Kresse Westling was born in Edmonton, Canada. She studied Politics and Chinese in Montreal, before travelling to Hong Kong where she worked in venture capital. Kresse has always been interested in environment, and her first own venture was a start-up, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry. Kresse met her now fiancé James Henrit (nicknamed Elvis) and moved to the UK.
In 2005 she attended a course on sustainability where she came across the London Fire Brigade. She learned that after 25 years of service, fire hoses were scrapped, rather than recycled. The couple came up with an idea to ‘upcycle’ discarded fire hoses into high-end lifestyle accessories. Elvis & Kresse was born.
On politics… Elvis & Kresse is based in Kent, and I thought that we lived in a constituency of Nigel Farage! I told Elvis I was going to stand as an independent MP! It turns out Farage’s constituency is further away, and realistically I do not have time to take politics seriously with all the projects we are taking on at the moment. Still, I get very passionate when someone mentions UKIP!
I needed a new challenge… My first business, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry, was successful and profitable. The trouble is, it became boring, I needed a new challenge. When I heard a story about fire hoses being simply dumped into a landfill after use from the London Fire Brigade, it bugged me. I got home and told Elvis we had to do something about it! Elvis is a product designer by background. We thought long and hard about possible ways to recycle the hoses: we brought a heap of them home, cleaned them up; we considered using them for roof tiles, but the cleaning process is too laborious to be cost-effective.
Our ultimately successful idea was to create a range of luxury accessories: belts, iPhone, iPad and laptop covers, washbags and wallets. Each product is really well made – I can guarantee a wallet won’t fall apart a year later. The business took off. Cameron Diaz was photographed wearing a white dress and our red belt in Vogue. Consumers are after unique accessories; they want quality and they want a story.
We also give 50% of our profits back to the Fire Fighters Charity which tells you something about operational margins of luxury products!
We are ‘designers backwards’… IKEA has recently approached us about helping them with creating a range of products from their customer returns. I’m immediately thinking: what’s the best possible way to re-use this or that element? Designers are not trained that way – sustainability is an optional module in most design schools. I am not a designer, of course, I read the New Scientist, not fashion mags.
I want to change the whole world into a circular economy… I want to change how people think about their clothes, furniture, houses, food, waste, etc. There is a story to every product: if you no longer need your garden table, what can you do to write the next chapter of its journey? I love rescuing discarded materials. Elvis & Kresse HQ is built using many upcycled products. I want to inspire the whole world to do just that and find the best possible way to recycle things.
On MBE… It came out of the blue really. I got a letter from Her Majesty, which got my future in-laws very excited. I was awarded MBE for the services to corporate social responsibility. I am pleased, of course, because it helps me to get my sustainability message across to schools and universities, business forums and professional networks. There is not enough being done for tackling waste problems in the UK, yet alone, globally. I want to change that.
Elvis & Kresse is a social enterprise, providing employment, looking after the environment and giving back 50% of their profits to charity. If you’d like to support Elvis & Kresse, please have a look at their range of sustainable, beautifully crafted products. I am a fan!