Join my next workshop – Introduction to Selling on Amazon >

Kresse Wesling, CBE, is a multi-award winning environmental entrepreneur. After first meeting the London Fire Brigade in 2005, Kresse launched Elvis & Kresse, which rescues and transforms decommissioned fire hose into innovative lifestyle products and returns 50% of profits to the Fire Fighters Charity.The company now collects 12 different waste streams and has several charitable partnerships and collaborations across industries. In 2021 Elvis & Kresse also took on a farm in order to establish a regenerative agriculture project, generate their own renewables and implement a host of environmental initiatives. Kresse loves to help people build businesses which solve environmental and social problems. 

I’m so pleased to have Kresse on the podcast to find out more about how they started their business, and the work that they are doing now to improve the world around them and the way that we are all doing business.

It is a really inspiring podcast, and I am sure it will inspire you to see how you make the world a better place.

Listen in to hear Kresse share:

  • An introduction to herself and her business (01:22)
  • The inspiration for setting up Elvis & Kresse (01:55)
  • Her background and prior experience (03:05)
  • The process of turning decommissioned fire hoses into beautiful products (05:58)
  • Why the fire hoses are decommissioned and were ending up in landfill (09:48)
  • The process of designing beautiful products from the fire hoses (11:27)
  • Creating your own path when you have a business doing something no one has done before (14:11)
  • The impact Elvis & Kresse has had, and the businesses following in their footsteps (15:40)
  • Being a living wage employer, and donating 50% or profits to charity (18:06)
  • Why their impact matters more than business growth (21:29)
  • How their range has grown, and new Elvis & Kresse products (23:03)
  • Working with the Burberry Foundation, and training women as solar engineers (23:52)
  • Why they decided being sustainable wasn’t enough, and are aiming to be net regenerative (26:16)
  • Maintaining their independence (29:35)
  • Her number one tip for how to make your business more sustainable (30:20)

USEFUL RESOURCES:

Elvis & Kresse Website

Elvis & Kresse Facebook

Elvis & Kresse Instagram

Elvis & Kresse Twitter

LET’S CONNECT

Join my free Facebook group for product makers and creators

Find me on Instagram

Work with me

Transcript
Speaker:

Welcome to the Bring Your Product Ideas to Life podcast, practical advice

Speaker:

and inspiration to help you create and sell your own physical products.

Speaker:

Here's your host, Vicki Weinberg.

Vicki Weinberg:

Today, I am so excited to have Kresse Wesling,

Vicki Weinberg:

CBE join me on the podcast.

Vicki Weinberg:

Kresse is a multi-award winning environmental entrepreneur.

Vicki Weinberg:ng the London Fire Brigade in:Vicki Weinberg:

Elvis and Kresse which rescued and transformed decommissioned fire hoses

Vicki Weinberg:

into intuitive energy, lifestyle, products, and returns 50% of

Vicki Weinberg:

profits to the firefighters charity.

Vicki Weinberg:

The company now collects 12 different RightWay streams and has

Vicki Weinberg:

several charitable partnerships and collaborations across industries.

Vicki Weinberg:In:Vicki Weinberg:

agriculture project, generate their own renewables and implement a

Vicki Weinberg:

host of environmental initiatives.

Vicki Weinberg:

I first heard about Kresse after reading an interview with her and I am so happy

Vicki Weinberg:

that she agreed to join me on the podcast.

Vicki Weinberg:

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed recording it.

Vicki Weinberg:

So, hi, thank you so much for being here.

Kresse Wesling:

Hi Vicki!

Vicki Weinberg:

So can we start with you?

Vicki Weinberg:

Please give an introduction to yourself, your business, and what you sell.

Kresse Wesling:

Sure.

Kresse Wesling:

My name is Kresse Wesling.

Kresse Wesling:

I'm the co-founder of Elvis and Kresse our business essentially does three things.

Kresse Wesling:

We rescue materials that would otherwise go to landfill.

Kresse Wesling:

We transform them into beautiful things, and then we donate

Kresse Wesling:

50% of the profits to charity.

Kresse Wesling:

So the line we're most known for is decommissioned fire hoses.

Kresse Wesling:

We collect the fire hoses that are too damaged to repair or have reached the

Kresse Wesling:

end of their health and safety life.

Kresse Wesling:

We make those into luggage, wallets, belt and accessories, and then 50% of the

Kresse Wesling:

profits goes to the firefighter's charity.

Vicki Weinberg:

Amazing.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

Now, I've heard your story about your inspiration for setting up Elvis

Vicki Weinberg:

and Kresse, but for anyone listening who, who doesn't know, would you

Vicki Weinberg:

mind taking us through that please?

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah, absolutely.

Kresse Wesling:I came to the UK in:Kresse Wesling:

of tourist because the things that I wanted to see and learn about were what

Kresse Wesling:

people ate and what people threw away.

Kresse Wesling:

So I wanted to, you know, have mushy peas and I wanted to have chips and gravy.

