Decked in deep red or yellow, long and leathery, the unsung hero of London’s fire brigade gives an epic 25 years of service to our capital. Now, thanks to Elvis & Kresse, rather than fading into obscurity on a rubbish heap once its career is over, retired fire hose is being immortalised as bags, iPad cases, belts and wallets.
Like Brothers We Stand, Elvis & Kresse aren't fans of waste. Almost ten years after a chance meeting with the London Fire Brigade, they're rescuing every single one of London's fire hoses just as the hoses themselves have rescued Londoners in the past.
“I would say we are backwards designers,” says Kresse Wesling, MBE. “Traditionally you would do a sketch and design, then start looking for materials you need to make a particular product, but we loved the materials first, they're always the focus.”
Hose drying in the sunshine
The Elvis & Kresse slider belt and the bowling bag
Neither Elvis or Kresse are designers by trade, but they feel that's what has given them this unique approach to making luxury accessories. For the first year they made the products themselves.
“If I am the conceptual designer, Elvis is the one who makes that a reality,” says Kresse, who is a former venture capitalist with an obsession with waste. She describes Elvis as a “jack of all trades” who can navigate by the stars and build a bike, but only learnt how to sew at the beginning of the project.
“No one believed that we could make anything out of the fire hose. The fire service thought it was hysterical.”
Elvis & Kresse wanted to make things that people would use and that would give the hose “a second life as long as it's first.” It took them years to design their ideal wallets: perfectionism doesn't even come close to describing how they're constantly refining their products, making them better and better so that people will love them for longer and longer.
Elvis in the workshop
Stitching a belt
But Elvis & Kresse's respect for the fire hose hasn't be shared by everyone. It's a difficult material to work with, and factories here in the UK weren't keen to grapple with its hard exterior. Consequently, Elvis & Kresse have their own factory in Istanbul where skilled workers are paid by the hour (not by how many products they make) to fair trade standards.
They’ve also found a way for the hose to retain it's heroic character. Not only does an Elvis & Kresse belt uphold high eco and ethical standards, but 50% of the profits go to the FireFightersCharity. “We consider them a cornerstone of our community,” says Kresse. “The London Fire service are key stakeholders, we work on this project together.”
“Giving is part of our DNA and who we are as a brand. Give humanity another 10 years and we'll be asking: why don't all companies do this? Making money is not enough.”
As the number of materials Elvis & Kresse use has grown, so has the number of charities benefiting from them. They've supported WWF, The Wessex Autistic society and Help for Heroes among others.
Founding Elvis & Kresse was “a spur of the moment decision,” explains Kresse, “and it's the best one we ever made. This material is filled with stories because of the nature of the job, the work the firefighters do. The Fire Fighters Charity looks after them which is why the the hose's second life has to look after the FFC.”
Since solving London’s fire hose problem, Kresse has got an MBE and Elvis & Kresse have been featured in Vogue. So what's next? We can't wait to see what they do with the next conundrum material the pair come across...
Words: Lauren Belcher