It’s hard to imagine how a fire hose could be anything other than just that – a bright red, purely functional hose. But an enterprising couple – James Henrit (Elvis) from the UK and Kresse, a politics graduate from Canada, saw through the hose’s tough veneer and discovered a way to upcycle old fire hoses into brand new, beautiful accessories.
Sourcing fire hoses from Britain’s fire brigades, they scrub away the soot, grease and grime that builds up after 25 years of active duty and turn the resultant clean, ‘green’ textile into bags, belts and purses. Not only do they give new life to something that was destined for the landfill but they also donate 50 per cent of their profits to the UK’s Fire Fighter’s Charity.
And having seen some of their bags in a shop in Bath, England it is hard to imagine that they were ever life-saving fire hoses. Elvis & Kresse have turned the humble fire hose into 21st century leather.
While their cornerstone products are the Fire Hose range, they have since branched out into upcycling many other industrial waste products – from used air traffic control flight strips to parachute silk, closed cell foam and tea sacks. It seems no material is deemed out of bounds or too challenging.
I got in touch with Kresse recently to find out more about how they began and how environmental sustainability is at the heart of all they do.
Tell me about your backgrounds and how you met.
Elvis and I met in Hong Kong where we were both working there for a few years between 2000 and 2002-4. We don’t have a background in fashion or design. After university I went into venture capital and then environmental entrepreneurship. Elvis studied Spanish and French in the UK but was working for Imagination, a design consultancy, in Hong Kong. After Elvis was moved back to London I spent about a year in Hong Kong working out how to shift my work there so that we could be together.
Clearly sustainable practice is very important to you, so why did you decide to focus mainly on discarded fire hoses? Will there be a time when you’ve used up all of Britain’s fire hoses?!
Fire hose was the first material we found when I moved to the UK. In 2005 we had a chance meeting with the London Fire Brigade and learned about their hose problem. We fell in love with the stunning, life-saving material. We have spent the past several years creating a business to solve this problem for London and now across the UK and beyond. The hose is an ongoing problem, more hoses are damaged each year and more reach the end of their life. We don’t think we’ll ever run out!
Tell us about the other discarded materials you’ve worked with?
We specialise in niche materials, ones that are not currently recycled, like glass, plastic or metal. We are always trying to create a permanent, sustainable solution for anything we take on. Currently we work with coffee sacks, tea sacks, tea paper, shoe boxes, closed cell foam, parachute silk, auction banners, and a few we aren’t ready to introduce yet!
Can you give us an insight into the workings of Elvis & Kresse? What does a typical day involve?
There are no typical days – physically we spend a lot of time in the workshop but never doing the same thing for more than two days in a row.
Who or what motivates you?
We motivate each other but are both inspired by problem solving. We believe there is a way to fix pretty much anything, and we use the business as our way to tackle the particular waste problems that endear themselves to us.
What things, people, places are inspiring you at the moment?
The cold is a critical driver right now. It has been a tough winter with us in a temporary (heat-free) workshop! Ellen MacArthur’s Circular Economy projects and any real life examples of the circular economy in action are both our benchmark and inspiration. [Ellen MacArthur, the youngest person and the fastest woman to sail around the world alone, is now trying to get 100 CEOs to join with her in taking the circular economy to scale.]
What’s been a career highlight to date?
Getting through to 2010 when we knew the company was growing enough to ensure that we would be able to save all of London’s hoses. That was incredible
Do you have light bulb moments or do ideas form over time?
Both really – some things are obvious from the first instance. Others take years of prototyping and planning.
I see that you’ve made other items from discarded materials – like the candlestick holders from genuine decommissioned fire-hose couplings, and for the new Wahaca Mexican restaurant in Charlotte Street, London, the ‘Tequila’ table from old scaffolding boards and poles, and light shades from waste coffee sacks and parachute silk. Do you have new designs in the pipeline that you can discuss?
We have three new materials in the workshop right now. One is a complete shift from where we are and very exciting – so exciting that we are really lost about how and when to launch it.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought?’ moment? Tell us about it.
Almost every day! Everything from who’d have thought you could make chocolate mousse with just raw eggs, chocolate and sugar to who’d have thought a Canadian politics graduate would end up designing handbags from hoses with the love of her life, Elvis, who was dressed as Superman when they first met …
What a great couple and a clever, responsible business! We’ll be featuring some of their upcycled fire hose products in our store very soon.