Kresse Wesling:

I wanted to go to landfill sites and waste transfer stations and material

Kresse Wesling:

recovery facilities, and um, sewage treatment systems because I, I, I think

Kresse Wesling:

maybe if I'd been a doctor, I'd want to be a gastroenterologist, right?

Kresse Wesling:

I, I, I like the guts of things.

Kresse Wesling:

I'm fascinated by how, well, I guess really how we fail as a society.

Kresse Wesling:

And interestingly, right now in Britain, there's two things that we're really

Kresse Wesling:

failing at, um, very publicly yesterday, a huge sewage slick skirted across St.

Kresse Wesling:

Agnes Beach in Cornwall.

Kresse Wesling:

And that's because we don't treat our sewage properly and, and we're just so

Kresse Wesling:

inherently wasteful when it comes to food and textiles and, and everything else, and

Kresse Wesling:

it, it just, it just needs action taken.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

And can I just ask, what were you, what were you doing at that time?

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, professionally at the time when, when this was your interest?

Vicki Weinberg:

Was it in that field or was this more of a personal interest that you had?

Kresse Wesling:

So I, my career, you know, has taken I guess a

Kresse Wesling:

lot of really interesting, um, turns and twists and turns.

Kresse Wesling:

I did a politics degree and then my first job quite randomly was at a venture

Kresse Wesling:

capital firm and there was nothing particularly eco or ethical about it.

Kresse Wesling:

Well, in fact, the opposite and, and when I left after two years, I

Kresse Wesling:

set up my first business, which was a biodegradable packaging business.

Kresse Wesling:

So what I learned when working in a, in a, in a VC was that business had the power

Kresse Wesling:

to make change and make change quickly.

Kresse Wesling:

But, uh, you know, my first business wasn't a a, a wild success.

Kresse Wesling:

So when I came to the UK I was really looking at, I was basically

Kresse Wesling:

trying to find a problem to solve.

Kresse Wesling:

So when I was going to all these landfill sites and, and treatment systems,

Kresse Wesling:

et cetera, I was looking to see if there was anything that I could do.

Kresse Wesling:

And when I first saw a fire hose in a landfill and then I went to

Kresse Wesling:

meet with London Fire Brigade, I really felt like, like that was my

Kresse Wesling:

calling and I didn't necessarily, I don't have any fashion background.

Kresse Wesling:

I didn't know in the beginning that that's what we would make, and I just

Kresse Wesling:

knew that I was going to rescue the hoses.

Kresse Wesling:

That was the, that was the reason to set up the business.

Kresse Wesling:

That was the reason to begin.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

And what was it that you found out?

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, did you have any numbers of how many fire hoses rendered

Vicki Weinberg:

up in landfill at the time?

Kresse Wesling:

Yes.

Kresse Wesling:

So from London, which is by far the biggest brigade, uh, you have

Kresse Wesling:

three, between three and 10 tons a year that are going to to landfill.

Kresse Wesling:

And London also collects a lot of the hoses from the greater Southeast.

Kresse Wesling:

And the reason for that is because in London they have a hose in line

Kresse Wesling:

shop, which means hoses, which look damaged, can be sent there

Kresse Wesling:

to be repaired or decommissioned.

Kresse Wesling:

A lot of brigades, brigades don't have that, so they rely on London.

Kresse Wesling:

So I thought three to 10 tons, you know, given that each hose is about 18

Kresse Wesling:

kilos, I can, I can lift those, I can carry those, I can move those around.

Kresse Wesling:

I can, I can cut them, I can shape them.

Kresse Wesling:

So that's why I got excited about it because it was a,

Kresse Wesling:

it was in very niche waste.

Kresse Wesling:

It, there was no way to recycle it and I felt like it was a manageable amount and I

Kresse Wesling:

always had, when we started, I always had the idea that if we managed to solve that

Kresse Wesling:

problem for London, that would give us the license to solve other waste problems.

Kresse Wesling:

That would effectively be all the permission we needed to become,

Kresse Wesling:

um, I suppose more entrenched in, in the waste management sector.

Vicki Weinberg:

Yeah, that makes sense.

Vicki Weinberg:

Because I guess you have to start somewhere and get established

Vicki Weinberg:

and, and prove that you can do what you're setting out to do.

Kresse Wesling:

Yes, yes, exactly.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I'm really fascinated as, as the process of turning

Vicki Weinberg:

decommissioned fire hoses into your products, which by the way look beautiful

Vicki Weinberg:

and I think you've probably heard this before that I'm sure if people don't know.

Vicki Weinberg:

About the material they come from that's not necessarily, wouldn't

Vicki Weinberg:

necessarily be their first thought.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, how did you get from, from one to the other?

Vicki Weinberg:

And I appreciate, that's a big question.

Vicki Weinberg:

So we can take this in stages.

Kresse Wesling:

No, I mean, it's a, it's a brilliant question.

Kresse Wesling:

At first, we genuinely, I mean, fashion wasn't the first thing that we thought of.

