NEW DIRECTIONS

Three women tell Fiona Wright how their pas­sion for en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, eth­i­cal prod­ucts have given them suc­cess­ful busi­nesses that give back ‘I make lux­ury bags from re­cy­cled fire hose and do­nate to The Fire Fight­ers Char­ity’

Woman & Home - - CONTENT -

OUR BUSI­NESSES DO WELL BY DO­ING GOOD!

KRESSE WESLING MBE, 40, IS FOUNDER OF ELVIS & KRESSE, A SUS­TAIN­ABLE BUSI­NESS MAK­ING LUX­URY BAGS AND GOODS FROM DE­COM­MIS­SIONED FIRE

HOSE. SHE DO­NATES 50% OF HER PROF­ITS TO THE FIRE FIGHT­ERS CHAR­ITY.

✢ THE IDEA

I HAVE A BACK­GROUND IN FI­NANCE AND VEN­TURE CAP­I­TAL, BUT I HAD A KEEN IN­TER­EST IN SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY AND

HAD LEFT TO SET UP A SMALL BIODEGRAD­ABLE PACK­AG­ING COM­PANY. I’D GONE ON AN EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL MAN­AGE­MENT COURSE TO IM­PROVE THE IM­PACT MY COM­PANY HAD ON THE EN­VI­RON­MENT. I MET OF­FI­CERS FROM THE LON­DON FIRE BRIGADE, WHO WERE ALSO TAKING THE COURSE, AND GOT TALK­ING TO THEM. THEY MEN­TIONED THAT THE HOSES THEY USED GO TO LAND­FILL BE­CAUSE OF THE NY­LON CORE, SO WHEN THEY START TO LEAK, IT WENT TO LAND­FILL. I WAS HOR­RI­FIED AND ASKED IF I COULD GO AND HAVE A LOOK. THE HOSE IS SUCH A GOR­GEOUS RICH, RED COLOUR, AND IT’S IN­CRED­I­BLY TAC­TILE. I COULDN’T BE­LIEVE THESE HUGE, BEAU­TI­FUL COILS WOULD BE THROWN AWAY. I ASKED IF I COULD HAVE SOME, AND ENDED UP STAG­GER­ING BACK HOME ON MY BIKE WITH 40 KI­LOS’ WORTH. MY NEXT CHAL­LENGE WAS WHAT TO DO WITH THEM. AT FIRST, I THOUGHT THEY WOULD MAKE FAN­TAS­TIC ROOF TILES, BUT I DIS­COV­ERED WHEN THEY DRY OUT, THEY CRACK AND BREAK. I DID A LOT OF RE­SEARCH ON NICHE WASTE PROD­UCTS, AND STUM­BLED ON A RE­PORT WHICH SAID THAT VERY FEW HIGH-END LUXE COM­PA­NIES ACHIEVE ETH­I­CAL EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL PER­FOR­MANCE TAR­GETS. THAT WAS MY LIGHT BULB MO­MENT – GOR­GEOUS PROD­UCTS MADE OF HOSE RUB­BER. MY FIRST PROD­UCT WAS A BELT THAT MY PART­NER, ELVIS, MADE OUT OF THE RUB­BER WHEN HIS BROKE. HE BOUGHT A SEWING MA­CHINE, TAUGHT HIM­SELF HOW TO SEW AND MADE ME A SIM­PLE HAND­BAG. FRIENDS AND FAM­ILY LOVED WHAT WE MADE. I KNEW IT WAS A WIN­NER.

✢ MAK­ING IT HAP­PEN

I SKETCHED A FEW DE­SIGNS AND SET ABOUT TRY­ING TO FIND A FAC­TORY THAT WOULD MAKE WHAT I WANTED. WE TRIED ALL OVER EUROPE BUT NO ONE COULD DO IT, AND CER­TAINLY NOT IN THE TINY NUM­BERS THAT I NEEDED TO KICK-START THE BUSI­NESS. IN THE END, I MAN­AGED TO FIND A FAM­ILY-RUN FAC­TORY IN RO­MA­NIA THAT COULD TURN THE HOSE INTO WORK­ABLE MA­TE­RIAL AND AP­PLY HIGH-END PRO­DUC­TION VAL­UES TO MY DE­SIGNS. I LOVED THAT LOTS OF THE HOSE HAD SCUFFS AND LET­TER­ING ON IT, WHICH GAVE IT PROVE­NANCE AND AN IN­DI­CA­TION THAT MY BAGS AND BELTS ONCE FOUGHT FIRES AND SAVED LIVES. I HAD THE BUCK­LES AND STUDS MADE FROM BRASS, PEWTER OR STEEL, AND THE LIN­INGS AND DUSTBAGS ARE MADE

FROM ORANGE RE­CY­CLED PARA­CHUTE SILK, WHICH I FOUND ON­LINE. I DID A SO­CIAL

ME­DIA CAM­PAIGN AND MAN­AGED TO PRE-SELL OR­DERS SIX MONTHS IN AD­VANCE TO HIGH-END BOU­TIQUES. WE BILLED OUR­SELVES AS A SO­CIAL EN­TER­PRISE AND

FULLY SUS­TAIN­ABLE COM­PANY US­ING

SKILLED CRAFTS­MEN, PAY­ING THEM WELL.

