I’m in conversation with one of my first circular economy heroes, Kresse Wesling, CBE. Kresse is co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, which rescues and transforms discarded materials into innovative lifestyle products.
Kresse was one of the first circular economy entrepreneurs I met, when (in 2015) I heard her tell the story of how she started Elvis & Kresse back in 2005, to rescue and transform decommissioned fire hose, from the London Fire Brigade, into bags, wallets, belts and other high-quality products. I loved it so much that I bought my husband one of the wallets for Christmas.
I’d not yet dared to invite Kresse onto the podcast… so I was very impressed when Nicole Rudolf, who joined our team earlier this year, got in touch with Elvis & Kresse after researching it for one of our case studies for the Circle Lab Knowledge Hub. Thanks Nicole!
We hear about the ‘why’ of Elvis & Kresse, and how the company has evolved, now collecting 12 different waste materials to transform into high-quality, durable, beautiful and engaging lifestyle products. It’s a B Corp, and donates 50% of the profits from its collections to charities related to those rescued materials.
Kresse explains the company ethos, plus its belief in collaboration and why it’s important to design a system, not just a product.
Podcast host Catherine Weetman is a circular economy business advisor, workshop facilitator, speaker and writer. Her award-winning book: A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business includes lots of practical examples and tips on getting started. Catherine founded Rethink Global in 2013, to help businesses use circular, sustainable approaches to build a better business (and a better world).
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Read on for a summary of the podcast and links to the people, organisations and other resources we mention.
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Links we mention in the episode:
- A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business – buy from any good bookseller, or direct from the publisher Kogan Page, which ships worldwide (free shipping to UK and US) and you can use discount code CIRCL20 to get 20% off. It’s available in paperback, ebook and Kindle. If you buy it from online sources, make sure you choose the new edition with an orange cover!
- Sign up to get the podcast player and shownotes for each new episode emailed to your inbox
- Kresse Wesling on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kresse-wesling-cbe-0933646/
- Elvis & Kresse https://www.elvisandkresse.com/
- Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @elvisandkresse
- Books – Less is More by Jason Hickel
- People mentioned: Peter Desmond from the African Circular Economy Network https://www.acen.africa/
- Jo Chidley from Beauty Kitchen https://beautykitchen.co.uk/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/jochidley/
About Kresse Wesling
Kresse Wesling, CBE, is a multi-award winning environmental entrepreneur and Young Global Leader with a background in venture capital and significant start-up experience.
After first meeting with the London Fire Brigade in 2005, Kresse launched Elvis & Kresse, which turns industrial waste into innovative lifestyle products and returns 50% of profits to charities related to the waste.
Elvis & Kresse’s first line is made from decommissioned fire hose, 50% of the profits from this line are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity.
The company now collects 12 different waste streams, has several charitable partnerships and is involved with collaborations across industries, including most recently a five year partnership with the Burberry Foundation.
Provided by AI – DEDUCT ~1.15 mins for the finished episode
Catherine Weetman 04:08
Kresse Wesling CBE is a multi award winning environmental entrepreneur. After first meeting the London fire brigade in 2005, Kresse launched Elvis and Kresse, which rescues and transforms decommissioned fire hose into innovative lifestyle products and returns 50% of the profits to the firefighters charity. The company now collects 12 different waste streams, and has several charitable partnerships and collaborations across a number of industry sectors. Kresse, Welcome to the circular economy podcast.
Kresse Wesling 04:41
Catherine Weetman 04:42
And I’m impressed with how Elvis and Kresse has evolved since we first met at the Institute for manufacturing back in 2015. For those who’ve not heard of Elvis and Kresse, can you explain what kinds of materials you use and give us a few examples of the products that you make?
Kresse Wesling 04:58
Absolutely. So we have Kind of a very simple business model, we do three things, we rescue, we transform, and we donate. We always start by looking for niche waste problems. So these are materials that are not finding their way into traditional recycling. Whether that be because they can’t be recycled, or because they’re not being recycled effectively. Then we transform them into beautiful things and give 50% of the profits to charity. Our first material was London’s decommissioned fire hoses, which can’t be recycled, because it’s a nitrile rubber jacket surrounding a nylon woven core and you can’t unmarried these two wonderful materials. So you can shred it, melt it and start again, we turn that into a range of luxury goods. So this is handbags, luggage, belts, wallets, things like that. And then we donate 50% of the profits to the firefighters charity, and then we duplicated that model. Across Yeah, about 12. I think, at any we’ve done 15 materials are in all, but sort of on a regular basis, I would say we’re collecting 12
Catherine Weetman 06:03
Hmm. So can you give us an example of some of the other materials so that people have got a picture in their minds?