Kresse Wesling:

I first thought of making roof tiles.

Kresse Wesling:

We, we, we went on a huge R and D extravaganza trying to understand

Kresse Wesling:

what fire hose is and what it's capable of and at the end of that, you

Kresse Wesling:

know, reading every research report we could find on nature of rubber.

Kresse Wesling:

Reading everything about where an industry was used and by whom and

Kresse Wesling:

for what and what its melting point was and what its heating point was.

Kresse Wesling:

That's when we discovered that, you know, other luxury companies have

Kresse Wesling:

been using a very similar material, uh, for quite some time now.

Kresse Wesling:

They're causing it to be made, so they're having it made in exactly the

Kresse Wesling:

thickness they want and in exactly the properties that they want.

Kresse Wesling:

Whereas fire hose has its own constraints.

Kresse Wesling:

So when we, when, when we first made a piece, uh, it was a belt and because

Kresse Wesling:

fire hoses long and straight and belts are long and straight, that was

Kresse Wesling:

actually relatively straightforward.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, the, the process that to make a belt means that

Kresse Wesling:

the fire hose has to be cut.

Kresse Wesling:

The fibre has to be cleaned and it has to be edged.

Kresse Wesling:

Now, that required some research, but it was relatively straightforward.

Kresse Wesling:

We could buy a rivet press for I think 164 pounds.

Kresse Wesling:

We could buy a rotary cutting tool for 49 pounds.

Kresse Wesling:

So people think you need a lot of money to start a company.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, you know, we, we often say that our, our only, our capital investment was

Kresse Wesling:

really 39 pounds for the cutting tool.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, but, but belts wasn't enough and, and certainly when we started cleaning the

Kresse Wesling:

fire hose, we were cleaning it by hand.

Kresse Wesling:

So that was never going to be sustainable long term if you're

Kresse Wesling:

talking about three to ten tons a year.

Kresse Wesling:

And that just propelled us on, uh, a wider research journey.

Kresse Wesling:

We investigated every potential method for cleaning the hose and it

Kresse Wesling:

actually took us seven years to get to the method that we're using now.

Kresse Wesling:

That process, uh, uh, that's that journey of seven years involved Elvis building a

Kresse Wesling:

machine involved us using a sort of, still a manual process, but one that allowed

Kresse Wesling:

us to clean five hoses at a time and finally doing a project with Electrolux to

Kresse Wesling:

design a machine specifically for cleaning fire hose, which is what we use now.

Kresse Wesling:

So that's just the cleaning.

Kresse Wesling:

We also had to work out how to take the edges off the hose because there's this

Kresse Wesling:

curved edge which is baked into the hose.

Kresse Wesling:

That took some, that took some discovery.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, and again, that resulted in building a machine.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, we had to learn how to thin the hose that didn't require us building a

Kresse Wesling:

machine, but it certainly discover led us to, you know, try lots of different

Kresse Wesling:

machines and then adapt one for our use.

Kresse Wesling:

Normal sewing machines don't work.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, so I, I mean, just at every turn we experience some sort of issue, but we

Kresse Wesling:

were so stubborn about the, the project.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, I'd made a commitment that we were going to rescue the hose, so no

Kresse Wesling:

matter what, we were going to rescue them.

Kresse Wesling:

And that just meant we kept going and kept trying.

Kresse Wesling:

And I suppose that's why 17 years later we're still around and

Kresse Wesling:

it's because it required a lot of upfront commitment and still does.

Kresse Wesling:

Still does to this day.

Vicki Weinberg:

It is a huge commitment because I'm assuming

Vicki Weinberg:

that you are taking sort of fairly big quantities of hoses in one go.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Vicki Weinberg:

And actually something I haven't asked, um, which is I think

Vicki Weinberg:

is a valid question is, so why are the hoses ended up in landfill anyway?

Vicki Weinberg:

Is there nothing else that can, I mean, I know there's nothing else that can be

Vicki Weinberg:

done of them, hence you taken this on.

Vicki Weinberg:

But why do they end up in landfill?

Kresse Wesling:

So you've got two reasons why a hose gets decommissioned.

Kresse Wesling:

The first is, it reaches the end of its 25 year health and safety life.

Kresse Wesling:

That doesn't mean that the material is bad, that just means that they

Kresse Wesling:

no longer deem it to be safe for the fire industry to use as a fire hose.

Kresse Wesling:

The other reason it gets decommissioned is if you get a catastrophic tear somewhere

Kresse Wesling:

in the hose that they can't patch.

Kresse Wesling:

Kind of like a bike tire, some, some punctures you can

Kresse Wesling:

patch, some, you just can't.

Kresse Wesling:

So those are the two reasons why it gets decommissioned and the reason you

Kresse Wesling:

can't recycle it by traditional means, like you would glass or aluminium

Kresse Wesling:

is because you've got two layers of nitrile rubber that are extruded

Kresse Wesling:

around and through a nylon woven core.

Kresse Wesling:

The rubber and the nylon are married.