✢ HIGHS

WE’D BE­GUN TO GET AT­TEN­TION IN THE PRESS AND GAR­NER AWARDS, SUCH AS THE HSBC START-UP STARS GREEN AWARD, THE SHELL EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR­IAL WOMAN OF THE FU­TURE AND THE CARTIER WOMEN’S INI­TIA­TIVE AWARD. IN 2009, AMER­I­CAN Vogue CALLED US AND ASKED FOR SAM­PLES. I SAID NO BE­CAUSE WE DIDN’T HAVE A MAR­KET­ING

BUD­GET, NOT RE­ALLY UN­DER­STAND­ING THE

FULL IM­PACT OF WHAT BE­ING IN Vogue

WOULD MEAN. TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT, FA­MOUS PHOTOGRAPHER MARIO TESTINO ENDED UP SHOOT­ING CAMERON DIAZ IN ONE OF OUR BELTS AND PUTTING HER ON THE COVER. THE MAG­A­ZINE BRANDED US “THE FU­TURE OF LUX­URY” AND AF­TER THAT, EV­ERY­THING

WENT BONKERS AND OUR WEB­SITE NEARLY CRASHED FROM THE NUM­BER OF SALES. IN 2013, I WAS ASKED IF I WOULD AC­CEPT AN MBE FOR SER­VICES TO COR­PO­RATE SO­CIAL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY. MEET­ING THE QUEEN WAS AMAZ­ING AND SHE AC­TU­ALLY SAID THANK YOU FOR OUR WORK, WHICH RE­ALLY TOUCHED ME.

✢ LOWS

IN 2010 THE RO­MA­NIAN FAC­TORY WE USED WERE OF­FERED A MORE LU­CRA­TIVE CON­TRACT AND, WITH­OUT WARN­ING, JUST STOPPED PRO­DUC­ING OUR PROD­UCTS. IT WAS VERY TOUGH. WE’D AL­WAYS BEEN VERY FAIR AND LOYAL TO THEM BUT WE LEARNED THE HARD WAY THAT NO MAT­TER WHAT YOUR VAL­UES AND MORALS ARE, NOT EV­ERY­ONE WILL SHARE THEM. OUR AL­TER­NA­TIVE WAS TO AC­TU­ALLY BUY A FAC­TORY IN THE UK TO MAN­U­FAC­TURE SO WE SOLD OUR FLAT TO DO THAT BUT THE DEAL FELL THROUGH AT THE LAST MINUTE. KEEP­ING THE BUSI­NESS GO­ING NEARLY KILLED US, BUT WE GRIT­TED OUR TEETH, FOUND A TEM­PO­RARY SITE, MOVED IN WITH FRIENDS AND KEPT GO­ING.

✢ WHERE I AM NOW

WE NOW WORK OUT OF A STUN­NING MILL IN KENT WITH A STAFF OF 12, WHICH WILL GROW TO 15 BY THE END OF THE YEAR. WE GIVE 50% OF OUR PROF­ITS TO THE FIRE FIGHT­ERS CHAR­ITY. WE SELL THE MA­JOR­ITY OF OUR PROD­UCTS THROUGH THE WEB­SITE, WHICH IS MORE PROF­ITABLE

FOR US, BUT WE’RE STOCKED BY 18 RE­TAIL LUX­URY OUT­LETS AROUND THE WORLD.

TIP RE­SEARCH PROFIT MAR­GINS, COSTINGS AND LO­GIS­TICS WHILE YOU’RE STILL EM­PLOYED. IT’LL SAVE YOU TIME AND MONEY LATER. >>

“My bags and belts once fought fires and saved lives”

WASH BAGS MADE FROM GEN­UINE DE­COM­MIS­SIONED FIRE HOSE

THE HARD-WEAR­ING HOSE IS PER­FECT FOR A STURDY WEEK­END BAG KRESSE WITH THE BEAU­TI­FUL BAGS SHE CRE­ATES FROM DIS­CARDED FIRE HOSE

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