials, none of which are currently recycled in the UK. Their materials include tea sacks, coffee sacks, printing blankets, shoe boxes, parachute silk, auction banners, and scrap leather. And as of yet, Elvis & Kresse haven’t found any materials that are impossible to work with or upcycle. Inspiration is derived from classic, utilitarian design, nature, and the state of the environment.
You get the impression that Elvis & Kresse are born problem solvers. I imagine that working with unconventional materials pose more challenges than you could imagine. Kresse says “if we had been trained with traditional materials and techniques I don’t think we would have started down this road“.
And when asked about their production processes Kresse replied with “I could fill pages of notes on this one as we have developed multi-stage processes and even machines to clean and prepare each of our materials. We have also had to adapt or create new tools for cutting and sewing. The packaging we make is also from reclaimed materials so there are many more stories here“.
If I ever happen to be stuck on a desert island let’s just say I’d like Elvis & Kresse to be there too!
The Elvis & Kresse team is a small one. Kresse says “we are 11 across two sites, and make everything ourselves. We have a strong, positive culture, which shines through in the quality of our goods. We are growing now and are working hard to ensure we can keep our small team mentality“.
The Future for Elvis & Kresse
For Elvis & Kresse the future holds expanding their burgeoning business and ambitiously making a dent in the leather scrap problem. “The scrap leather problem is 80,000 times larger than the fire hose issue. Therefore we need to grow larger and faster than we have before in order to save this material”. Scaling up and dealing with new materials will no doubt poses challenges but I’m confident that if anyone can do it, Elvis & Kresse can!
Kresse is mindful of the barriers to sustainable fashion. She sees the barriers (from a designer/maker point of view) as all being associated with proving that the new circular methods are possible and mainstreaming these, both within existing businesses but primarily with the customer base. She says that “luxury itself needs re-defining; what is it? If not quality, heritage, design, and a genuine care for the planet and its people, then is it really luxury?” Likewise, she sees opportunities in the luxury end of the market, particularly for genuinely innovative sustainable brands that outperform luxury across all kinds of metrics.
How to Encourage Circularity
Moving on, I wondered if they had any ideas on how to encourage more designers to adopt more closed-loop and circular economy design practices, like the Elvis & Kresse model. Kresse suggests that “circular concepts need to be taught, they need to be celebrated as the ultimate in design. Currently, they are not a core or required element at many design schools, which is crazy! We also need to teach and celebrate collaboration. It is virtually impossible for anyone to be circular, all on their own. We need to work as a part of many circles. We need to create incentives across entire loops. And we need to share.
For anyone interested in starting up an upcycling business, I would encourage any aspiring upcycling entrepreneurs to join existing companies. Perhaps to apprentice and learn about the skills they would need to start on their own. We have started an apprenticeship program and have had several work experience students. Being directly involved in a business has allowed each of them to decide whether or not entrepreneurship or upcycling is right for them. There are so many ways to engage with these issues and aspiring, passionate people need to explore, to find out where they can have the most impact“.
As a takeaway, Kresse recommends Silent Spring*, by Rachel Carson. She describes it as a book she would always have in her home (and one I really recommend too to anyone interested in environmentalism). Mid-Course Correction by Ray Anderson is also recommended by Kresse for anyone interested in starting an environmentally aligned business. Other recommendations include the circular shorts on the RSA and Ellen MacArthur Foundation sites.
Do check out the Elvis & Kresse website and their beautiful range of accessories. And if you are interested in finding out more about what it takes to run an ethical company, do check out this post on insights into running an ethical business.