Kresse Wesling:

There is no way to separate them, so you can't shred the hoses and melt the hoses.

Kresse Wesling:

And start again.

Kresse Wesling:

These two materials are inextricably linked, and that means that all

Kresse Wesling:

forms of traditional recycling would fail the material.

Kresse Wesling:

And because there's only three to ten tons a year, nobody had decided

Kresse Wesling:

that they needed to develop a specific technology just for hoses.

Kresse Wesling:

That's that's why it was going to learn, basically because it was

Kresse Wesling:

one of these materials that we've designed in our linear society.

Kresse Wesling:

That's just a no hope.

Vicki Weinberg:

Well, thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

I think this is, that's just really useful for us to understand.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you so much for that.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I'm interested as well, as well as the practical elements of sort of turning the

Vicki Weinberg:

fire hoses into, into products to sell on.

Vicki Weinberg:

What about the sort of the aesthetic and the design side.

Vicki Weinberg:

How did you get there?

Vicki Weinberg:

Because your bags do look really beautiful, really premium.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, did you have to work with somebody to, to come up with that?

Vicki Weinberg:

I guess I asked these questions because I'm genuinely fascinated because I'm

Vicki Weinberg:

not a person that can see one thing and imagine it as something else.

Kresse Wesling:

Something else.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I'm really fascinated by that.

Kresse Wesling:

I think that's definitely the skill that Elvis has.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, Elvis always can see a destination, whether with any of the projects that we

Kresse Wesling:

take on, and, and we've been together.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, I don't know, since we were 25.

Kresse Wesling:

So we've been together for 20 years now, and he, he is very good at working out how

Kresse Wesling:

to translate an idea into an actual thing.

Kresse Wesling:

That's something that he's always been able to do, but I think something else

Kresse Wesling:

that's unique about our process is that we didn't ever want to design an IT bag.

Kresse Wesling:

We didn't want to design something that was trendy.

Kresse Wesling:

We wanted to make sure that we made utilitarian goods that were

Kresse Wesling:

well made and, and beautiful.

Kresse Wesling:

And that meant, again, a lot of research.

Kresse Wesling:

We spent time in some of the, um, you know, I suppose the, the high

Kresse Wesling:

end department stores in London, you know, Harvey Nichols and

Kresse Wesling:

Selfridges and Harrods, et cetera.

Kresse Wesling:

And we were asking the, the, the, the sales teams the same question everywhere

Kresse Wesling:

we went, we weren't saying, oh, what's, what's new right now and what's popular?

Kresse Wesling:

We were saying, What is perennial?

Kresse Wesling:

What do people actually need?

Kresse Wesling:

And after a lot of research, we discovered that there was about 11 to 16 pieces,

Kresse Wesling:

like a, a bucket tote for example, or wash bag or a billfold wallet.

Kresse Wesling:

And, and these were fairly universal shapes.

Kresse Wesling:

And the reason why they're universal in their perennial is because they're useful

Kresse Wesling:

and they fit with our lives and they fit with our bodies, and they fit with the

Kresse Wesling:

kinds of things we wanted to carry around.

Kresse Wesling:

So we had a, a list of items that we wanted to interpret with

Kresse Wesling:

hose, and then Elvis started tackling those things one by one.

Kresse Wesling:

And, and that's really made still our design process.

Kresse Wesling:

Now it's utilitarian.

Kresse Wesling:

And then we work on, um, then we work on forms.

Kresse Wesling:

So function comes first and then we work on form.

Kresse Wesling:

But even before form and function, the raw material is

Kresse Wesling:

why we do everything that we do.

Vicki Weinberg:

Absolutely.

Vicki Weinberg:

And it sounds like research is a huge, huge part of everything that you do.

Kresse Wesling:

Yes.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, because I think, I'm sure I'm right in saying you're

Vicki Weinberg:

the first company to actually do this, so there's not like you're

Vicki Weinberg:

following someone else's footsteps.

Vicki Weinberg:

You are paving the way.

Kresse Wesling:

Yes.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Kresse Wesling:

I think, and in everything that we do, sometimes I wish we would just do

Kresse Wesling:

something slightly normal, but we never, we never seem to be able to do that.

Kresse Wesling:

We're never following a roadmap.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, you know, in any of the raw materials that we've chosen, in

Kresse Wesling:

any of the ways that we work.

Kresse Wesling:

And, um, yeah, we, we, we like to basically question,

Kresse Wesling:

we like to question systems.

Kresse Wesling:

The fashion system is one that needs questioning.

Kresse Wesling:

It's failed.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, when I first started looking at luxury, I, I wasn't

Kresse Wesling:

thinking, this is a great, wonderful, exciting industry to join.

Kresse Wesling:

I, I was thinking this is an industry that's a structural failure.

Kresse Wesling:

It makes money, but it makes money at the expense of the environment and it's

Kresse Wesling:

people, it, it, it isn't sustainable in any way, shape or form, despite the

Kresse Wesling:

claims of a lot of the companies that are involved in it even now, um, you know,

Kresse Wesling:

the greenwashing is just breathtaking in its audacity and just shows a

Kresse Wesling:

complete lack of understanding of what the word sustainability truly means.

