A Chat with Elvis & Kresse

Written by The Modern Milkman

Thanks for joining us, Kresse! Can you tell us a bit about why you founded Elvis & Kresse with Elvis?

We set up the business because we discovered that London’s damaged, decommissioned fire hoses were going to landfill and couldn’t accept such an undignified death for such a heroic material. We started to bring fire hoses home and think about what we could do with them; this launched a full scale research project into what fire hose is, what it’s comprised of, what it’s properties are, and how to give it it’s next best possible second life.

Through that process, we started looking at industries that were also using nitrile rubber. (The material that fire hose is comprised of!)

And this is when I was given a report about the luxury industry and how, in terms of social and environmental performance, it was failing.

The more I investigated, the more I knew that luxury represented a structural failure; you can’t purport to be about innovation and creativity and heritage and then underpin all of this with environmental degradation, supply chain exploitation, mass consumption, and overproduction. The pace and processes are largely destructive, and I simply don’t think you can be creative and destructive at the same time.

What did you want to do about it?

Our response was to take it and tackle it head on: we founded Elvis & Kresse. We did what we thought was right: rescue the hose, transform it into truly spectacular things that no one could question. And then donate 50% of the profits to the firefighters charity.

So, we essentially do three things:

The local brigade coming to Elvis & Kresse open their new workshop

Rescue is key to me because we are surrounded by environmental problems and overconsumption and far too much waste, whether it be food waste, textile waste, construction waste or even household waste.

We really thought that the opportunity for us was our quality – if we could match the other luxury brands, add spectacular customer service, and focus on classic utilitarian design? This was how we thought we could change the industry… simply by proving that it could be done.

And then we decided to give 50% of our profits to charity because I went to kindergarten and I was taught how to share, and that it was a great thing! It wasn’t a lesson any of us should forget as we ‘grow up’.

What was your first goal at Elvis & Kresse?

The big scary goal we started with was to rescue all of London’s decommissioned fire hoses. In 2005 we genuinely thought that would be impossible.

But by 2010 we were big enough to be solving London’s problem which is why we started looking at other materials and bringing those into our collection.

We’ve always been backed by our community of customers – we didn’t ever take on any external financing. It’s not like we never had any bumps in the road. For a start – we had to develop methods for cleaning fire-hose. There was no road map for that! We also had to learn how to make products, and as the materials we use are very much different from what is traditionally used in luxury, this required more innovation.

How did you get involved in the B Corp movement?

In 2013 we moved our business from Bournemouth, to Kent. We moved because we couldn’t find anywhere for the business to be and widened our search. We found an amazing building where we could basically transform a 200 year old near derelict Georgian Mill with no heat, no power, and 22 rotten windows into a lovely factory and home.

So, we came to Kent and one of our nearest neighbouring businesses was Cook. Someone from Cook came to talk to us about the B Corp movement and what they really wanted was to get 15 businesses together that represented what the movement was all about so that we could certify in and around the same time and be ambassadors for B Corp going forwards. We thought that sounded great.

Since that time the business has been growing so much that we outgrew the Mill and that’s why in December 2020 we bought a farm which is where we are now.

We do lots of interesting things here – we generate our own heat and power, we built a straw bale workshop, we make our own compost, we make our own compost tea. The overall aim is to take an abundant view. So instead of ever thinking of something as a problem where you have to get rid of something, we think of what can we add to solve that problem?

The first thing that we put in on the farm was our own wetland-based waste management system. So, we treat all our own waste and wastewater here, just using the wonderful power of nature, proving that nothing needs to go into rivers because all of these nutrients can be transformed into a resource.

You’ve said towards the start of your journey you just wanted to do the right thing – we know that’s not always the easy option! So, are there any challenges that have stood out for you and how did you overcome them?

I think some of it’s a question of attitude, running any kind of business is hard? That’s why so many of them fail. It’s difficult.

But, just imagine for a minute, if your business made landmines. Imagine how hard would that be? Because morally and emotionally you would know that you were doing something problematic.

