Canadian native Kresse Wesling and James ‘Elvis’ Henrit joined forces both romantically and professionally – a passionate environmental revolutionary and a modest but technically-brilliant designer – and the results have been staggering.
In 2005, they had a chance encounter with London Fire Brigade and learned all damaged and decommissioned hose at the end of its 25-year working life was going to landfill.
Troubling news. They mounted a rescue of their own and promised the firefighters they met they would find a way to recycle and reuse this hardworking equipment after its distinguished and heroic career. James created a belt from a section and the rest is history (Cameron Diaz has since sported one).
Now more than 165 tonnes of lifesaving material has been reclaimed and transformed into exquisite bags, accessories and homewares with 50 per cent of the profits being donated to the Fire Fighters Charity, which provides enhancing health and wellbeing support to the fire community in the UK.
It is a beautiful cycle of reclamation, innovation and donation that sits at the core of the operation, based in a 19th century water mill in the Kent countryside near Faversham (that smells of leather and soot). They rescued that as well. Oh, and their lovely black poodle cross Monty too…
It took two years of prototypes before the belt was created and the idea born. They burnt out four sewing machines before they found one up to the task and taught themselves multiple new skills and repurposed numerous pieces of equipment, including a pizza cutter of all things before refining the process.
They thrive on a problem; the ultimate solution search party.
They have their sights set on the remaining UK’s 51 fire services (people who learn about their business always assume they have a direct fire brigade connection, for which of course they now have a heart, but no relatives in the emergency services. Firefighters do receive a discount on items too – contact the team when placing your order to prove your day job to receive it).
Kresse is the woman who was ahead of her years. As a young eco activist, she was creating biodegradable materials that sadly biodegraded in a Hong Kong shipping container in 2004, they were simply ‘too biodegradable’. What a different environment we now find ourselves in.
And the pair have taken on their next bold mission, learning high end has a dark side; a partnership with the Burberry Foundation to salvage leather waste heading for the scrap heap. A stretchmark or mosquito bite can be enough to render a swathe of leather unworthy of a designer piece. But there is beauty in flaws and over the next five years, they will ensure 120 tonnes of offcuts and rejects from the fashion house will find a new future.
She said: “We’ve come up with a kind of jigsaw solution, a way of weaving a multitude of pieces together in an entirely organic form that can be used as a rug, or to cover your sofa, or for your walls.
“Our process emulates kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The refurbished pieces are worth significantly more than their new, undamaged counterparts. Our materials are shown this same level of care; they are cherished.”
The awards for their work understandably just keep on coming.
The duo is currently working on bespoke 8ft by 34ft wall hanging for a hotel in Tennessee and a secret project for a Hollywood film. They welcome a challenge. A recent request from a customer was a Steampunk-inspired basque!
They have 10 waste streams (including MOD parachute silk, coffee sacks and auction banners) they now utilise to create their range of timeless, handcrafted one-of-a kinds with individual and astonishing stories woven in their very fabric. They are built to last like the materials that created them and they have even helped customers extend or shorten belts based on their own expanding or shrinking waistlines. They will always help products to continue on their journey through repair and maintenance. Conscious consumers connect with their efforts, as do firefighter enthusiasts. But they feel their work is far from done.
Kresse, who has spent her time at landfill sites watching nappies, tennis rackets and black packing foam disappearing into the hoppers, wondering what she could do, said: “All our decisions are made according to whether they will make the world better for other people’s grandchildren.
“In 2004, the year I first moved here, 100 million tonnes of waste went to landfill in the UK alone. At the moment, we’re only diverting a tiny fraction away and I lie awake at night trying to think of ways of diverting more. We want to have as big an impact as possible on changing society’s perspective of waste and proving that it is actually a valuable resource.”
To find out more about Elvis & Kresse and to shop to your heart’s content, visit https://www.elvisandkresse.com/