Kresse Wesling:

So, So, yeah, I think we like to break new ground because it needs to be broken.

Kresse Wesling:

Following a path to destruction was never a path we wanted to follow.

Vicki Weinberg:

And are you finding that other businesses

Vicki Weinberg:

are following in your footsteps?

Vicki Weinberg:

I mean, you, you may or may not be aware of that, but I, has anyone

Vicki Weinberg:

come onto your radar that's kind of following in, in what you're doing?

Kresse Wesling:

Loads.

Kresse Wesling:

And, and certainly we even, um, we even know, so we've done some

Kresse Wesling:

work, uh, promoting what we did in promoting our approach to waste with

Kresse Wesling:

the British Council, and that there was a video that was made that was

Kresse Wesling:

shared all, all around the world.

Kresse Wesling:

And, and we, we had this report come back to us that our video had inspired the

Kresse Wesling:

launch of 40 new businesses, and that's just one, that's just one of the videos.

Kresse Wesling:

And I, I know personally that, you know, we do a lot of lectures at

Kresse Wesling:

business schools and things like that, and I've had students come back to me

Kresse Wesling:

years later saying, this led me to, to experiment with that and to try that.

Kresse Wesling:

And I'm not saying it's led lots of people to go into fashion, but it

Kresse Wesling:

certainly led a lot of people to go into waste and waste recovery and reuse

Kresse Wesling:

and, and yeah, certainly our language.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, we, we were the first people to use the word rescue instead of reclaim.

Kresse Wesling:

And now you see that word used everywhere by a lot of up and coming brands.

Kresse Wesling:

And it's wonderful because it's an emotive.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, but yeah, I guess it's, it's lovely to see that there are a lot of

Kresse Wesling:

businesses that are taking, um, more responsibility, but it's also, it's

Kresse Wesling:

also devastating to see that the fastest growing companies we have in fashion

Kresse Wesling:

or largely conscious free, you know, perfectly prepared to pay people wages

Kresse Wesling:

that we could only classify as modern slavery and, and churn out, you know,

Kresse Wesling:

new goods at a rate that is only possible if you're destroying the environment.

Kresse Wesling:

So yes, we've come a long way, but, there's still such a long way to go.

Vicki Weinberg:

There is um, but I do think it must be really hard because

Vicki Weinberg:

obviously as you said, you are paving the way, you're doing a lot of this

Vicki Weinberg:

first, which is hard and timely.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, but it must be really satisfying to know that you've helped other people come

Vicki Weinberg:

after you and that you've inspired that.

Vicki Weinberg:

I think that's amazing.

Vicki Weinberg:

Yeah, because someone has to be first because otherwise, you know,

Vicki Weinberg:

lots of us feel like, oh, that's impossible or that can't be done.

Vicki Weinberg:

But when you see somebody actually go ahead, go and do it, I think that

Vicki Weinberg:

just opens up lots of possibilities.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Kresse Wesling:

If nobody ever changes anything, then nothing ever changes

Vicki Weinberg:

Absolutely.

Vicki Weinberg:

So let's actually, this is probably a good time actually to talk about the three

Vicki Weinberg:

pillars of your business, if that's okay, and talk about those in a bit more detail.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Kresse Wesling:

So I guess.

Kresse Wesling:

We were always doing these three things, but probably about 10 years ago we got

Kresse Wesling:

down to this very distinct terminology because really it is what we do.

Kresse Wesling:

We rescue materials, so rescue, we transform them.

Kresse Wesling:

The goal for us is, is, you know, I'm not going to flip a fire hose on its side

Kresse Wesling:

and put a piece of glass on it and call it a coffee table, because that's not

Kresse Wesling:

transformation and maybe that will work for some people, but it's a bit gimmicky.

Kresse Wesling:

And it won't solve the fire hose problem.

Kresse Wesling:

So for us, transformation is quite important.

Kresse Wesling:

And then donation, which, which is, you know, our commitment to donate

Kresse Wesling:

50% of our profits to charity.

Kresse Wesling:

That's fundamental.

Kresse Wesling:

And that's fundamental at a human level.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, we are a living wage employer.

Kresse Wesling:

We manufacture all our goods ourselves to, to ensure that everybody who's

Kresse Wesling:

involved in the making of an Elvis and Kresse product is paid well.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, and also our communities are rewarded.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, we don't have a supply chain.

Kresse Wesling:

We have stakeholders.

Kresse Wesling:

We put our company at the service of the community in the beginning,

Kresse Wesling:

which was the fire service community, and it made sense for half of our

Kresse Wesling:

profits to go back to that community.

Kresse Wesling:

We've been questioned a lot about why we do that.

Kresse Wesling:

And, you know, I, I give lots of different answers.

Kresse Wesling:

Sometimes I'm very flippant and I say, look, you know, when we were

Kresse Wesling:

in kindergarten, we are taught to.