As a company, we always look at things and ask lots of questions like, “are we the right company to tackle this?”. But the final question we ask is, “is this going to make the world better for other people’s grandchildren?” And, if the answer is yes, it means we have to do it. No matter what. And the outcome of that is that you feel amazing even on the days when stuff goes totally wrong.

Please could you talk to us a little bit more about your Solar Forge project?

I’ve always been a little bit annoyed that we don’t have a deposit system here. We litter 32 million drinks containers a year, 16 million of which are aluminium cans.

Drinks containers are responsible for the death of three to four million small mammals every year because they are enticed by the sugar. Then they get stuck in cans, they get stuck in bottles, they get hit by cars when they’re crossing the road to get to these things. So that’s one devastating problem.

When cans go in the wrong bin, they don’t get recycled. And this is a noble material that’s perpetually recyclable. A deposit system could cure that, and I thought maybe Elvis & Kresse could cure that if we came up with a way to transform these aluminium ditch cans, into really spectacular things.

I thought, rather naively, that there would be some kind of 3D metal printer and I could just chuck a can in one side and get a buckle out the other end. Now 3D metal printers do exist, but you have to put a highly refined metal powder in one end. You can’t put in a mixed metal good. And that is what an aluminium can is because it might be 70% by volume aluminium, but it’s got a thermoset resin coating on the inside and on the outside, so it just doesn’t work.

There’s an amazing resource in this country, academics, super smart people who just have their office numbers right on their website and nobody ever calls them. And I called all these people who are doing 3D metal printing research and the response that I got was, that the machine I described would cost at least £500,000 and is at least 10 years away. I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

So that’s why I came up with the idea of a solar powered micro forge. I thought, what if there was a safe, completely safe way to transform aluminium waste into buckles? Powered by the sun? And we have to be able to make this forge for $500.00 because I could really use one and but also, I want people in Johannesburg to have one and people in the scrap heaps of Brazil to have one, because there are a lot of places in the world where metal waste exists but recycling technology does not. These places also need construction materials, and whatever they might need, they can build themselves.

And I then got paired with a team at Queen Mary University and I knew I had the right team when one of the scientists was quiet for a bit and then he said “If it’s $700.00, is that a problem?”. “No 700 we can do” I replied.

It is Open Source, this means anyone could build one anywhere, anytime, iterate on it and there are no patents or fees.

We built it during COVID. It was a year long project. Casting, however, in a safe way is tricky, so that’s what we’re working on now. Hopefully we’ll be bringing the forge to the farm and we’ll be doing things like belt buckles and jewellery. I’m quite interested in the jewellery world because again, it really needs disruption. Who says gold is the best metal?

What would you say has surprised you the most since becoming a B Corp?

The desire of people within organisations to work for an organisation with purpose.

The hottest talent in the UK right now wants to do things that make the world better for other people’s grandchildren. And that’s where the real power for the community lies. And that’s where it’s going to spread and where it’s going to have its biggest cultural impact. It has to be driven not just by one person in the organisation, not just the Founder, but by all the people within an organisation. So, I think that’s been something that surprised me and something that really, really excites me about it.

Is this your background? Did you know how to do all of these things or was it just the idea and you’ve kind of figured it out along the way?

No I didn’t! I studied politics at university which provides me with critical thinking skills.

Probably the best education I had was, was it from elementary school when the school I went to took us on field trips to sewage treatment plants and power stations. I got to see a lot of really interesting and frightening processes when I was about six or seven years old that made a real impact on me.

The biggest one for me was acid rain. In the late 80s it had a huge impact on Canadian children because the threat was that Maple trees which supply us with our source of life, maple syrup, would no longer be able to grow to maturity.

I also really remember the hole in the ozone layer, there was large collective movement to fix that, and I remember thinking how powerful that was.

So, my approach to everything is that there’s a solution. It just needs investigation, curiosity, creativity, innovation, and importantly, collaboration. I have a very curious mind and and Elvis, my partner in everything, has real skills. I can’t make anything but a mess, but he can make everything wonderful so we are a great team.

I don’t think you need a background – I think you just need a soul. We all assume that there is some magical skill set. But maybe just being a human being, genuinely a heart first human being, is probably the best skill set you can have.

Elvis & Kresse carrying two of their bags – the Tote and Messenger

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