Shaper: Kresse Wesling

Show aired on 16th January 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The uplifting sound of Curtis Mayfield with Move on Up. Hello, this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Mott, thank you so much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is where you get to hear the worlds of business and music come together, perfectly. Normally I have a Business Shaper, I have got one today, they are somebody who is doing interesting things in the world of business and I will also play for you some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. My Business Shaper is Kresse Wesling and she is one of the co-founders of a brand called Elvis & Kresse; they are environmental designers, they make really beautiful things from products that have maybe seen better times but they make them look absolutely extraordinary. You will be hearing lots from Kresse about her amazing business and all the work that she does in the world of charity as well. In addition to hearing from Kresse you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business. And then the music, well we’ve got brilliant music today from Ibrahim Maalouf, new music from Christian Scott and this from Rebecca Ferguson.

What Is This Thing Called Love? Is what Rebecca Fergusson was asking and of course it is a Billie Holiday cover. Kresse Wesling is my Business Shaper, as I mentioned earlier she is one of the co-founders of Elvis & Kresse. They make beautiful things from stuff that has already had a former life…

Kresse Wesling
Yes.

Elliot Moss
…other materials. Kresse, thank you so much for joining me. In your own words describe what you do.

Kresse Wesling
I think what we do is rescue, we are engaged in a rescue, so if you think about the planet and the state that we are in there is a lot of problems. One of the biggest problems for me is landfill and we started this business really as a response to landfill. We didn’t want lovely materials languishing in the dirt and when we first discovered London’s fire-hose I knew that was the best way to probably start a dialogue publicly about landfill because it is beautiful, it’s history laden, people love firemen and the material itself is so…

Elliot Moss
They really do, I mean they really do, my wife and all her friends love firemen, I have never really understood that.

Kresse Wesling
Because they are heroes.

Elliot Moss
Maybe I’m just jealous. Is that what it is?

Kresse Wesling
They are heroes.

Elliot Moss
It’s certainly not the outfit.

Kresse Wesling
You know, someone who would run into a burning building to save a child, you know, there is something wonderful about that.

Elliot Moss
Of course.

Kresse Wesling
And that wonderfulness, I think, rubs off on the material, on the hoses that they use. Hoses are 22 metres long and if you get an enormous hole somewhere down the middle of a hose you have to decommission it, you have to throw it away because short hoses are of no use to them but short hoses are of complete wonderful use to me because I can cut out that one hole and turn a hose into any number of wonderful things.

Elliot Moss
Now you didn’t start in this world of work doing things to do with rescuing beautiful material.

Kresse Wesling
No.

Elliot Moss
Tell me a little bit about how the Politics and Chinese student from McGill in Canada, you are Canadian, we always make the distinction from Canadians and Americans…

Kresse Wesling
Yes, yes.

Elliot Moss
…and you are definitely Canadian. Tell me a little bit about your journey from the world of money and the venture capital into this world that you have now entered.

Kresse Wesling
It is certainly, I suppose, a long journey but fairly straight forward. When you are born and raised in Canada you have this big playground and it’s nature and it’s bear and it’s moose and it’s wonderful and you sort of assume that that’s the way the world is and then I got a scholarship to study in Hong Kong when I was sixteen years old and I did a two year programme there at a United Royal College and I was just transported into this city state where I was living with students from seventy different countries, our goal was to discover solutions for world peace through being educated together, so it was quite a liberal place, and yet in Hong Kong itself you have the untreated sewage of 7 million people going straight into the sea. Okay. So you have all these wonderful things happening in my brain and at the time I did think that the way to go back into the world as an adult might be to do it through the political spectrum so when I left Hong Kong I went back to Canada, I went to McGill, and I studied Politics because I genuinely thought I will be Prime Minister of Canada and will sort things out, and what I discovered while doing a political degree was that I have more a dictatorial nature and…

Elliot Moss
Great self-awareness.

Kresse Wesling
..well, I don’t think it was self-awareness, I think people were telling me…

Elliot Moss
People just told you. Yes.

Kresse Wesling
Yes.

Elliot Moss
You learnt to be self-aware when they all said you were a dictator.

Kresse Wesling
Yes. I like to do things in a certain way, I don’t like to compromise, particularly when it comes to the environment or when it comes to values and I think that although I love and appreciate democracy and I am so grateful to live in one, I couldn’t possibly work in that system, it’s too reactive, it’s too compromising and I think it’s terrible that we criticise people for U-turns when actually they should be allowed to understand they’ve made an error and fix it. You know, I just don’t like the political space. So then I had to seek other avenues and got miraculously hired by a venture capitalist and although she wasn’t values laden she was very good at spotting opportunity so I learned amazing things from her in Hong Kong and then learned that basically for me the best way to get things done would be to do it via the business spectrum or the business vehicle because as soon as you are making money you can do what you want. I learned that businesses are quite liberating that way. A good place for a dictatorial person like myself.

