An Interview with Kresse of Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse create stunning lifestyle accessories from the most unlikely of raw materials

Co-founders James Henrit and Kresse Wesling

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

Kresse was born and raised in Western Canada, Elvis was born and raised in London, England. They are both middle children with an older sister and a younger brother each. English is their mother tongue, Elvis also speaks French and Spanish. Kresse speaks Chinese. They met in Hong Kong when they were both working there at the start of this century.

What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?

Kresse studied politics and Elvis studied languages and traveled while studying. We met while both working in Hong Kong. Neither of us have a background in luxury or accessories so the learning curve began when we decided to rescue the hose.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

We got interested in rescuing London’s decommissioned fire hoses, everything started there. The initial goal was to create a business which could find a new life for these old or damaged hoses. It was a process of discovery over several years which resulted in the collection of sustainable luxury accessories.

Elvis & Kresse have been reclaiming heroic materials like these fire hoses since 2005.

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

Our education and professional experiences were great at informing our environmental values, and developing our business acumen. In general, though, it isn’t our desire to be fashionable.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

It is important for every business to be ethical and sustainable. Actually, straight sustainability isn’t enough, businesses need to be net contributors to social and environmental wellbeing. Our environment and social fabric are both degraded, both in need of repair. How is it even remotely acceptable for businesses to do anything but help make things better. How fantastic if there was a genuine license to trade that depended on achieving net positive outcomes.

What is the importance of fair trade?

I think it is always better to answer the opposite of this type of question. Unfair trade is unfair and should be illegal. Fair trade isn’t just important, it should be the legal baseline.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

Our heroes are largely environmental – Wangari Maathai, Ray Anderson, Braungart and McDonough, John Elkington, John Muir, Rachel Carson, EF Shumacher, the whole amazing group who are at Standing Rock….

Harvest time for Elvis & Kresse.

What is Elvis & Kresse?

We reclaim and transform materials and donate 50% of our proceeds to charity. We know that good design isn’t the same without good intentions. Our signature line of bags and wallets are made of impressively functional reclaimed materials like decommissioned fire-hoses, parachutes, and printing blankets. Our bags are beautiful, functional, and good for the environment. 50% of the profits from the fire hose range are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity.

What are some of its feature products?

Our best-selling piece is a large washbag, it is ideal for this use as it is wipe clean and has a drop in reclaimed parachute silk lining which is very easy to rinse and dry.

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

Our work is based on reclamation – we don’t determine the fibres. Once we take on a new waste there is a lot of research required to understand the nature and potential of each material, but it isn’t something we get to decide.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Elvis & Kresse?

All Elvis & Kresse products are designed and made by our own team of highly skilled craftspeople.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

No, and this is the point. If we didn’t save them, they would languish in landfill.

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Our base defies demographics…

Elvis & Kresse Box bag

What topics most interest you?

Climate change, the circular economy, examples of business, education, technology etc. as a force for good.

There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?

It shouldn’t take a tragedy, pro-actively understanding and managing your supply chain to ensure people are paid well and treated well should be the minimum requirement that businesses adhere to. The tragedies highlight how deeply detached some brands are with their supply chain, how complicated the chains are and how the race to rock bottom prices can lead to the exploitation of workers and the environment. Tragedies shed light, but it is action and change that is required

Women and children remain the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?

These rights are important across all industries. When trade results in or practically requires exploitation it should be illegal.

Who is a women’s rights and children’s rights activist or campaigner hero for you?

Malala Yousafzai as an activist and campaigner and Anja Ringgren for taking action.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII) relates to the empowerment of women, gender equality, and international women’s rights. The progress for gender equity is positive. Regressive forces exist in explicit and implicit forms. What seem like some of the explicit and implicit forms observed in personal and professional life to you?

Anything less than equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work and a safe working environment crosses all of these lines.

What might bring this basic fact, with ubiquitous positive consequences, into the public discourse in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations?

I think the internet and cheap communication devices, our ability to share and disseminate the truth, will be the best weapon.

What educational campaigns and pragmatic initiatives might the fashion industry encourage and support to improve the chances for girls and women?

This isn’t our area of expertise – our focus is on the environment – but the scope here is huge, anything from apprenticeships, training, flexible working, marketing for positive self-image, supporting education programs, better access to water and renewable energy… there are a lot of problems to solve here. Each company need only pick one or a few areas to actively engage.

What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, and the fashion industry?

This definitely isn’t our area of expertise – but it goes back to the fair trade issue. If it isn’t fair, it shouldn’t be legal.

How can individuals get the word out about these extreme children’s rights violations?

Discussion, sharing accurate, truthful information, celebrating successes and examining failures.

What mass movements or social movements can fight for the implementation of the children’s rights outside of the fashion industry?

There are so many examples – the most exciting are lead by children themselves!

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations, women and children, in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

I can only comment on what we do, we have a vertically integrated supply chain which means virtually all of our production takes place across 2 sites that we manage. This leaves almost no room for exploitation to occur.  

From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at most levels. Why?

Our company has more men than women so I couldn’t say.

Also, more men than women appear at the highest ends of the business ladder in fashion. Why?

This isn’t just true for fashion – there are major trends at play here.

What might make men more involved in the fashion world in general?

We are only ever going to get balanced, diverse work forces in any sector if there are both equal opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

Will having men in the discussion and on-the-ground improve the implementation of children’s and women’s rights?

I have read more than once that the best way to ensure all children receive an education is to start by educating the girls. Perhaps this would hold true across many industries and sectors and aspects of social life.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

Our motto is, Do More, Be Better. It means we want to make the world a bit better, every day. Our work allows us to do this.

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

Very little – this is a full time gig.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and Mid-Course Correction by Ray Anderson.

What has been the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?

Realizing that you can’t trust everyone and that you can’t please everyone…

What has been the greatest emotional struggle in personal life for you?

Losing my Grandmother.

What philosophy makes most sense of life to you?

If your work doesn’t allow you to care for other people’s grandchildren, then why do it?

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

That I still have a lot to learn, and that there is a lot more we can do.

Thank you for your time, Kresse.

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