Kresse Wesling 06:10
Yeah, it’s kind of a it’s a it’s a broad mix. And so we we collect tea sacking, which is how we make a lot of our packaging. And it’s a waste that no one’s really aware of, because you know, it’s how tea is imported into the country, it goes directly to the tea blender. And consumers don’t ever see that raw material. So the reason that goes to waste because you’ve got a four layer sack, three layers of brown craft paper, food grade paper, which is lovely and delightful and would be recyclable if it weren’t for the fourth layer, which is laminated to foil and polyethylene. And because these these paper sacks are are tightly bonded at the top and the bottom, the entire sack gets scrapped. And what we do is collect directly from the tea blenders. In our case we collect from clipper tea, which is a wonderful Blender based in Dorset. And they come to us smelling of tea, often filled with the dregs of tea leaves, we cut those layers apart, I run them flat, and then use them for our packaging and our leaflets and things like that we have also made lanterns out of them and I think that will be that will be a product we reintroduce as homeware in the next several months.
Catherine Weetman 07:31
Wow fascinating and it’s and it’s horrific, isn’t it to hear how complicated things that that we imagined to be quite simple. And I guess I guess the foil and the polyethylene are relatively new introductions in the in the lifetime of tea importing to, to the
Kresse Wesling 07:51
tea is to come in these beautiful wooden chests and the chest would arrive in the UK would be emptied and it would go back on the ships to be refilled so so yes, they used to be desirable and reusable items and and a lot of people say to us Oh, but are isn’t tea important teach us and that’s because at some point, one of their grandparents would have had one in the house. But no, it hasn’t been that way for a very long time. And yeah, Tea sack, parachute silk, printing blanket, Coffee sacks, auction banners, what are some – Yeah, we just got a life raft from the Royal Marines, which is an emergency vessel that is past its sell by date past its health and safety life. And it would be the kind of vessel that 25 people could could live in for a period of time their proper boat had sunk. But having seen it, I guess this is this is why you know, it’s definitely a last resort and something you would want to step up into, from a sinking vessel rather than out of choice because it’s, yeah, very, very, very basic. But that was a fascinating bit of scrap for us to receive. Luckily the Marines took the explosives from it before they brought it over. But it does still have food packets in it. Safety lanterns are nice. Yeah, fascinating. We get some fascinating things.
Catherine Weetman 09:24
Yeah, I can Well, I can imagine the kind of range of kit you’d need on a life raft to keep going for a few days in in possibly very inhospitable conditions. And a few years ago, you started a project with Burberry, the luxury fashion brand. Yeah. Is that still going and can you tell us a bit more about that?
Kresse Wesling 09:49
Yeah, that’s that’s, that is still going. So we we once we got to 2010, the business started in 2005. And our first mission was the fire hose, but by the time we got to 2010 we were easily capable of recycling and reusing all of London’s hoes every year. So it was time for us to broaden our horizons and start thinking about another marquee waste that we could bring into the collection. And that was a sort of at the same time that a saddle maker had sent us a bag case of scrap leather. So we knew that leather off cuts was also a problem. We started doing some research on it and discovered a UN report that was written in 2010, that that estimated the global leather waste issue, just off cuts. So this isn’t old jackets, and airline seats. This is just off cuts because a cow hide is a certain shape. Companies cut up the pieces they want and the rest falls to the cutting floor. But the UN report estimated that there was 800,000 tonnes of this kind of off cut being produced here. So we’re used to talking about things like single use plastics, but this was never been used leather. And, and I just thought it’s kind of criminal. And we need to develop not a product for this. Because if you sort of cast remember back to 2010. Nope, some people were starting to talk about the circular economy, but people weren’t designing for it. So it was still a very novel concept that only a relatively few people understood it was talked about in academic circles more than anything else. We were aware of it because the work, the work we had done with firehose we’ve been you know, following Ellen MacArthur has transitioned to this space, that kind of thing.