Elliot Moss
And we are going to hold it right there, that’s exactly where I want to leave it because, yes, wait to see what the dictator went and did next. Time for some music before you get to hear that. It’s Twin, it’s from Christian Scott, it’s new music from the innovative New Orleans trumpet player.

That was Twin from Christian Scott, the trumpeter, and if you are interested there is an app called Stretch Music which he has created and you can actually remove the trumpet sections and play along yourself. How about that for a bit of innovation. I have been talking to Kresse Wesling and she is my Business Shaper today, the co-founder of Elvis & Kresse, they make things from rescued materials, the thought came to Kresse when she saw a huge pile of hoses, apparently, in one of the London Brigade fire stations. We were talking earlier about your nature, your dictatorial nature, and the fact that you realised that if you became a business leader you would have some kind of authority and ability to do the things you wanted to do beyond making a buck and the business that you created with actually your partner as well, not just your business partner, but Elvis is his nickname but his real name is James so we’ll call him James for a moment. Is the making money part, the creating stuff from rescued materials, the core interest for you or is the core interest for you talking about the issues that surround, you mentioned it straight away, landfill? Or is it both equally balanced?

Kresse Wesling
This is my favourite question to answer because I think the big problem with the business world is the focus on money. Money isn’t why anyone should do anything. Money is WD-40, right? So, yes, it’s quite important to have because the wheels have to stay greased. Nobody would allow me to continue to collect fire-hose, least of all Elvis, if we weren’t making money doing it. So the money is a licence to continue to do the wonderful things that running a business should allow you to do but for sure for us the focus is getting something done and when we first discovered the fire-hose we took it on as a problem that we could solve. That is the focus of the business. Can we solve this problem? Are we the best people to solve this problem? Are we the most innovative and interesting people to apply our brains to this particular material? Can we do something unique? Can we do something special? Can we maximise the value, latent, in the material? And then the money happens to be made as a by-product of that but the money is important only because it helps the business to continue, it helps us to hire people, it helps us to take on more materials so money is important but only as grease.

Elliot Moss
It sounds like this is really your thing as in the issue-based approach you have to the world is not one that you have invented to find an angle in the market, it is just what makes you you, it’s part of your value set and I was reading recently Oliver Sacks’ book, he passed away recently, and his obsession was with looking after people but he spent all his time doing that. It sounds like you are kind of obsessed in a good way about the planet. If that’s the case, is making money, I mean you have mentioned it’s grease is the thing, but in reality, for you, is it a distraction?

Kresse Wesling
No, it’s not a distraction for me personally because I have Elvis to be the rational business partner who keeps his eye on that sort of thing so we do these, we have this wonderful partnership, people call us a social enterprise, that’s the movement I suppose we are categorised under and I do the social and he does the enterprise. So there is between us a knowledge and enough to make sure that the business stays open and the business does well. I also want the business to be doing very well financially because that makes it a more interesting proposition for other people to get into. You know, my goal for saving the environment, we all need to have this goal, it’s fairly black and white, you are either in or you are out. This isn’t a political spectrum thing, you are either in or you are out. You either care and give a damn about your grandchildren or other people’s grandchildren as the case may be, or you don’t. And Elvis and I really genuinely do and that’s why we run the business the way that we do and we want the business to be successful because the more successful it is the more people will copy us, the more people will come into this space, the more people will think, ‘Oh I can live my life this way, I can run a business this way’.

Elliot Moss
Well, stay with me to find out and you can decide for yourself whether you are in or out and let’s hope you are all in otherwise Kresse will be coming to talk to you about why you shouldn’t be thinking what you are thinking. Fantastic stuff. Latest travel, more mundanely, in a couple of minutes but before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your burgeoning business idea.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, every Saturday I have the privilege and pleasure of meeting someone who is shaping the world of business. The person shaping the world of business and a lot more besides today is Kresse Wesling, she is one of the co-founders of Elvis & Kresse and they make lovely products from rescued materials but as you will have been hearing earlier Kresse’s focus as part of that is that the more successful they are the more they are able to actually deliver on their social mission which is to ensure that the planet is still there doing good things for our grandchildren and so on. A big part of many people I interview are their values but I don’t think I can recall someone where their values really are on an equal footing with the purpose of their business. I think I am right in saying, tell me if I am wrong, 50% of all your profits go to charitable endeavours?

Kresse Wesling
Yes.

Elliot Moss
And how do you manage to live on that, have you just decided what you and Elvis can exist on financially? Have you cut your cloth accordingly or is the business making so much money that this is an irrelevant question?