Kresse Wesling:

And then for some bizarre reason, the rest of our education teaches

Kresse Wesling:

us to be selfish and greedy.

Kresse Wesling:

I think we were all happier when we were in kindergarten.

Kresse Wesling:

If we were, we were honest, right?

Kresse Wesling:

Um, so sometimes I would answer like that.

Kresse Wesling:

Sometimes I would say that if you want to actually have a successful relationship

Kresse Wesling:

or a successful supply chain, then every part of it has to be valued.

Kresse Wesling:

So, so why not value the community that's at the heart of our business?

Kresse Wesling:

Um, other times, you know, when, when people are questioning it from

Kresse Wesling:

a marketing and a budget perspective and a reinvestment perspective,

Kresse Wesling:

I say, look, you know, there's 66,000 fire service personnel.

Kresse Wesling:

What other brand in its launch year would have 66,000 brand ambassadors?

Kresse Wesling:

Just doesn't, just doesn't happen.

Kresse Wesling:

So there's a, so the, the DNA for us works, and we won't take on a

Kresse Wesling:

new material unless we can duplicate that same DNA because it, it's just

Kresse Wesling:

a, it's a lovely, simple code that means everyone understands what we're

Kresse Wesling:

doing and we can be very transparent.

Kresse Wesling:

And it also ensures that impact is built into our model.

Kresse Wesling:

So if we grow, we can only grow by having more impact.

Kresse Wesling:

We can only grow if we're rescuing more materials and if

Kresse Wesling:

we're making increased donations.

Kresse Wesling:

And if we're creating more jobs that are living wage jobs and better.

Kresse Wesling:

So growth for us is, is only allowed by increasing our impact, and that's

Kresse Wesling:

because the DNA of the business and the three pillars have structured us.

Kresse Wesling:

And have given us that, that guiding, that basically that business

Kresse Wesling:

model, that sort of win, win, win.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

And I really liked what you said about business impact.

Vicki Weinberg:

I watched a video where you were talking about that and that really stuck with me

Vicki Weinberg:

that it's not growth for growth's sake.

Kresse Wesling:

Mm.

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah.

Kresse Wesling:

I mean, we have, we are always obsessed with how companies can grow.

Kresse Wesling:

And actually even in, in the economy, they're always talking,

Kresse Wesling:

oh my gosh, we're going to we're going to only grow at 1% this year.

Kresse Wesling:

Why is, why is that a problem?

Kresse Wesling:

You know, if we are, if we are structured so much on consumption, that's

Kresse Wesling:

actually a flawed economic structure.

Kresse Wesling:

If we can't, if a, if a family can't survive.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, let's say a family of four can't survive.

Kresse Wesling:

If they, they only increase their income by 1% every year, then

Kresse Wesling:

we've got, we've got real problems.

Kresse Wesling:

So I think this obsession with growth is, it's not very helpful

Kresse Wesling:

and I know where it comes from.

Kresse Wesling:

It comes from shareholder capitalism.

Kresse Wesling:

It becomes, it comes from a place where lots of people put money into

Kresse Wesling:

businesses and then just expected that money to grow without their own

Kresse Wesling:

labor, without their own intervention.

Kresse Wesling:

They just expected money to make more money and that, that's kind

Kresse Wesling:

of where we went completely off the rails as a civilization.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

I, I really, I was really inspired by hearing you talk about business impact.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, because I just think that flips it completely on its head

Vicki Weinberg:

and just, it's just so much more human than them focusing on growth.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, so while we're while we talking about the impact of your business,

Vicki Weinberg:

do you want to talk a little bit about some of the things, you

Vicki Weinberg:

know, how your range has grown?

Vicki Weinberg:

For example, some of the new materials you are using and some of the impacts

Vicki Weinberg:

that you've been able to have?

Kresse Wesling:

Yeah, sure.

Kresse Wesling:

So, I mean, with the fire hose range, when we started, we never thought we'd be

Kresse Wesling:

able to rescue all of London's fire hoses.

Kresse Wesling:

After five years we were doing that.

Kresse Wesling:

We've increased our annual donations to the firefighters charity from, I think

Kresse Wesling:

134 pounds in our first year to over, over 60,000 pounds a year in, in recent years.

Kresse Wesling:

We also, when we got to, um, that stage where we were rescuing all

Kresse Wesling:

abandoned hoses, we were able to start looking at other materials.

Kresse Wesling:

So we rescued parachute, so, and tea sacks and um, probably

Kresse Wesling:

most famously leather waste.

Kresse Wesling:

And we have a partnership with the Burberry Foundation, um,

Kresse Wesling:

because we, we came up with the solution to leather scrap.

Kresse Wesling:

This is industrial off cut leather as opposed to, um, secondhand leather.

Kresse Wesling:

And when we were promoting this, we were talking about

Kresse Wesling:

it at a sustainability event.

Kresse Wesling:

We were approached by Burberry and they were really excited about

Kresse Wesling:

it and wanted to work with us.