Kresse Wesling 11:41
And I said, Let’s not design a product this time. Let’s design a system. Let’s think about what the circular economy demands demands designed for deconstruction. It it wants you to make sure that the raw materials involved can be used again and again and again and again and again in multiple different guises and lives. So that was the design brief that I gave to Elvis a sack of leather and some words sketched on the back of an envelope that were like, shareable swappable, DIY. And in many, in many ways, this is this is definitely what we came to call our perfect product. Because Elvis Sure enough, went away. And he took that inspiration and that bag of leather, and he came up with three geometrics shapes, that you could cut the leather into, to create whole new heights of any size that you could use for making rugs. And if you didn’t like those rugs anymore, you could take them apart and make curtains. And if you didn’t like those curtains anymore, you could upholster a chair, you could make a bag, you could make a doorstop, you know, kind of anything where you see leather, you could use these pieces. But not only that, let’s say, let’s say you do make one big rug out of your pieces. And actually you love that rug. But it gets old, what you can do is take high traffic pieces and move them to low traffic areas. So you can dramatically extend the life of the road. If your dog pulls up to corner pieces and you know shreds them, it doesn’t mean that the rug has to die just means you have to call me and we’ll send you two or pieces. So it was it was a I suppose it was a revolutionary new concept. And we introduced that at an event in let’s say 2012. And then a lot of people want to be to talk about it and speak about it at various events. And at one event in 2013 we were approached by some lovely women from Burberry, who said now this is wonderful and great. Would you like to work with us we have leather off cuts. And we would like to help you scale this solution. And then because they’re 7000 times larger than we are It took four years, negotiate out we would collaborate.
Kresse Wesling 13:59
But by 2017 we we’d formed a partnership between ourselves and the Burberry foundation. And we got going in earnest and, and it has been a brilliantly successful programme that has not only focused on leather rescue, but also creating apprenticeships that are at our site in Kent. And also 50% of the profits from this project are donated to Barefoot College where we train women as solar engineers so instead of leather going to ground and I suppose what I’m always excited about this is that when you bury a tonne of leather, it costs you 410 pounds minimum just landfill costs eight v Wow. If that same tonne of leather comes to us, we can generally turn that into approximately 100,000 pounds of revenue. So often in circular economy. chit chat we’re told that spent textiles could be worth two to $3,000 a tonne and I guess I’ve said stuff and nonsense Because we’ve shown it could be worth 100,000 pounds per tonne. It just, it’s just a question of creativity. It’s just a question of the right solution for the right problem. And certainly it has allowed us to create, I think, almost 20 scholarships for women to train and solar engineers. Fantastic. So yeah, it’s pretty, it’s pretty obvious what your decision should be buried in the ground, or do all of this is good and create all of this value? I think I think we all know what choice we should make.
Catherine Weetman 15:34
Yeah, definitely. And I bet from Burberry’s perspective that’s given them a much better story to tell them. Some of the press that was that’s come out over the last few years about what what they were doing with some of their other other ways that they didn’t want to get into the grey market. And talk about the Barefoot College in the solar engineers. When we were talking before, you mentioned a solar forge project that came about during the pandemic.
Kresse Wesling 16:00
Yeah. So this is this is a fascinating one, because I’m, I guess, once you start having this view, where problems are your raw material, where where problems are, or how you think of your next product line, then you start to see the world like that. And we had always wanted to make our own hardware. So belt buckles, and things like that. Because, you know, for from a luxury goods perspective, there’s a few suppliers that pretty much all of the brands work with and everyone in that industry says yes, 70% of it will be recycled, because metals are generally recycled, but they’re, they’re relatively unprovable assumption. So just based on industry standards for recycling in whatever country you might be operating from at any given time. And I just think we wanted to do something more interesting. And at the time, I was given this absolutely incredible report that was commissioned, and shared by Keep Britain Tidy, which is a really, I don’t know, it’s probably one of the most well known environmental charities in the UK. And it campaigns for love of place, and love of space, and people associated with, you know, collecting rubbish, and, you know, tidying up our parks and beaches. And the report that they commissioned had this incredible group of statistics about how much we litter in terms of drinks containers into our public spaces, it’s about 32 million drinks containers a year, around half of that are aluminium containers. And this results in the death of between three and 4 million small mammals a year. So it’s not just the litter issue, it’s that little creatures like newts and shrews are crossing roads and getting hit by cars and getting stuck in cans and bottles. You know, so it’s, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a biodiversity issue. And it just, it just pissed me off, I guess. And I thought, of course, this is what everyone was talking about 3d Printers. So I thought I’ll just get some 3d printer, and you’ll be able to chuck cans and went in. And you’ll be able to get belt buckles at the other end. And of course, there was one sort of weird website in America that said they had a machine that could do it, but whenever you called, there was nobody answering. So I call it a lot of and this is one thing I absolutely love about being in the UK, there are experts in this country in everything. So I just googled journal articles written about 3d metal printing, and I called some of the professors who were researching it. And I kind of got the same response saying that something like that metal to metal 3d printing might be possible in the future 10 years away. And it’s going to be a really expensive machine, because we have 3d metal purchase now, but you have to put refined metal powder in one it so not a waste can. And the machines cost about 340,000 pounds. I didn’t I wasn’t prepared to invest that much in in my, my next crazy idea.
