The rich, red lustrous coils of London hose that Kresse fell in love with
Fire-hoses were first invented in Holland in the late 1600s. They were made from hundreds of strips of leather stitched together into long tubes. These were heavy and unwieldy, but better than the bucket brigades that preceded them. Leather hoses, in various forms, were used up until the 1890’s when they started to be replaced by woven linen hoses. The linen weave would swell just enough, when the hose was soaked through, to keep most of the water moving forward. These linen hoses were light, but they could rot and they leaked.
Fire-Hoses in use during The Blitz (London Fire Brigade archive)
Modern hoses are all composites. Most have a woven structural core or outer, with a rubber jacket or a rubber inner. They have different designs for different situations and activities. The hose that is used by the London Fire Brigade today, the hose that we collect, consists of a woven nylon core with a nitrile rubber jacket extruded through and around that core. 95% of the hose we collect is red, just under 5% is yellow and occasionally we will bring home a black or blue hose. The black and blue are so rare that we only ever make cufflinks from them. Most of our red hoses are a 10cm diameter layflat hose. Being ‘layflat’ means that although the hose looks round when it is full of water, it flattens out to a 10cm width when it is empty, which makes it easier to roll, store and carry.
The reason why hose has these two layers, the nylon and the rubber, is to ensure that it can do its job. The nylon is woven into a tube, it has no seams or joins, and is as long as the hose itself. It is this nylon element that ensures structural integrity, keeping the hose from bulging or bursting or kinking when under intense pressure from the water. The vulcanised nitrile rubber is heat resistant and waterproof. It has ridges on its outside face to protect the hose when it is being dragged through glass or other dangerous situations and it has a dimpled inner surface, a lot like that of a golf ball, which helps water to move swiftly through the hose.
At each end of a hose you find a reusable coupling - and these are something that we rarely collect as they are reusable. The metal ends of our hoses are made from cast aluminium and even when a hose dies, they can be refitted to new hoses. We only collect them when they are damaged beyond repair. Unlike hoses these couplings could readily be recycled, into new aluminium items, but we can achieve two great things by carefully cleaning, polishing and cherishing each set. Firstly, we can give them a second life (and reuse should always be your first choice before recycling) and secondly, we can generate much more than their straight scrap metal value for our partners in the fire service and the Fire Fighters Charity by lovingly transforming them into candlestick holders. We are told they make fantastic wedding gifts too...
Fire-hoses are decommissioned for one of two reasons. The first reason is life-span. Hoses have an approved health and safety life of 25 years. When they reach this age, they are taken out of service.
The second reason is damage. Each fire-hose that we collect is on average 22 meters long. Fire-hoses have to be long, they have to travel from their water source (either a fire truck or a fire hydrant) to the site of the fire. Certain punctures can be patched and repaired, just like you would repair a bike tyre. But no two punctures are the same. If the puncture is small and in the middle of one of the ‘layflat’ faces of the hose, this can be patched. However, if there is a catastrophic tear somewhere near the eleventh meter, which goes over or around one of the curved edges of the hose, then that is it. Game over. If it is too damaged to repair it is no longer a fire-hose.
The Elvis & Kresse Classic Tote
It was five days before Christmas, 2016, and we got a frantic phone call. ‘Please help!’ begged the male caller. He had just taken a sneak peak at the purse he was planning to give his fiancée for Christmas. This particular piece had the name "Angus" in bold black capitals on one of the panels. The problem? Our caller was not called Angus, but what do you think was the name of his fiancée’s ex? Yep, Angus. We immediately sent out a replacement, just in time for the holiday.
Angus Duraline is a brand name for the best fire-hoses in the world, the Angus comes from the founder George Angus, who first registered his company in 1888. We get emails almost weekly, from every country you can name, asking if they can buy the damaged hoses that we collect from the fire service. It is that good.
The traditional design process starts with a concept. There is very likely a sketch, whether this be of a dress, a plane, a house or an interior. The materials are then acquired to achieve that particular design. Elvis & Kresse like to work backward. We start with a problem. When we first brought the hose home we were looking at it as nitrile rubber and nylon. It couldn’t be fire-hose anymore, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t have an incredible second life. We analysed the entire problem too, not just the material. Where was the hose waste? How much of it gets decommissioned each year? What kind of industry should we target? What kind of product could we make that could potentially solve the whole fire-hose problem? How could we have the biggest positive impact?
Elvis, carrying our Messenger Bag, at Tonge Mill, the home of Elvis & Kresse
We spent a lot of time working out what fire-hose was before we made our first belt. But after that belt we never looked back. Since then, our only goal for the hose has been to cherish it. We know that the best way to ensure it has a long and healthy second life is to love it, embed highly skilled craftsmanship into every piece, and focus on classic, utilitarian shapes that won’t pigeon hole any of our products into a particular season. The only way for you to love it, is if we present it at its incredible, beautiful best.Fire-hoses start off as a life-saving tool of a tremendously heroic trade. We rescue them, transform them into heritage classics and then donate 50% of the profits to the Fire Fighters Charity (FFC). The hose saves us, we save the hose, and the FFC helps to save fire service personnel. We couldn’t imagine a better way to honour the fire-hoses and the firefighters.