Kresse Wesling:

So it took us ages to get that partnership off the ground.

Kresse Wesling:

But then, you know, once we, we finally got all the paperwork

Kresse Wesling:

signed, we were able to take responsibility for their leather scrap.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, but also they were sponsoring us to have a whole program of apprenticeships

Kresse Wesling:

and, and teaching and work experience opportunities so that we could

Kresse Wesling:

effectively train young people in the realities of the circular economy.

Kresse Wesling:

It was just really a wonderful partnership.

Kresse Wesling:

So we, we, we, through our leather work, we, we've now been expanding that and our

Kresse Wesling:

charity partner there is Barefoot College.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, so 50% of the profits from the leather project are go to create scholarships

Kresse Wesling:

for women to train as solar engineers.

Kresse Wesling:

Fire hose, firefighters, charity makes sense to a lot of people.

Kresse Wesling:

But you know what, why, why solar engineers?

Kresse Wesling:

And we just thought because cows are inextricably linked with climate change.

Kresse Wesling:

It's something that everybody talks about in meat consumption and cutting

Kresse Wesling:

down the Amazon to grow more grain, to feed more cows, et cetera, et cetera.

Kresse Wesling:

And we knew that the renewables, uh, revolution is the only thing that

Kresse Wesling:

you can really do to target that, and Barefoot allows you to target that

Kresse Wesling:

while also educating women who wouldn't have had any educational opportunities

Kresse Wesling:

before that, transforming communities, getting them off kerosene, getting

Kresse Wesling:

them off, burning wood in the home.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, and it is, it's just an incredibly transformative charity and, and we're

Kresse Wesling:

so proud to, to be working with them now and I think our seventh year.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, so yeah, there's impacts everywhere.

Kresse Wesling:

And then we've got a new project to rescue aluminium waste.

Kresse Wesling:

So this is littered aluminium cans.

Kresse Wesling:

We've designed with Queen Mary University, a micro solar forge for transforming this

Kresse Wesling:

littered aluminium into a usable metal.

Kresse Wesling:

And we've open sourced that technology so it can be used

Kresse Wesling:

all over the world by anyone.

Kresse Wesling:

They don't have to pay me, they just have to build it themselves.

Kresse Wesling:

And just, we just love to do exciting and wonderful things.

Kresse Wesling:

And I suppose we're now in that phase as a business where, where we can do

Kresse Wesling:

maybe be a bit more adventurous and, and that's why we just, before the

Kresse Wesling:

pandemic, we moved to a farm, we decided that being sustainable wasn't enough.

Kresse Wesling:

We had to be net regenerative.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, and for us that meant taking charge of an ecosystem that was damaged.

Kresse Wesling:

And what we've been able to do here is, is so far really amazing.

Kresse Wesling:n two years and we've planted:Kresse Wesling:

Um, we're, we're practicing regenerative agriculture, which focuses on

Kresse Wesling:

rebuilding soil health, sequestering carbon into the soil, making it, uh,

Kresse Wesling:

more, uh, water, you know, making it able to hold more water and be more

Kresse Wesling:

resilient in a drought situation.

Kresse Wesling:

So I think there's kind of, we do a lot of things.

Kresse Wesling:

We're in some ways spread quite thin at the moment, but, um, that's because

Kresse Wesling:

we've got 10 years to save the planet.

Kresse Wesling:

And Elvis and I are very aware that if, if we're not having, if we're not

Kresse Wesling:

making a conscious effort to have a big impact on biodiversity, loss of

Kresse Wesling:

climate change, then, then we are wasting our time and we're wasting whatever

Kresse Wesling:

talent we have because if we're not addressing the two big problems of

Kresse Wesling:

the day, then what's the point of us?

Kresse Wesling:

What's the point of the business?

Vicki Weinberg:

Yeah, thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

And um I'm, because you mentioned it, spreading yourself quite thin.

Vicki Weinberg:

One thing I'm curious about is, are you actively, because I guess there's

Vicki Weinberg:

a bit of a balance is that, are you actively seeking opportunities to

Vicki Weinberg:

rescue products or materials that say and turn them into products?

Vicki Weinberg:

Or are these things coming to you?

Vicki Weinberg:

Because when I look at all that you're doing, it's a, it's a lot.

Kresse Wesling:

It is a lot.

Kresse Wesling:

I think what, what we would like to do now, because I think we've

Kresse Wesling:

taken for the, at the moment, we've probably, our stable is full.

Kresse Wesling:

So I have a huge list of materials that I'd like to go after.

Kresse Wesling:

Once we are sustainably rescuing all of the materials we've, we've currently

Kresse Wesling:

taken responsibility for, um, but that still e, so even though we can't

Kresse Wesling:

process, ourselves, necessarily more material, what we do find ourselves

Kresse Wesling:

doing more and more is working collaboratively with other companies

Kresse Wesling:

and helping them with their problems.

Kresse Wesling:

And we never thought we would do that.

