“I think we can always grow and grow because we look for, and offer, solutions. Even in a pessimistic time we will never behave like pessimists because that makes life unbearable.”
Lawfully Chic caught up with Elvis & Kresse’s co-founder, Kresse Wesling, to talk about the past, present and future of firehose and fashion.
LC: So, you founded Elvis & Kresse in 2005. Why?
K: I was peculiarly interested in waste – in what people no longer value and particularly what that meant about us as a civilisation. That was back in 2004, when you couldn’t just google everything and had to go to the British Library to gather information! I found out that 100 million tonnes of waste in UK each year was going to landfill. It didn’t make sense to me, so I started doing a pilgrimage to all the landfill sites I was allowed in. I expected to see all the chaos around household waste but didn’t expect so, so much industrial waste. Often there were reams of uniform, clean materials that were being discarded. They had obvious value, not to the person who was throwing it away obviously, but to others who could use it.
LC: So you chose firehose?
K: I mean, I could have picked any one of the different materials I saw there. But when I saw all this firehose, I was inspired. It was beautiful and had a real narrative. So I met with members of The London Fire Brigade, who explained that every year they de commissioned 3-10 tonnes of firehose, either after 25 years of active service or after a particularly bad year which included lots of fires… If there is a catastrophic tear down the middle of hose then it can’t be made into smaller hoses, so gets decommissioned. But even if you have a hole at metre 11 doesn’t mean there isn’t still 22.5 metres of amazing material that could be used for something else.
LC: So how did you go from scrap heap to belts?
K: I started bringing this firehose home, like a magpie. My house mate at the time thought it was just weird! I started to teach myself about the raw material, and went to Yorkshire where the hose is made. I realised that some of the French luxury brands use a very similar material in their collection although it’s not as good quality, plus I thought firehose had bigger story, so I started thinking about how this material could become a luxury item.
LC: Did you get investment, to start it all off?
K: No. We’ve never done things that way, which enables us to maintain our integrity and commitment to our ethics. In a way we were like an early version of Kickstarter: Elvis made one bag, and I took that all around London and convinced 200 people to buy it even though it didn’t exist, and they received 30% discount when they waited six months for it to be produced. Those people financed our first product run.
LC: So was it more about fashion or firehose?
K: Exactly. Most people who go into fashion love fashion, or who go into luxury, love luxury. But we came into it because we love the firehose, and we thought the industry was structurally unsound. Then we built a business around solving the firehose problem and challenging the industry. We have always given half of our profits from the firehose collection to the Firefighter’s Charity too, just because it feels right to do it.
LC: How has your business changed over the last five years, and of course, most recently, during Covid-19?
K: Lots has changed. At first we were a real outlier, but now we have a partnership with the Burberry Foundation and help rescue their leather, so you might even call us mainstream! I’ve been happily surprised that our sales are up 30% during the Covid crisis. I think people are thinking more about what they really want to buy, and also we do a lot of repairs and bespoke work, where our demand recently has been higher. We usually have open workshops in our HQ in North Kent, though, and obviously those have had to close for now, so that’s been strange.
LC: How do you view your future, then, and the future of the luxury world in general?
K: I think we can always grow and grow because we look for, and offer, solutions. Even in a pessimistic time we will never behave like pessimists because that makes life unbearable. We are doing huge research and development projects around ubiquitous pernicious wastes and developing a lot of circular designs. Also, as a brand, we are as transparent as it gets. We just don’t think there is any point to secrecy in this world. Fashion likes to maintain some kind of mysticism and I think that’s a way to hide things you’re not proud of. I’m proud of everything we do. I’m even proud of our mistakes – the things that we do that aren’t perfect all form part of our journey and always inspire us to keep getting better.