Kresse Wesling
Well I think we need to think about profit. Profit is surplus at the end of the year, it’s what you have made, it’s in excess of your needs in theory. And most businesses use profit to reinvest, we just use 50% of our profits to reinvest and actually I can consider the charitable donations to be a reinvestment because they are always linked to the raw materials that we rescue so in the case of the fire-hose all of the sales that happen of the fire-hose collection the 50% donation at the end of the year goes to the fire fighters charity so it goes back into the fire service community and having 66,000 stakeholders, because that is how many fire service personnel there are in this country, is an incredibly powerful support for a young, growing business, you couldn’t pay for that kind of brand ambassadorship and I think why not do it in this way, it’s a completely different way but I have often made, you know, parallels in business. I met one of the, I think he was one of the chairmen of Shell, at the time I thought there was just one, and I said look why don’t you give 50% of your profits to charity or not, why don’t you reinvest 50% of your profits in renewable energy. Do you know how many people would go to Shell for their petrol, all of us, we’d all go there, and apparently there was, you know, shareholder revolt and all these other issues that they might have to face and maybe that’s why it’s useful not to have shareholders I suppose.

Elliot Moss
And on that point, the partnership works, the two of you who, you know, became, had a relationship, an incredible relationship before you came into business. The nuances of that, do they work? Are there often, are there sometimes, tensions that you can’t resolve as easily because you are involved as a couple, as an engaged couple indeed?

Kresse Wesling
Actually I think there definitely are tensions but I think they are easier to resolve because we are a couple. You can’t ever run away from this business because it’s a personal commitment that we’ve both made. I think a lot of people have their home life and their work life and we don’t, we have a life, we live it all together and in the same way that I fell in love with Elvis when I first met him, I fell in love with the fire-hose and I like to bring all of that into my life and we like to have that all together, all in one place, we live and work in the site as well and that’s really to save time. If you have a mission, if you want to get something done, you had better do it with the people that you love and find most interesting, most funny, most challenging, you know why would I spend all of this time with someone other than Elvis? He is the coolest person I have ever met and to start a business with another person would just mean I got less time with Elvis, that would be really terrible and it would also be detrimental to the business itself so I think running a business with a partner actually helps and we have such disparate skill sets that we don’t really crash that often, there is very few times when we come against a hurdle we can’t sort of jump over together quite happily.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Kresse, my fantastic Business Shaper today. Time for some music, this is Ibrahim Maalouf, I believe he is Lebanese, I love this track, I have said it before, I will say it again, it’s called Essentielles.

Essentielles from Ibrahim Maalouf, it’s powerful and punchy isn’t it. Kresse, you talk about partnership within your business and obviously in your line of work, and what I mean by that is, in the line of missions and things you have to build bridges in lots of places. I think in 2012 you were named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, in 2011 you were the European winner of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, you’ve got an MBE; all these things say to me that you are good at creating relationships with people that need to hear you and do something about it. Is that true and, if so, where do you think that capacity has come from?

Kresse Wesling
I think that we do something that we believe in, I think that we do it well. When we decided to make handbags out of fire-hoses we decided to make the best possible handbags we could. They are beautiful things and there are a lot of stakeholders involved in that, there is the Fire Service, there is our crafts people, there is everyone that you meet, you need them to believe in you because that’s what they are buying. If you talk about luxury fashion people are buying heritage, provenance, history and we were a start-up, we were young so all we had to share was ourselves and our story and I think it is really easy to share a story like ours because it is what it is; it’s not a marketing tale, it’s not something that we got together in a room and decided to do because it would look good in the media, it’s something we do because we love it and I suppose it is easy to form relationships based on that because people are attracted to that authenticity and we are very open, you know, the workshop we run is open, people can come down, people can stay the weekend, people can discover everything about what we do, it’s very transparent and I think that helps with building relationships.

Elliot Moss
And that being yourself, that authenticity and all that, is that something that you have learnt along the way, and I don’t mean that in a, you are inventing authenticity, I mean, have there been people in your life that have said to you, ‘Kresse just be yourself’. Have you had guidance like that or was it totally inbuilt and from within?

Kresse Wesling
One example in particular when we first started the business we were introduced to someone who used to do brand work for Bentley and at the time we were trying to work out what to call the business and he came and met with us and said, ‘look you guys, you are Elvis and Kresse, it’s who you are, it’s what you do, just put that on the products, be that’ and we thought yeah why not, that makes the most sense because then the story is really about our whole history together and why we are doing this and why it is important. Yeah, he gave us permission to put our names on the products and I think that was super helpful.

Elliot Moss
My final chat is going to be coming up with Kresse plus we will be playing a track from Ella Fitzgerald but that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The iconic Ella Fitzgerald with Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. However many times you hear that it is still brilliant isn’t it. Kresse, we’ve been talking about lots of stuff, mainly that mission is really critical to you and you were told, maybe you realised it yourself, that you are pretty dictatorial but I might want to recontextualise that a little bit, you know what you think, you believe in things and you have a certain purity of thought. How do you get away with not compromising? Because you don’t strike me as a compromiser.