Kresse Wesling 19:05
And I thought, Well, how do we do this cheaper? And how do we do this in a in a much more interesting way. And I was very lucky to have at that particular time, run into someone who was working at the University of the Arts in London, who said we’ve got this incredible programme called the BFTT programme where we match fashion entrepreneurs, with research teams to solve certain problems. And I said, Oh my god, this is incredible, because I could go out and try and find R&D people to help me. But that’s going to take three years to find the right team. They just had the right team lined up and they were at Queen Mary University. And over the course of the pandemic, this incredible team. I gave them again, basically a brief on the back of a napkin and said I want it to be cheap, is going to be open source, we’re not owning this. And it’s got to be able to take littered aluminium cans, and I have to be able to get hardware at the other end and They’ve done it, they’ve they’ve created this machine, we’re about to bring it back, it’s at Queen Mary University COVID has delayed certain things, because normally we would have been doing a lot more work together, they would have had much more access to lab time, you know, things would have been faster, but they have done so unbelievably well, and we have a working solar powered Forge, and you can build it for about £1500 to 2000 pounds. And it doesn’t belong to me. You know, we accepted public funds to build this machine.
Kresse Wesling 20:32
Even if we hadn’t, I think I’d still have the same viewpoint on it. I don’t want to own the rights to a solar powered forage. Effectively, if you think about what it is it’s a it’s a machine that can generate high temperatures. So what are the processes Could this be used for it doesn’t have to just be rescuing aluminium cans, you could be turning agricultural waste into biochar, you could be recycling plastics, you could be doing all kinds of things. And we thought it was really important to open source that and not own it. So public funds public good. And we should be sharing the designs on that in the future. But I think from a circular economy perspective, the thing that’s really exciting is exciting is that we’re taking these aluminium cans, but yes, hand on heart. Of course, it can be recycled in the UK. But they’re not being recycled. In the UK, we have a littering problem, we don’t have a deposit system, we don’t have a national waste strategy. There 16 million aluminium cans as litre, but there’s 2 billion aluminium cans, which is about 20% of the total that go in the wrong then and never get recycled. We’ve got a problem with cherishing this raw material. So for me, the whole point of the project is to inspire people to love our union, to turn it into something really incredible. And also, probably not to sell the products. So I think the first thing we’re going to release are standalone cast aluminium items, and people will buy them, but they will buy them in the understanding that when they don’t want them, they have to come back to us to be remelted in our solar Forge, and remade again into something. And that that is that’s really important to me. Because when when you’ve got a material that has the potential for pure true 100% circularity, that’s the business model you have to put behind it.
Catherine Weetman 22:25
And that reminds me of something Professor Walter Stahel was talking about a few months ago, we did something for UNESCO together. And he was talking about renting molecules, and how that could be really important for developing economies who have all these really precious raw materials, once they’re sold at quite a low value, because they’ve not been transformed into anything. That’s the value gone. And if they rented molecules, so they never gave away ownership of you know, those metals and minerals, then they could you know, get them back afterwards or have an income forever. And just go just go back to the 3d printer. Or the the process of turning the cans into a material. Are you transforming them into into a powder for 3d printing or into a liquid? Metal? 3d printing…?
Kresse Wesling 23:19
No, we’re going to go to liquid. Yeah, I’m doing casting. Yeah. So it’s just that if you if we wanted to do something that was cost effective, dude, that’s that that could be duplicated in countries all over the world where this waste is. And it could be used to, you know, generate incomes and really unlock the circular economy at a very local level. We knew the machine had to be cheap and easy to run. And that’s Yeah, so you shred the crush the cans, then you melt the cans cast sandcast the outcome?
Catherine Weetman 23:51
Simple, brilliant. Yeah. Amazing. I’ll make sure my colleague Peter Desmond, who’s co founder of the African Circular Economy Network, make sure he listens to this this episode, because I’m sure that I give him some, some great ideas for your knowledge to knowledge to share. And you mentioned one other project that you’ve kicked off during the pandemic. And that involve moving to a farm and then looking to do something better with your water systems.
