My ECO STORIES with Kresse Wesling MBE
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Welcome to My ECO STORIES, our interview series, where we chat to different fashion and textile industry practitioners about their thoughts on sustainability and the future of fashion.
Kresse Wesling is a multi-award-winning environmental entrepreneur and Young Global Leader with a background in venture capital and significant start-up experience. After first meeting with the London Fire Brigade in 2005, Kresse launched Elvis & Kresse, which turns industrial waste into innovative lifestyle products and returns 50% of profits to charities related to the waste. The company now collects 12 different waste streams, has several charitable partnerships and is involved with collaborations across industries, including most recently a five-year partnership with the Burberry Foundation.
Can you talk a bit about your practice?
Elvis & Kresse essentially does three things. We rescue materials that would otherwise go to landfill, transform them into wonderful things, and donate 50% of our profits to charities associated with the waste. We started in 2005 when we launched a rescue mission to ensure that damaged; decommissioned fire hoses would not end their otherwise heroic life in landfill. We make these into luxury accessories, and 50% of the profits from this range are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is sometimes easier to understand by its opposite. To be unsustainable means that something is ‘not able to be maintained at the current level’ or to be ‘indefensible’. The vast majority of the goods and services that flow through our current economy are unsustainable. For us, you have to make every business or design decision based on whether or not it is going to make the world better for other people’s grandchildren.
Can you explain how you choose your materials?
Our materials essentially choose us. We are always looking at landfills and in bins… when we find something that has no hope, that we somehow love, we then ask ourselves three questions:
1. Can we save this material?
2. Are we the best people to save it, or could another business do better?
3. Can we potentially solve the whole problem (i.e. not just a few kilos here and there)?
If the answer to all three is yes, then we give it a shot.
Why did you decide to become a B Corp Company?
We started in 2005, so before the B Corp movement came to be, but we always had these values. It was perfectly natural for us to be one of the founding B Corps in the UK because we wanted to help grow the broader movement. We also love that all B Corps are required to enshrine the following in the legal documents that essentially make up their business; shareholders are NOT more important than the planet or its people. This sounds entirely rational, like something all companies would be obliged to do, but it isn’t. Most businesses are actually required to put shareholders first.
What advice would you give to someone starting a responsible brand?
Ah - I have given this much thought and even wrote a blog about it!
Which item in your wardrobe is the most important to you? (An item that is the most meaningful to you)
A pair of tracksuit bottoms that were my Dad’s from when he was at university. They are at least 50 years old and insanely comfortable.
Which small businesses are you loving at the moment and would like to give a shout-out to?
We live and work in rural Kent - there are so many pubs and restaurants in our local area that have done amazing things to pivot and stay open. We are also seriously impressed by our pilates instructor, Rebecca Still. Who built an online series of courses and started delivering from the first week of lockdown.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, what issue has been highlighted in the industry to you?
It is undeniable that long, complicated supply chains that rely on underpaid and undervalued people and materials which degrade the environment are less resilient than businesses like ours that have stakeholders, not shareholders. Resilience comes from a dedication to the environment and its people, from a genuine focus on long-term goals instead of short-term financial gain.
What is your hope for the future of fashion and textiles?
My hope is that the entire industry actually becomes sustainable. That unsustainable brands and practices die out quickly before much more damage is done, and we cherish the items we have and ensure they have a long, utilitarian life.
Written by Bethan and Kresse @ theecostories