Kresse Wesling
We don’t compromise when it comes to our core values but in certain respects you will always have to compromise somewhere to get something done. I suppose when we compromise you will always hear it from us first. So when we first started we were desperate to make these products, all of them in the UK and we went to a bunch of amazing luxury crafts people in the UK and they all said ‘Ew, I only work with leather. Why would I work with dirty old hoses?’, so we went to France and we went to Spain and eventually we found a workshop in Romania who did unbelievable work and that was our first workshop was in Romania. And that was a compromise for me because there is obviously a footprint associated with shipping the hose out there and shipping the products back but that was the only way to save the hose. So, if I have to compromise a little bit along the way to ensure that the greater mission is being achieved then yes I will but I will also be very, very, very transparent about that and I think that’s the only way to have acceptable compromises is if you can tell them to the world. If you are ashamed of them or embarrassed then you have to turn back and start again.

Elliot Moss
And, aren’t you ever overwhelmed by what you are trying to achieve as part of your mission because any right minded person would say, including me, that the planet’s critical, we’ve got to protect it for my kids, my children’s kids and so on and so forth but the sheer enormity and the processes and the landfill and the superstructures and the world that we live in mean that it’s a really hard fight. Does it ever not just stop you and go, ‘Whoa where do I start?’ or are you, have you started and doesn’t it matter how much you achieve, if you know what I mean?

Kresse Wesling
You would be insane not to be aware of the enormity of this task. It’s not something that I can solve by myself or that Elvis and I can solve together or that the people of the UK can solve as a nation so it’s okay, I think, to have these down days when the IPCC releases its latest report and you are reading it and thinking ‘Hmm, we’re, we had ten years to save the planet and that was about eight years ago so what are going to do now?’. However, we’ve picked a thing that we can solve and I think we are the best in the world at it and that means that we have to stick at that and make sure that works and inspire other people to pick a problem. So whenever I meet with young students, and I often give lectures at the Skoll Centre which is the MBA, the socially minded MBA side of Said Business School at Oxford. I talk to them about how they shouldn’t sit down and just try to think up a business idea, they should try to find a problem somewhere in the world and fix that and let that be the backbone of the business because it means that every day you are going to feel awesome, even if you only get a small percentage of the problem solved.

Elliot Moss
It’s been really brilliant listening to you talk and very inspiring as well. Thank you for that, so early on in the year. Just before I let you go and carry on inspiring other people and doing your thing which is brilliant, what’s your song choice today and why have you chosen it?

Kresse Wesling
I have chosen something from the Modern Jazz Quartet, when I was in school in Hong Kong really good friends of my parents lived there and they gave me tickets to see MJQ and I fell in love with this song and I play it and I play it and I play it and maybe it transports me to somewhere I’ve never really been, which is Spain, and maybe it just chills me out enough to focus on the next task, I’m not sure but I love this piece.

Elliot Moss
And it’s called Concierto de Aranjuez, I believe.

Kresse Wesling
Yes, I’m glad you pronounced that rather than me.

Elliot Moss
Well my Mandarin is no good but my Spanish isn’t too bad. Here it is, especially for you, thank you so much.

Kresse Wesling
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was the Modern Jazz Quartet with Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Kresse Wesling, the co-founder of Elvis & Kresse. Talk about a person on a mission, absolutely focussed on rescuing materials and the environmental quality that we all will hopefully enjoy going forward. Innovation at the core of her business, really important to her and a really interesting approach to an integrated view of her life, work, values and home all coming together in one place, brilliant and unusual stuff. Do join me again same time same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us, coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Kresse Wesling, MBE, 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, from fashion houses to FTSE 100 companies etc.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Kresse on Twitter @elvisandkresse

“We started this business really as a response to landfill. We didn’t want lovely materials languishing in the dirt.”

“Someone who would run into a burning building to save a child…you know, there is something wonderful about that.”

“I was living  with students from 70 different countries; our goal was to discover solutions for world peace through being educated together”

“I studied politics because I genuinely thought I will be Prime Minister of Canada.”

“I think it’s terrible that we criticise people for U-turns when actually they should be allowed to understand they’ve made an error and fix it.”

“…as soon as you are making money you can do what you want. I learned that businesses are quite liberating that way.”

“You either care and give a damn about your grandchildren – or other people grandchildren as the case may be – or you don’t.”

“There are very few times when we come against a hurdle we can’t sort of jump over together quite happily.”

“…the only way to have acceptable compromises is if you can tell them to the world. If you are ashamed of them, then you have to turn back and start again.”