Kresse Wesling 24:23
Yes. So the key reason for us to move to a farm is that we felt quite, quite strongly that we needed to be a regenerative business. And one of the most accessible ways to do that is in a agricultural setting. regenerative agriculture has so much potential to help us you know, fight climate change and be resilient. And it took us a long time to find a farm we could afford the southeast. There certainly a premium good but we did find one and it has an unbuilt Renewable You know, it has an unbelievable south facing chalk slope. So the first assessment that we made was what should we grow here? What should our project be. And we decided, after looking at the soil and everything going for us that it was going to be a wine of winemaking business. And wine involves often a significant waste of water. And we think that also in the future, you know, we’re in an area of water stress, we didn’t think it was going to be appropriate for us to be extracting from the aquifer or polluting the groundwater with our with our waste water. So it because even if you didn’t old school septic tank, there still is overflow that you just you know, you depend on the minerals in the soil to clean for you. And we wanted to do something world class. So we have installed rainwater harvesting ponds, the top of the site, all of the buildings from the farm yard channel into those. So that’s our freshwater supply. And then the water goes through the all the wastewater generated on the site goes into a constructed wetland, which we built. The day we got planning permission, we basically built that sorry, there was some and we, we have a centrifugal force based, totally passive system, that all of this sludge from our wastewater. So this sewage element goes into a composting chamber that we filled with Tiger worms and sawdust occasionally. And that will turn our human user I guess, into her mcast, which is great. But the liquids all go into this constructive wetland, which we worked with a permaculture designer and microbiologist who is you know, just that he did he, he he’s the one who came up with the idea for these constructed wetlands he’s been installing for 20 years, they’re brilliant. And will have this incredibly biodiverse habitat that treats our wastewater and it will treat it to a higher standard than pretty much any wastewater in the country is being treated, the overflow from that system goes into another basic and wildlife pond, and then when it’s windy, that goes gets gets shifted back up to the top of the site. Right, filtered again, it’s better at that point, drinking water, and the cycle continues. So we will, we’ve taken basically a very dry landscape, and we’ve added water, and we’re going to be adding more water, and that just will make it resilient through time. But it’s also really interesting when you consider that idea of renting molecules, because that’s effectively what we’re doing here is that we are, we don’t own the water that comes here. But we are making sure that the molecules of water that decide to land here from the sky, get treated like gold, and they never leave. So So actually, we’re not ready. We’re I don’t know, it’s okay. It’s a very symbiotic relationship here.
Catherine Weetman 28:00
Yeah, I guess it’s, it’s reminded me I’m just just finishing a really fantastic book, Less is More by Jason Hickel, about Degrowth, but I’m on the last section and he’s talking about indigenous cultures and how they, you know, treat treat everything as if it’s precious, and to be restored and cherished and enraged. That’s, that’s how they see the human role in the, in the system, it’s to, you know, help everything else to flourish. So it’s that kind of principle isn’t it that you know, you’re taking, taking what you’re given naturally and making sure that whatever whatever happens to it ends up as a as a sort of better output, both for your farm and for all the nature on and around the farm
Kresse Wesling 28:54
Yes, really, it’s really, it’s, it’s, it’s it’s such an obvious idea. And, you know, I was just at an event last week in Bristol is called the Blue Earth Summit and Tim Smith from the Eden Project was giving a speech and he was talking about the young people that youth cop, which which took place, I think just last week, and how as a group, they came up with the idea that those countries that were going to be most impacted by climate change should be the countries to write the rules as in terms of what we’re going to follow as a pathway for change. So those countries that are like the the Maldives and you know, the the island states, they should be the ones setting the carbon tax, setting the targets and and of course, it’s, it’s, it’s brilliantly rational and perfect. We should be making the rules based on those who are going to suffer the most we should be thinking about in the in the example you were giving of nature as something that doesn’t belong to us, but is there to run alongside us and our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren. So How dare How dare we treated with such disrespect? There’s such obvious ideas and yet your entire capitalist system is runs. anti parallel.
Catherine Weetman 30:13
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that’s, I won’t I won’t go on too much about the book. But it has been one of those kind of real eye opening reads even things that I thought I knew a bit about. He kind of digs in a bit deeper to to explain more about the why of capitalism, and explode a lot of the myths and the things that we’re kind of taking for granted because that, you know, that’s what the people who benefit from it want to happen. So that kind of brings me on to I was listening to your interview recently on Can Marketing Save the Planet, a newish podcast. And I really enjoyed hearing you talk about the issues with the mass market fashion sector. And maybe that’s maybe that’s a good segue into that. Because often, often, when you hear people talk about organic food or artisan products or whatever, there’s a criticism that while this is just for those people who’ve got enough, enough money, and you know, what about those people who can’t afford very much? So perhaps you can, you can give me your world view on that?
