In the past year, the Burberry Foundation has created a unique partnership with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to transform at least 120 tonnes of leather off-cuts from the production of Burberry products into a range of new luxury accessories and homeware.
By demonstrating what can be achieved when leather waste is revalued and created into entirely new products, Elvis & Kresse and the Burberry Foundation aim to affect real change in the supply chain of the leather goods industry. Where leather waste is usually destroyed, the partnership with Elvis & Kresse is disrupting traditional approaches and revealing new solutions.
Read more about this innovative approach in an interview with Kresse Wesling MBE, Co-Founder of Elvis & Kresse.
How did your relationship with Burberry begin?
Kresse: Burberry first approached us in 2014. They were closing out an existing five-year social and environmental plan while planning their next ambitious five-year programme. They were impressed by our commitment to materials rescue and charitable donations and we started to discuss how we might collaborate. As you can imagine it took quite a while to develop a plan capable of saving significant material and worthy of both our businesses. When Burberry launched their new agenda in the fall of 2017 our project was a key component of their vision and we are now implementing and evolving this plan.
What does your partnership with the Burberry Foundation involve?
Kresse: We have partnered with Burberry Foundation to solve our most ambitious material challenge to date: the vast amounts of waste created through the production of leather goods. It is estimated that each year, 800,000 tonnes of leather waste is produced by the global leather industry. Through this partnership, we will demonstrate how the traditional leather goods supply chain can be disrupted and changed for the better. We will also transform at least 120 tonnes of leather off-cuts from the production of Burberry products into new luxury accessories and homeware. Half of the profits from this range will be donated to charitable causes focused on renewable energy. The remaining half will be reinvested to expand our work in reducing and reusing waste, protecting the environment and inspiring craftspeople.
Tell us about the process behind turning Burberry’s leather off-cuts into brand new products.
Kresse: No matter how carefully patterns for leather goods are planned, high quality, unused, freshly tanned and dyed leather falls to the cutting room floor as seemingly unusable pieces. Our system transforms leather fragments from the production of Burberry leather goods into components. The first step is to coordinate with Burberry production to ensure the smooth collection of off-cuts. When they arrive at our site in Kent we sort them into size and colour. We typically only start the cutting process when we know which item we will make, ensuring that we don't over-cut any particular shape. We then plan our cuts carefully, ensuring that we produce as little of our own off-cuts as possible. Each component of our system is then individually cut before it is hand woven, piece by piece, into whatever it is we need. This could be anything from a panel for a bag, a large leather rug or tapestry, upholstery, pouffe, or works of art.
Elvis & Kresse captures the imagination of people around the world, and you’ve sometimes had some unusual requests for bespoke products. Tell us about the most unusual project you’ve completed for a client.
Kresse: We designed and built an entirely circular kitchen using only reclaimed pallets and scaffolding wood. It consists of hundreds of pieces, with no two the same, and had to be built twice. We first built it in our workshop to make sure it was perfect, then we numbered each piece before taking it apart and then rebuilding it in its forever home. It is the most beautiful and yet utilitarian jigsaw-like installation; to us it feels like a genuine cross between a kitchen and a piece of art.
What are some of the other raw materials that you transform?
Kresse: London's hoses will always be our first love, but we rescue more than 10 materials on a regular basis and have created unique products with all of them. We work with failed parachute panels and auction banners for our lining materials and dust covers. We collect Yorkshire Tea Sacks, transforming them into our brochures, leaflets and mailing envelopes. Additional packaging and labeling is made from second hand shoe boxes and coffee sacks. As range staples we also reclaim printing blankets, split scaffolding wood, and Burberry leather off-cuts. Finally, we always enjoy welcoming people to our home and workshop in Kent, Tonge Mill. We began a restoration adventure here in 2013 working the same way that we make our products, with rescued or reclaimed materials. It is a difficult and slow way to renovate a building, but it is the only way to create a truly luxurious, bespoke result that doesn't compromise on our environmental values.
Is there any other material that you would really like to work with?
Kresse: Unfortunately, we live in wasteful times. This means the list of materials we would like to rescue is incredibly long and represents millions of tonnes of valuable material. We know that our particular style of alchemy is a powerful solution for all kinds of materials but we have to focus. Right now, we are committed to solving the leather issue.
Find out more about our partnership with The Burberry Foundation, here.