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Monday, 14 June 2010

Waste not, want not: creative business tips from a leading social entrepreneur

Do What You Love interview: Kresse Wesling
Meet Kresse Wesling, young sparky British creator of unique accessories for Hollywood superstars. Kresse is not your average fashion designer. She is one half of the very cool ‘Elvis and Kresse’ brand which took London Fashion Week by storm and has recently announced a collaboration with apple. She is one of the British Prime Minister’s Ambassadors for Social Entrepreneurship and a champion of responsible business practices. And the belt she made for Cameron Diaz to model in a Mario Testino shoot for American Vogue used to be a piece of fire hose.

Kresse takes what others throw away and makes beautiful high end fashion goods from them – handbags and belts from hose discarded by the London Fire Brigade, purse linings from parachute silk rejected by the military, and eco-friendly shopping bags for a major UK supermarket chain from old coffee bean sacks. Not only does she reuse and recycle what would otherwise go to landfill, she ploughs a chunk of her profits back into charities which support the people who have contributed the ‘waste’ in the first place, so 50% of the profits from her fire hose line (see picture below) go to The Firefighters’ Charity. Although the company is still quite young (launched in 2007), it has already taken London Fashion Week by storm, and unveiled the 2010 collection at legendary auction house Sotheby's.

I had the good fortune of being invited to do a job swap with Kresse as part of the Social Entrepreneurship programme, and was so inspired by what I saw and heard, I wanted to share her story with you.

Tell us a bit more about how you came to be up to your elbows in old fire hose?
I have always had a keen interest in the environment in general and waste in particular. I met the London Fire Brigade over a year before we launched the business in 2007 but I knew immediately that I wanted to tackle the hose problem. Running a company that makes honest, quality, practical pieces is the best way that James (my business partner) and I can help to solve the hose problem.

How would you describe yourself?
Mostly I call myself an environmental entrepreneur – or an environmentalist – or waste obsessed…

What is your advice for a successful creative business partnership?
James and I work very well together because we tackle different aspects of the business. James is our designer and logistical mastermind, I focus on finding new wastes, collaborators and business opportunities. Because he focuses on the internal aspects and I focus on the external and we trust and respect each others’ judgement things run fairly smoothly. That said, when there is chaos, and in our business there is a lot of chaos, we both immediately drop everything and roll up our sleeves; no one is left to deal with problems on their own.

Kresse and her business partner James
What are you most proud of?
That we have reclaimed around 100 tonnes of waste.
What you are doing is pushing boundaries and accepted wisdom about fashion. What do you do when you come up against obstacles?
This depends on the obstacle. Most of our hurdles have been technical, so there is a lot of research, trial and error and innovation. When we stay focused on the core mission of the business, reclaiming waste, we can overcome most of what is thrown at us.

You have had some awesome PR coverage for your products. Do you have any tips for people trying to promote their creative business in creative ways? We love what we do, if we didn’t I don’t think the press would be as keen to cover us. We love that our work is messy, complicated and that the end products and all of our packaging have an incredible history. Some people love our design, others that we are committed to reclamation on a grand scale and probably everyone loves firemen. Having so much to talk about is why we love doing this and why lots of people want to talk about it. We are also incredibly lucky in that we have stakeholders, like the London Fire Brigade and the Fire Fighters Charity, that are also constantly promoting what we do. Working closely with your stakeholders and making your passion for the business as obvious as possible to everyone else is the best advice I can give.

What is your favourite part of your working day?There is no real repetition in what we do, no two days are the same, so my favourite bit is that I wouldn’t be able to answer this question!

What is your big dream for Elvis & Kresse?That we can scale up – take on more waste, donate more to charity and start to really challenge the idea of waste.

Elvis + Kresse has recently launched ‘The Elvis + Kresse Arts line’, a joint venture between Elvis + Kresse and ISSI, dedicated to bringing together creativity and care for the environment. They have produced a range of products in collaboration with award-winning artists who have accepted the challenge to create beauty from waste. The Elvis + Kresse Arts Collection is a collaboration with an international group of outstanding artists – Lothar Götz, Olivier Millagou, Paul Morrison and Simon Periton. They worked together to explore the possibilities of new materials, innovating in both design and manufacturing, to create bags and accessories.

For more information check out their beautiful products here.

To be inspired by more Do What You Love interviews see here


  1. BETH! I LOVE THIS INTERVIEW! how cool and gorgeous are those bags from fire hoses. WOW i sooo want one now. I love the phrase "environmental entrepreneur" and these guys are certainly putting a fantastic stamp on art, fashion and recycles (or should i say upcycles!)

    Hope all is okay with you my lovely, ill drop you a personal line to check in too. This week in 13 weeks we will be sitting down together with a nice cuppa having a good old chinwag, then SQUAM! and I CANNOT wait. xxx

  2. those bags are AMAZING!! i'd love to have one and hope to buy one when my No Clothes Challenge ends in November =-)

    thank you for sharing these amazing artists and their story of recycling materials for new goods - they are fabulous!! hooray for environmental entrepreneurs!

  3. Fantastic! So wonderful, I've only recently stumbled across the whole recycling-as-art idea - this is certainly amazing to see a couple being so incredibly successful at it, both in terms of environmental impact and career acclaim!

    Wonderful, just loving your site. And thanks for the encouragement on the v-log front! x

  4. Dearest Beth, this is an awesome and very inspiring interview. The key message i got from it is ~ "we love what we do". Truely inspirational and very uplifting! It is so cool to know they are collaboration with apple!! Their bags are gorgeous and i LOVE their concept of environmental entrepreneur! Thank you so much for this interview! Have a lovely merry happy week and love to you!

  5. beth,
    I am visiting you from flying lessons and you also left some kind words on my blog. This was a fantastic interview and I love the emotional feel of your blog. Full of LOVE:) I so related to your "about me" page. I can't agree more with everything that "wise man" said to you:)xoxox

  6. Nice interview!! We had the privilege to get to know her and the brand Elvis&Kresse is amazing...
    We are now collaborating with them on our sustainable marketplace
    We hope you like it! ;)


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