Kresse Wesling 31:35
Yeah, this is, this is incredibly important. And I know I will, and I feel have quite strong views on it. You know, I’ll never apologise for the prices that our items are available that our bags expensive. Yep, Bear, our bags cost what it costs to make a bag if you’re going to make an environmental good, if you’re going to make it durable. And if the people who make it are paid well. And if the you know, the, the facilities that you use to make it in are wonderful facilities to be in. I don’t think it’s appropriate that someone in another country should subsidise the cheapness here in the UK, I don’t think it’s appropriate for an ecosystem to subsidise cheap food. So we have to get to grips with the fact that food and fashion are too cheap. And that that the the, although we love the fact that, that there’s a bargain available to the UK customer, it comes at the expense of someone else’s life somewhere else, and of the environment somewhere else. And it’s it’s not just somewhere else as an outside of the country. I mean, we had modern slavery issues coming up with boohoo in the UK during the pandemic, we have got to understand that if t shirt cost two pounds 50 it’s just exploitation of the environment and people in supply chain. Because two pounds 50 you can’t do anything for 2.50. Exactly. So yeah, we have to really stop that. And and yes, I think everyone needs to be paid more so that we can afford these goods. But also we need to grow our food and in regenerative agriculture farms where the food is more nutrient dense. And then where you’re you’re getting more nutrients for the same for the same price as you would be buying like a tomato grown under chemical warfare conditions. So we’ve got to start cherishing each other and cherishing the soil, and that is going to have a cost. But if we don’t pay that cost, then well then we’ll have floods and then we’ll have earth you know, we’ll have huge movements of people who are migrating for a better life. I remember listening to an incredible podcast with an American human rights campaigner, as she was saying how it didn’t make sense for this for America to have basically hollowed out the economies of the south of South America, and then not expect those people to arrive at the border, demanding a better life. If you if you create such horrific, substandard opportunities elsewhere, those people will want to move. And they have every right to want to do that. So we’ve got to get a grip on how we treat each other and how we treat the environment. And we have to pay and be willing to pay more for those things, or be willing to invest our time or in those things. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to cost more in. in cash, it might mean that you need to get together with a community group and take over an allotment and grow some of your own food in your own time. It might mean that you have to learn how to sew. It might mean a lot of things like that, but we we don’t really consider we don’t really care. Sort of these things to have a real value because they’ve been too cheap and I mean waters too cheap as well. And these things will all go up in price because the laws will change you’ve got great Ecocide legislation coming in, we’ve got do have great modern slavery legislation, we’re just not enforcing it, it would be really fascinating to me if items that arrived at UK customs, or simply were simply sent back. Because because we actually decided to, to follow through with modern slavery legislation that we’ve got, if those kinds of items just couldn’t get to market, we would have different marketplace.
Catherine Weetman 35:40
Yeah, and I think maybe the change has got to come from all of us, you know, voting with our either voting with our wallets, because you choose to buy the right thing, or you choose not to buy something, and invest a little bit of time in telling the company why you’re not buying from them. It feels as if the conversations have been there for been around for long enough with with governments and with businesses. And they’re only going as far as they think they need to, to kind of, you know, pacify the activists a little bit more until the next the next scandal or something, but
Kresse Wesling 36:20
and also, it’s, you know, prices were definitely the best way to eliminate waste. And both of these systems Yep, so we have an enormous amount of waste in the fashion system. You know, you’ve got companies like h&m, which are reported to have 4 billion pounds of unsold stock just floating around and where warehouses, you can’t tell me that that’s not a waste of time and materials. It is, you’ve got, you know, whatever the percentage is of our food that’s wasted, not just in the supply chain, but also in our fridges. Because it doesn’t, it doesn’t actually get consumed. So if we, if if it was suddenly quite, quite a bit more expensive, those wastes would go, inefficiencies would be eliminated.
Catherine Weetman 37:01
Yeah. And I think that the, the impulse buyers, particularly around fashion, would also be reduced, because now you’d be considering much more carefully how you choose to spend your money, not just thinking with it, you know, if I don’t like it after I’ve worn it once, it doesn’t matter, because it only cost, you know, five pounds for a dress or something awful. So cressy coming, coming back to the circular economy. What have you struggled with? Or what surprised you in the in the process of building Elvis and kresse? Because you’ve been going for probably longer than most of the circular economy, startups now.