Kresse Wesling:

So 15, 16 years ago, we never thought we would do any kind of

Kresse Wesling:

consulting, but we are doing those kinds of projects, uh, more and more.

Kresse Wesling:

Because there's a lot of companies that will have a very specific niche problem

Kresse Wesling:

and they just need someone a little bit crazy to think about the problem

Kresse Wesling:

for them and come up with some off the wall ideas that that can help them.

Kresse Wesling:

I, I, if I think about the kind of impact we need to have in a very short period

Kresse Wesling:

of time, it doesn't make sense for the world's waste to come to our site in Kent.

Kresse Wesling:

What does make sense is for our way of thinking to spread because thoughts

Kresse Wesling:

can certainly spread much faster than, you know, raw materials can be

Kresse Wesling:

aggregated and transformed, and so on.

Vicki Weinberg:

Absolutely.

Vicki Weinberg:

And you mentioned you're doing everything in house on your workshop on your farm.

Vicki Weinberg:

So you, there must be a capacity, there must be only

Vicki Weinberg:

a certain amount that you can.

Kresse Wesling:

Yes.

Kresse Wesling:

And also, yes.

Kresse Wesling:

And, and you know, we haven't ever taken external funding or financing.

Kresse Wesling:

So our, and that is specifically because we wanted to stay independent.

Kresse Wesling:

We wanted to be able to do the mad things of the important work and,

Kresse Wesling:

and, and really think of growth of impact before growth of profit.

Kresse Wesling:

Um, so that does mean that, that any growth that we do achieve

Kresse Wesling:

is completely organic and, and, and actually relatively slow.

Kresse Wesling:

Which, which is fine with me, but that's also in, in a time when

Kresse Wesling:

change needs to happen quickly.

Kresse Wesling:

That's why we, we think that the, one of the most important things

Kresse Wesling:

that we can do is collaborate and, and share our ideas more widely.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you.

Vicki Weinberg:

And so my final question is for anyone who's listening, who's perhaps inspired,

Vicki Weinberg:

um, by your story and would like to build a sustainable business or perhaps

Vicki Weinberg:

has a business but wants to perhaps flip it and make it more sustainable,

Vicki Weinberg:

what advice would you have please?

Kresse Wesling:

So there's one rule of thumb that we use all the time,

Kresse Wesling:

and you know, it's going to sound perhaps oversimplified because

Kresse Wesling:

sustainability is complicated and supply chains are complicated, and

Kresse Wesling:

carbon accounting is complicated.

Kresse Wesling:

But you have to ask yourself a key, fundamental question, is what you're

Kresse Wesling:

doing going to make the world better for other people's grandchildren or not?

Kresse Wesling:

So there's two things.

Kresse Wesling:

Other people means that what you're doing has to inherently be unselfish.

Kresse Wesling:

It can't just be about increasing wealth for you and your family and

Kresse Wesling:

grandchildren implies long-term thinking.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, we can't, we, the whole shareholder thing where you have to

Kresse Wesling:

do quarterly reports is ridiculous.

Kresse Wesling:

You know, we've set up a farm.

Kresse Wesling:

Imagine if we had to do quarterly reports on a farm, especially given the

Kresse Wesling:orst drought in England since:Kresse Wesling:

It wouldn't have been pretty reading.

Kresse Wesling:

You have to plan for the long term and you have to plan things in everyone's benefit.

Kresse Wesling:

And if, if you look at something that you're doing and go, yep, this is

Kresse Wesling:

going to make the world better for other people's grandchildren, and

Kresse Wesling:

if you can be certain about that, then I can pretty much guarantee

Kresse Wesling:

you it's going to be sustainable.

Kresse Wesling:

And it means that you won't be able to make landmines.

Kresse Wesling:

It means you won't be able to frack.

Kresse Wesling:

It means you won't be able to design a business model

Kresse Wesling:

around a single use plastic.

Kresse Wesling:

It means you wouldn't be able to run a water company, which relied

Kresse Wesling:

on the sea to be your overflow for a sewage because you hadn't bothered

Kresse Wesling:

to invest in the infrastructure.

Kresse Wesling:

So we have to ask ourselves these questions, and I think actually

Kresse Wesling:

it's time for hard questions.

Kresse Wesling:

And if your business model doesn't meet that one basic question, if it

Kresse Wesling:

can't live up to the standard of other people's grandchildren, then you've got

Kresse Wesling:

to shift and you've got to shift now.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you so much.

Vicki Weinberg:

And thank you for everything that you shared with us today.

Kresse Wesling:

No problem.

Kresse Wesling:

I've really enjoyed it.

Vicki Weinberg:

Me too.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you so much.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you so much for listening right to the end of this episode and do

Vicki Weinberg:

remember that you can get the full back catalogues and lots of free resources

Vicki Weinberg:

on my website, vicki weinberg.com.

Vicki Weinberg:

Please do remember to rate and review this episode if you've enjoyed it,

Vicki Weinberg:

and also share it with a friend who you think might find it useful.