Introducing Elvis and Kresse
We recently spoke with the fantastic team behind the brand Elvis and Kresse. We discuss their mission and values, how their products are crafted, and their focus and drive as a business moving forward.
How was Elvis & Kresse founded?
I (Kresse) fell in love with Duraline hoses the moment I saw them, in 2005, piled up on a rooftop at a fire station in Croydon, awaiting an imminent and undignified death in landfill.
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. They either miraculously survive 25 years of active service, or they 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 rich, durable, life-saving, lustrous coils of deep red nitrile rubber go.
Elvis learned to sew. We started with a simple range of belts and grew slowly from there. We have rescued all of London’s decommissioned hoses since 2005, and have donated 50% of the profits to the Fire Fighters Charity. So these hoses are still working hard, long after their first life.
What key information do you think people should know about your products?
You may have noticed that our branding is pretty subtle, there are no big logos. So we think that our pieces might whisper rather than shout, but this is what we think they are saying:
- That you care for resources; that you would rather help to rescue and reuse materials than opt for something new.
- That you care about makers; that you understand how much time and skill it takes to make a high quality piece and that you are really happy to support a company which pays real Living Wages as a minimum.
- That you want something unique. No two fire-hoses have had the same life, or bear the same scars or are precisely the same shade of red.
- That you want to give back; that sharing is a fundamentally awesome thing to do. The best day of our year is the day we make our annual donations to our charity partners. I can promise you that the joy of giving outweighs any other high we have had as a company.
- That you love the fire service; 50% of our profits from the Fire-hose Collection is donated to the Fire Fighters Charity and fund (among many other things) exercise therapy sessions, hydrotherapy sessions, physio sessions, psychological support sessions, family counselling, food boxes, and a help line.
- That you make slow, considered purchases. You would celebrate our focus on utility, durability, classic design and refusal to produce seasonal collections. You want to know we are here to repair your piece over time and make your belt shorter or longer as required. Your bag is not just for Christmas, it is a long-term commitment.
- That you think women will make amazing solar engineers; 50% of the profits from our rescued leather (Fire & Hide Collection) go to Barefoot College, an incredible charity that tackles almost every single Sustainable Development Goal by design. It educates and empowers women, tackles poverty and ensures a renewable energy future for their communities.
- That you support Social Enterprises and B-Corporations, businesses solving social and environmental problems and using business as a force for good.
- That you can spot the difference between a business who is making a small proportion of their goods in an innovative way, let's say ‘consciously’, while making the bulk of their goods unconsciously. Intent is important, it is wonderful that some companies are on a genuine transition, but it is always better to invest in action.
- That you appreciate ingenuity. Transforming fire-hoses into a usable textile, developing an entirely novel multi-stage process. Creating a circular system for leather scrap to ensure that our pieces can be deconstructed and reconstructed through time. And now, with Queen Mary University, we are designing an open-source, safe, and inexpensive solar forge to rescue littered aluminium!
- That you are a story-teller. We met someone who has proudly been carrying our first ever purse. We only made 200 of these, and they were all sold around 9 years ago. She was so proud to still be using it as an ice-breaker and telling the story of rescued hoses, ingenious design and donations. Almost ten years of narrative makes this a timeless source of statements!
- That you just love red.
We aren’t saying that statement pieces shouldn’t also be bold, stylish, beautiful and well made, but we should also demand that what we wear reflects our values and vision for the future. At a time where it very much matters that everyone does everything they can for the planet and people, your clothing and accessories need to work just as hard.
You recently won the Queen's Award for sustainable business, how was that experience?
I think the most amazing thing about it is how robust the due diligence of the awards team is and how only a few of these awards are handed out each year. It was an incredible honour for the whole team and certainly something that we will celebrate for years to come.
Tell us some more about your support for the Fire Fighters charity.
Firefighters are there when we need them. When they get a call, they drop everything, suit up, and jump in the truck. They run toward danger.
When we started Elvis & Kresse our first goal was to rescue London's decommissioned fire-hose. When we promised to donate half of our profits from our Fire-hose Collection to the Fire Fighters Charity we had no idea where this promise would take us, and what an impact it would have.
Unwittingly, but overwhelmingly willingly we have created this truly virtuous circle. Firefighters rescue us, we rescue the fire-hose, and the proceeds help to rescue firefighters and their families in their time of need.
If you are in any doubt of how vital the Fire Fighters Charity is, please read these testimonials by just a handful of the people they help:
Kevin: “It wasn’t just help with my injury, but you get help with all sorts of things, from sleep to eating healthy or mental health awareness. The range of support they have for all sorts of things, it was mind-blowing. I didn’t realise they offered half of what they do. The Fire Fighters Charity got me back to being able to work and be fully functional. In my opinion they’ve saved my career and I’ll be forever grateful to them.”
Dawn: “My husband, Lee, had a really tough time at the beginning of the year, and after nearly having a breakdown was referred to The Fire Fighters Charity,” says Dawn. “He went down to Harcombe for a week and was offered so much support and advice that really helped him. I’m forever grateful that he had somewhere to turn and somewhere to go. He took real comfort from being there during what was a very difficult time for him.”
Richard: "I’ve realised that by being here at Harcombe: they’ve saved my life, just as much as if they’d run in and dragged me out of a house fire.”
As many of you know, we are a different kind of company. We don't celebrate turnover. We celebrate tonnes of material rescued, and money donated. Since we started working with the Firefighters Charity we have donated more than £210,000.00 with another large donation almost ready to go.
You are a certified B Corp company, can you tell us some more about what that means?
In 2015 we became one of the first businesses in the UK to certify as a B-Corp. Why did we do this? Because B-Corps all understand that we have to act in the best interests of everyone. We all have to sign the B-Corp Declaration of Interdependence:
- We have to be the change we want to see in the world
- We have to conduct business as if people and place matter
- We must aspire to do no harm and benefit all
- We must act like we understand that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations
We ask ourselves, every day, ‘Is this the best you can do?’. Everyone at Elvis & Kresse understand that we are dependent upon each other and are responsible for each other. We will act accordingly because we understand what interdependence means and as a proud member of the B-Corp community we gladly signed the Declaration.
What does your partnership with the Burberry Foundation incorporate?
We partnered with Burberry Foundation to solve our most ambitious material challenge to date: the vast amounts of waste created through the production of leather goods. It is estimated that each year, 800,000 tonnes of leather waste is produced by the global leather industry. Through this partnership, we have demonstrated how the traditional leather goods supply chain can be disrupted and changed for the better. We have transformed tonnes of leather off-cuts from the production of Burberry products into new luxury accessories and homeware. Half of the profits from this range have been donated to Barefoot College, creating scholarships for women to train as solar engineers. The remaining half will be reinvested to expand our work in reducing and reusing waste, protecting the environment and inspiring craftspeople.
What are you looking forward to this year as a business?
This is going to be an epic year. We moved to our new HQ last year but have been very constrained in our temporary site while we have been busily constructing our new straw bale workshop. We can’t wait to move in, hopefully in late July, and re-open our public workshops. We will also be working hard on our solar forge and at the farm where we have just finished planting around 12,000 vines and 5000 trees. It is going to take a lot of work to make sure all of this new life can thrive here.
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