Elvis & Kresse and the Burberry Foundation - "the fly and the elephant"

This is how Kresse Wesling, co-founder of sustainable luxury brand Elvis & Kresse, describes the comparative size of her business with the Burberry Foundation, with whom a five-year partnership deal was announced last month. 

Arriving at the bucolic location of Tonge Mill in Kent, I was struck by how welcoming, calm and sincere the husband and wife co-founders of this highly impressive social enterprise company appeared. With many an award and accreditation to her company's name, Canadian-born Kresse (pronounced Kressy; her great grandmothers' surname) made coffee and chatted about the fascinating nature of the various water birds that could be seen scooting about on the large mill pond outside the workshop window. Many people profess to be "passionate" about a cause, but I soon came to realise that Kresse and husband Elvis (James Henrit) really do mean it - they literally live and breathe the ethos of the consciousness-raising brand they have created.

Initially alerted to the potential scale of apparently unusable leather by the arrival of two bags of saddlery off-cuts from Jabez Cliff Limited in 2010, Kresse made a handful of phone calls and soon realised the huge extent of the problem. As a person who is a self-confessed lifelong haunter of landfill sites and with the experience of re-purposing a growing range of redundant resources, Kresse was ideally placed to find an alternative ending for the estimated 800,000 tonnes of leather waste produced annually by the global leather industry.

Brandishing the remains of a beautiful dyed hide with holes in, much like a sheet of rolled pastry once the tarts have been cut from it, Kresse demonstrated how Elvis devised a prototype of small component octagon shapes which can be woven together by hand, creating a whole new "hide" of genuine leather. Kresse vigorously showed me that once woven, the leather shapes lock into place and can't be pulled apart. This re-purposed leather can be constructed by just about anybody like a jigsaw, as evidenced by the crowd assembly of a leather rug in Oxford recently.

Kresse constantly framed the work that she and Elvis does by asking the bigger questions - how to make the world better, what is the future of humanity? Far from a dreamy greenwashing of a hugely complex issue, Elvis & Kresse are one of the companies actually doing something about it - including returning 50% of profits to charities and to finding renewable energy solutions.

Kresse's stated aim is to "make the world a better place for other people's grandchildren", crediting her privileged Canadian education with this value system and equipped with the business vision and acumen to make it happen.

Kresse may be right to marvel at the fact that Burberry are 7,000 times larger than the social enterprise she set up with husband Elvis. However, as the old adage goes, size isn't everything and this innovative partnership demonstrates that with their trademark clarity of vision, tenacity and fortitude, Elvis & Kresse can help to stem the tide of leather waste and inspire others to similar feats.

As I left, I remarked on the couple of neoprene wetsuits draped on the sofa, expecting that some afternoon scuba diving was planned for exploring Tonge Pond? No, Kresse explained, she is looking into ways to utilise this material too. Expect it to be made into something beautiful and useful any time soon...




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