Kresse Wesling 37:40
I think I think it’s, I think we talked too much about struggle sometimes. No, it’s a, it’s a privilege to run this business, the way that we do. We get to solve problems as our Mo. It’s what we do every day. Even even, we’re tiny, we would be able to be rescuing firehose gram by gram. And that felt fantastic. Even at the end of our first year, where we, you know, our accountant said that we did make a lost art, you know, I thought, you know, we still had money left in the bank account, at the end of the year, we had 134 pounds and gave that all to the firefighters charity. That felt spectacularly good because, for me, the circular economy can’t just be the flow of goods and materials in in a perpetual cycle. Whether that be you know, the the chemical cycle or the recycling cycle or the organic cycle, it has to be the flow of capital to. So that’s why I you know, I think I talked about cost and how things have to increase, but also our 50% donation because we have a rising inequality is a problem too. And I want to tackle that too. I want to tackle all the problems all the time. And I think that we’re well poised as a business to do that. And the longer we stay around, the more people find us interesting, the more people can’t argue with me that this is just some sort of, you know, pastime, it’s not a pastime that employs 25 people. It’s, it’s a real, bonafide, profitable business. And it is a privilege to run it’s a it’s a joy to be a part of, we get to we get to give money away every year more money away. And that’s, that’s just feels amazing. So I don’t I yeah, we could talk we have the same struggles as any other business. All businesses have challenges. There’s ups there’s downs, you know, we have maybe dif more difficulty in terms of communications that particularly the beginning when people just did not get fire hoses the luxury good. We had problems with manufacturing, those have largely been overcome because we started our own manufacturing. But it’s the joy of is the overwhelming feeling here. It’s not the Yeah, so the challenge.
Catherine Weetman 40:02
Yeah, and I love that phrase you mentioned at the start of that about problem solving. Being the mo modus operandi. I think that’s, that’s just such a great ethos. And if you are going to share a top tip for another business, either wanting to go circular or start something circular, what, what would be your number one tip?
Kresse Wesling 40:24
Well, the number one tip is to start with, with a problem, don’t start thinking I want to come up with a circle. There are enough problems around definitely start with one of those. But also, you just got to constantly be thinking about death, the death of a product and the chaos of the consumer. Because if anything can go wrong at the end of a product’s life, it will. So you have to build into your business model, how you’re going to get it back, how you’re going to retain those molecules. You have to, you can’t think about how you’re going to make it how you’re going to market it, how you’re going to sell it, you have to think about its death first.
Catherine Weetman 41:03
And that that brings me back to something that he very kindly allowed me to share in the Circle Economy Handbook. After I’d seen your presentation at the Institute for manufacturing, that you had a well, I think it was a napkin wasn’t it that you took a photo of and it went up as a slide. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed by the publisher to put the the handwritten crumpled photo into the books, I had to make it into a PowerPoint slide. But you had your description of kind of key criteria for the perfect product. So it’d be great if you could share some of those. And perhaps as it’s now, you know, seven years on from that is, is there anything that you’ve added to that or anything you change?
Kresse Wesling 41:50
I think what’s fascinating about about it is that we still use, we basically, you know, I still have that that slip of paper. And I still in pretty much every presentation I give us that slide because it is it is to me the benchmark for any new good. So the the key elements for us is that it has to be designed for deconstruction. So IE designed with death in mind. And for us that meant it would be circular. We thought it had to be component based, like Lego. And the reason I said like Legos because everybody gets what Lego is so it, it makes it suddenly unknowable thing, you know, how are you going to build that house? I’m going to build it like Lego, how are you going to build that plane, I’m going to build it like Lego then. Then people sort of start to think Yep, that’s what design deconstruction means. We also felt like it needed to be swappable, shareable, engaging. Because we were we were talking you know, we don’t work in the b2b space, we work in the b2c space. So we wanted this to be fun for people. And we wanted it to, we wanted other people to feel like it belonged to them. Because crucially, there’s been all these studies done around the longevity of items. And if people feel engaged in the CO creation of an item, they’re much more likely to hang on to it for the long term. So that was the, I suppose the last thing on that slide was something about it having a life of its own. And this is really, this is really wild, I suppose, especially in the design world, or in the creative sector, where people revere designers, and how genius and wonderful they are. Well in the circular economy world. What you if you design like this for deconstruction, what you’re saying from day one, is that someone else at some other time in the future, may be able to do something better than this, with this than I can do right now. It’s not about the designer anymore. It’s not about ego. It’s just about enablement, and engagement. And the only other thing I would add to this slide really is that everything has to be regenerative. Because it isn’t enough just to be sustainable at the at the very low, low place we are with respect to people and climate. It we need to be giving back more than we’re taking now.
Catherine Weetman 44:14
Yeah, I think that’s that’s incredibly important. And as well as that there’s the kind of just misuse and and meaninglessness of the word sustainability because it’s being greenwashed so so much. So cracy you’ve talked a lot about your kind of ethos and and, you know, the importance of key principles for the business. So is do you have a personal value or or a value that that’s part of the business that you’d like to share with other people that you think moves us towards a better world?
