From fire hoses and leather scraps to auction banners, used tea sacks and waste parachute silks: name a disregarded material and B Corp Elvis & Kresse manages to rescue it from landfill. Not only does the company turn waste into luxury goods, but the purpose driven enterprise also gives half of its profits away. At their workshop in a restored mill in Kent, we talked to co-founder Kresse Wesling about their change making business.
When Kresse discovered in 2004 that 100 million tons of waste was going to landfill annually, her curiosity was immediately sparked. She set off to explore the underground dumping grounds and came to some life-changing conclusions. “I expected to find household waste and other consumer items. But what I wasn’t prepared for were these mono-industrial wastes that were arriving. So sometimes you would get three trucks in a row, with one single clean material in it. And whenever you see that, you know something needs to change.”
From fire hose to belts, bags and wallets
One of the materials Kresse encountered was London’s damaged, decommissioned fire hoses. Seeing this beautiful and durable material in landfill inspired her and her partner Elvis to start acting. In 2005, their business Elvis & Kresse was born.
“A fire hose can live up to 25 years”, Kresse explains. “But if it gets a catastrophic tear halfway through the hose, it can no longer be used. When I told the London Fire Brigade we wanted to save this material and we wanted to share half of our profits with them, they were immediately intrigued and let me wonder off with a hose. At that moment, I knew I was committed.”
After five years of trial and error, in 2010 Elvis & Kresse was able to sustainably rescue and transform all of London’s decommissioned fire hoses every single year. Kresse: “That was something that we never thought was possible when we started. So when we managed to reach our initial goal, we decided to set ourselves some new challenges.”
One of the biggest issues the circular enterprise is currently trying to tackle is the global leather waste problem. Kresse: “Every year, 800.000 tons of leather is wasted globally. In order to save as much as we can, we turn the leather scraps that our partner Burberry can no longer use into new items.”
Sustainable and social
Whereas most companies start with the design of a product, Elvis & Kresse starts by analysing the problem and works its way backwards to the solution. In addition to this unique approach, the company also donates half of their profits to charity. Kresse: “To us, the donations just make sense. We have a huge global issue of income disparity that’s highly inappropriate. By giving away 50 percent of our profits, it enables us to say: ‘Sharing is good. We do it, we love doing it, and it’s good for business, so why don’t you do it?’ It gives us a platform to request other businesses to look again at what they do with their profits as well.”
By showing you can run a successful business that creates monetary, social and environmental value, Kresse hopes to spark a change, both within businesses and individuals. “We have to look at all the amazing things that society gives us and wonder: what can I give back? How can I make sure that every single decision I make is going to make the world a better place for other people’s grandchildren? Because if it isn’t, then what’s the point in doing it? We have to think about long term impact. Not just on our own community, but on the wider world.”
Keen to make a positive change? Here are five fun things you can do today!