“When we started, the term upcycling didn’t exist. That way of working was something people had forgotten (my grandmother used to make clothes out of old scrap clothing). Now being resilient is something we have to re-learn.” This week, Lawfully Chic was lucky enough to catch some telephone-time with the brilliant Kresse Wesling from the ethical luxury lifestyle accessory brand, Elvis and Kresse. She inspired us with her diligence, tenacity and vision.
LC: Go on then, give us the best bits of your story.
KW: I moved to the UK from Hong Kong in 2004, and started hunting around various landfill sites and waste transfer centres trying to understand how the state functioned. That’s me in exploration mode – really interested in what people eat and where the waste goes! After a while I discovered that London’s decommissioned fire hoses were going to landfill and from that point on there was no looking back: this beautiful durable material was so full of a rich narrative, laden with heroic potential. I knew something had to be done to save it.
LC: So you set to work finding a place for the 10 tonnes of fire hose previously wasted every year Greater London?
KW: Yes. At first I thought fire hoses could make roof tiles, but that failed because there isn’t enough of the hose waste to have a roofing business. Plus if you put fire hose outside for a decade, the UV exposure will lead to cracks, ie leaky rooves! So the question was, what does 10 tonnes of fire hose lend itself well to? I didn’t want to take two hoses (that’s not sustainability), I wanted to take it all and what I did with it had to be socially and environmentally viable. I went to the British Library to research what luxury brands used in their materials. It turned out that fire hose is a complex polymer and that’s problematic for recycling – which means it’s difficult to melt it and turn it into something else.
LC: But you did turn it into something else didn’t you? Lots of things in fact.
KW: Well, in the first year we only made belts actually, because that was all we were good at. Currently, we sell only about 50 products and that’s after 10 years of improvement and learning and complete dedication to material rescue. I remember the year when we perfected the wallet – that was an amazing time for us and I thought ‘Yes, actually the quality and craftsmanship of this is amongst the best of traditional luxury, but doesn’t have the provenance or narrative and ethics that we have’.
LC: So would you say that in a way you did things back to front?
KW: Absolutely. A traditional designer will pick up a pen, sketch out what they want to make and go and get the materials. Our approach is backward, we look at the material, we study it, we decide what it’s best suited for and then we make it. When we started the term, upcycling didn’t exist. Elvis and I made each belt by hand in the first year. That way of working was something people had forgotten (my grandmother used to make clothes out of old scrap clothing). Now being resilient is something we have to re-learn.
LC: Tell us a bit about your business model.
KW: Our business model is almost a proof of karma. We always give 50% of the profits to the firefighters charity. There are 66,000 fire service personnel in the UK – you can call them our brand ambassadors. Our customer base, the loyalty, our success, all results from us remaining true to where the brand comes from – which is the fire service and the desire to execute everything exceptionally well. We are still investor free, debt free, and keep focusing on organic growth – growth that’s been financed by sales.