Kresse Wesling 44:54
Yeah, and it’s um, you know, I’ve nicking it from my grandmother because She, I really I keep trying to remember the conversation and what we were talking about. But perhaps it was not important what we were talking about. But she said to me kind of as an offhand comment one day when I was maybe 12, or 13, if you’re capable, you’re responsible. And I think about that every single day. If you see an injustice in the world, you can’t be a bystander, you have to be an upstander. If you see a problem that you think you can tackle, then you have to tackle it. We can’t wait for the problems that we’re facing, particularly with respect to climate change, to be solved by someone else, somewhere else. Everybody’s got to be doing this all the time, in all the actions that they take in their life. I was. I saw an article and I have to go read this now, because I just saw the title of it, that actually, we talked too much about our carbon footprint, and we need to talk about our carbon shadow. Because our shadow is much bigger than our footprint. And the shadow is actually all the decisions you make all the things you decide to spend your time on. Who do you work for? What does that company believe it? What does that company achieving? What are you doing with your time and your talent? What organisations are you associated with? What decisions are they making? How are How are you, with your friends? Are you encouraging them to try local seasonal plant based recipes? Occasionally? Not all the time? But, you know, occasionally Are you talking to them about the UN’s diet for climate change? Are you are you making your own purchasing decisions in a sustainable way? Are you actively travelling less, particularly when it comes to plane travel? You know, all of the all of the impact of the million decisions that you make every day are enormous. It’s not just the big ticket ones, like buying an electric car versus a versus a petrol car. There’s so much impact we can all have,
Catherine Weetman 47:07
huh? Yeah, that’s that’s fantastic. And yeah, I think I’ll be quoting you in in something else. Next Next week for the United Nations. Circular Economy course. Nice. So the I’m doing a webinar with Sandra Goldmark, the author of Fixation, who I interviewed on a podcast, so we’re both doing a slot on how people can be more circular in their own lives. So yeah, I’ve kind of called it circular change maker. So yeah, if it’s okay, I’ll I’ll quote you on that. Go for it. So Kresse, who would you recommend as a future guest for the programme?
Kresse Wesling 47:52
I would definitely recommend Joe Chidley from Beauty Kitchen because she she in every conversation you you have what that she’s a part of whatever, whether it be an private online forum or a panel discussion or she she talks about rinse, fulfil, repeat, rinse, fulfil, repeat, she sells soaps and shampoos, and it comes in stainless steel. Packaging can be rinsed, refilled, you repeat. And it’s a simple message and it’s very effective and the products are good. And not only is she did she pioneer this for beauty kitchen, but beauty kitchen is sharing this system with other companies. She’s a energetic and generous person. She gets the circular economy fundamentally. And she’s built a business that is succeeding in that in this space because she’s in this space. It’s it’s not a challenge for her. It’s it’s again, it’s the mo of what she does, and it’s why they’re winning.
Catherine Weetman 48:52
And what was her surname again? Jo?
Kresse Wesling 48:54
Catherine Weetman 48:54
Chidley Okay, brilliant. look her up that sounds fascinating – and Kresse, how can people find out more about Elvis and Kresse and what you’re doing and get in touch?
Kresse Wesling 49:06
Well, you can come to our website, which is www dot Elvis and cressy.com and that’s a n d. My name is a bit tricky to spell. So it’s k r e s, s E. And all of our social media handles are Elvis and Kresse. So Elvis and Kresse or even come to see our beautiful constructed wetland in North Kent. We’re just outside Faversham and literally anyone who’s come here since the 10th of August, when when, when it was complete, that’s the first place I take them. I was like, do I see him cool? Even if it’s a postman? I was like, you want to see where’s it goes? It’s amazing. So yeah, I’m, I’m very proud of our first big infrastructure project. Yeah, I
Catherine Weetman 49:51
can imagine and yeah, it sounds sounds fascinating. I did a permaculture course. When we first moved up here, so about 20 212 2013 and yeah, they’re just some some really brilliant concepts and design principles and we should be applying it to every aspect of business as well, shouldn’t we? So that’s that. That’s fantastic. I could sit here and ask you more questions for four hours because it’s there’s just been such fascinating conversation. And I really love the ethos of the obvious aggressive business. And I look forward to finding out what happens over the next few years. So Kresse, thank you very much.
Kresse Wesling 50:34
No, thanks a lot. Me too. I can’t wait for the next few years.
Want to find out more about the circular economy?
To go deeper, you could buy Catherine’s book, A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business. This comprehensive guide uses a bottom-up, practical approach, and includes hundreds of real examples from around the world, to help you really ‘get’ the circular economy. Even better, you’ll be inspired with ideas to make your own business more competitive, resilient and sustainable.
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Thanks to Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, otherwise known as the brilliant, inventive and generous folk duo, O’Hooley & Tidow for allowing me to use the instrumentals from the live version of Summat’s Brewin’ as music for the podcast. You can find the whole track (inspired by the Copper Family song “Oh Good Ale”) on their album, also called Summat’s Brewin’. Or, follow them on Twitter.