Designed to withstand heat and water, fire hose resists the very elements that break down materials naturally at landfill sites. Solution? High-end fashion accessories.
Kresse Wesling MBE, one half of the luxury accessories brand Elvis & Kresse, is passionate about waste and making it beautiful. “We’re just so ridiculous. My grandmother’s generation didn’t produce any waste,” says Kresse. “They certainly didn’t produce by-products that were carted off somewhere to be landfill.” She laments all the environmental problems generations since have created for themselves, only to have to clean things up in an age of “insane consumerism”.
Start at the beginning
Kresse and her partner Elvis have been doing more than their share of the clean up since 2005. That was the first year the pair began transforming decommissioned fire hose into luxury accessories. Until Kresse began reclaiming it, disused fire hose was shipped to landfills to sit, unchanged for decades. She describes it as a “no-hoper cause.”
The shock of waste and pollution first hit Kresse when she moved from the great open plains of Western Canada to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. “I was just looking at such an agglomeration of people in such a small space with so much money and yet their untreated sewage just went into the sea,” she says. But when she moved to the UK in 2004, she was disheartened to see it wasn’t so great here either. She realised it doesn’t have to be this way.
“I’ve read the scientific evidence, I know how unlikely we are to be able to mitigate the climate issues we’ve already caused. I could just buy some land in Northern Canada and run away, but I think we can fix it,” she says. “The only way we’re going to fix it is if we keep a hand in and don’t run away.”
Having stuck with it, by 2010 their products were so highly demanded that they were reclaiming all 10 tons hose Greater London Fire Brigade had thrown away that year, plus some extra imported from Holland.
Importing hose not only reduces landfill size on a larger scale, it also offers colour variations in their accessories. “The hose from the UK is primarily red although we did a collection last week and it was almost all yellow, which is more rare,” she says. “We don’t ever change the colours. We work with what we’ve got.”
This goes for the design process too. In order to get the most out of a batch of fire hose, self-taught designer Elvis respects the material ahead of the design. The patterns on the bags, for example, are 10cm strips because fire hoses are 10cm in diameter. Belts, meanwhile, are of a certain width because two belts can be cut from one width of hose. “It’s not decided arbitrarily,” says Kresse. “It’s purely about loving the material and making the most out of it.”
The material is so prioritized ahead of design that Kresse admits if she found a better use for the fire hose tomorrow, she would pursue that instead. “I think that’s ok. Right now and for the past few years, the best possible use for it is making the goods that we make.”
A fashion adventure
The pair decided there was no better industry to house luxury goods and fire hose under the same roof than fashion. “The good thing about business is that you can just go and do something as long and as you’re making money you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission,” she says. “I don’t have to justify what we do to anyone.”
Beyond running a meaningful business, it doesn’t matter to Kresse what market they go into as long as the end product can sell for the maximum value of the material. “We made reusable shopping bags for Sainsbury’s and they sold for £3.50 for charity. That’s not a luxury product but it was the maximum value of that material.” Getting the maximum value is especially important as half of the company’s profits are donated to the London Fire Brigade.
With bags that sell for upwards of £100 and belts for between £26 and £46, Elvis & Kresse products are not for those indulging in the throwaway fashion of H&M or Primark. Every piece is intended to last a lifetime, well beyond one season.
To get the designs right, the pair researched items big luxury brands produce season after season. “Louis Vuitton has made the same bag they were making 50 years ago. Why is that? Because it’s still selling,” she says.
“We didn’t invent the belt, what we did was make it with fire hose.” The company’s west end and slider buckles have been prolific in the belt world for years. With fashions recycled every decade, Kresse says their company’s very classic approach is about right. “What you should do is just dress appropriately for yourself,” she says. “I love it when I see someone who is clearly very confident and looks great, but when you really look at what she’s wearing, she isn’t wearing anything from this season. She’s just a healthy, confident person, being herself.”
Visit elvisandkresse.com to browse the collection or find out more information.