Sustainable and ethical luxury fashion brand, Elvis & Kresse, does very simple things; they rescue materials that would otherwise go to landfill, they transform them into beautiful new goods and then they donate 50% of profits to charity. Since 2005 they’ve collected all of London’s decommissioned firehoses, made them into bags/belts/wallets and then donated 50% of profits to The Firefighters Charity.
This week we had the opportunity to chat with Kresse about fashion’s footprint, about a consumer’s role in the pace of the industry, and the industry’s role in climate justice.
Listen to the recording of our chat (where we deep dive into the questions) or read a shortened version of the interview below:
Beth: Hi Kresse, thanks for chatting with me today. ‘Fast fashion’ is a term one hears a lot these days. Can you tell me what it is and why it’s so bad?
Kresse: There’s a lot of elements to fast fashion. One is that there used to be, say, 4 seasons per year, now there seems to be an unlimited number of seasons and drops per year. So the pace at which clothing is being churned out, and consumed, is incredibly quick. Because of this, the wrap-around industry is too fast as well; things have to be couriered and airmailed instead of being sent through the post, you have designers that are burning out because they constantly have to come up with new ideas, you’ve got farmers and garment workers that aren’t being paid well enough… The whole supply chain is poisoned by degradation and human exploitation and that’s because of the pace and the demands that are put on every single person in the supply chain. Fast fashion is essentially social and environmental annihilation, wrapped up as a creative Bonbon and sold to people who probably can’t afford it anyway. It’s a hideous mess.
Beth: How do you think we’re going to change that? Some would say that fast fashion is consumer-driven, others would say that it’s not a consumer’s responsibility and we won’t change until businesses do. Where do you think the responsibility lies?
Kresse: It’s everyone’s responsibility! It is the consumer’s responsibility, it is the producer’s responsibility, it is the government’s responsibility to actually enforce the modern slavery laws that we have. Every aspect of the supply chain has a responsibility and everyone is participating in it, so I don’t think you can blame one group or the other. We are all responsible, and in particular, the people most responsible are those who have a choice. The weaknesses in the system affect the people who are least able to deal with the consequences. What we should be offering is better, more secure jobs, which involve materials that are more environmentally-friendly. This will cost more, so consumers will have to buy less. Maybe the producer would make less profit, but that profit would be more evenly distributed across the supply chain and we would start to have a more sustainable system. It would slow down.
Beth: Are you starting to see that shift towards a slower system or is there still a really long way to go?
Kresse: Certainly there is a bit of a shift, but at the same time the pace of fast fashion brands has sped up. There’s this incredible report written by the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, which said that despite all of the changes that have been made over the past 10 years, the pace within the industry wipes out any positive change whatsoever. This is why we need to be careful of saying ‘Isn’t it great X large brand has a tiny collection which is eco and ethical’ because really that’s just a veneer of greenness that covers the rest of the damage they’re causing. So have there been changes? Yes. But the fastest-growing fashion businesses in the UK are not slow businesses; they are fast, they are exploitative and they degrade the environment.
Beth: Elvis & Kresse’s obsession is waste. What are the fashion industry’s biggest waste areas and how do you think these can be addressed?
Kresse: I think you can really understand a culture and society by what it does and doesn’t value. Archeologists aren’t digging up hoards of waste. This mass burying of stuff we no longer want is very much a modern invention, and it all stems from the onslaught of single-use goods. We just have too many things that are designed with unbelievably durable and wonderful materials that are then only used once. Even if you are recycling those items, this is still a defeat because you’ve used up too many precious resources for one single event.
Beth: Yes, I interviewed Scott from Revive Eco; a company that is turning used coffee grounds into a sustainable alternative to palm oil. He said he feels recycling builds a culture that allows waste to exist because it placates us from feeling guilty about throwing things away. Tell me, is there regulation in the fashion industry that prevents brands from eliminating single-use plastic?
Kresse: In fashion, no. There are no restrictions. Reusables have been cracked in some beauty and some food, so it’s not like it can’t be done. We just need a system in place to encourage it.
Beth: So how can consumers help to build this world that we’ve been talking about?
Kresse: If you’re going to buy something new, think long and hard about it. Research it; is it durable, is it something that you really want? Don’t ever buy something that you’ve just seen for the first time. Or you can buy stuff secondhand. Then, think about what you’re going to do with your time and your talent and your skills; aspire to work in the development of biodegradable materials that don’t cost the earth, or renewable energy technology or social justice work. People have to put their energy into things that regenerate the planet and make people love each other rather than things that are causing damage and pain.
Beth: This leads on to my next question… Obviously fashion’s footprint isn’t purely environmental. There’s a lot of social injustice wrapped up in the industry which needs to be addressed. As a company that believes in fair and ethical treatment of employees, and that has been a Bcorp for over 5 years, how do you think fashion brands can support climate justice and contribute to building an intersectional future?
Kresse: Climate change really is a cultural issue. There’s a lot of people who think we can implement technical fixes and just keep running as normal. But as soon as you scratch below the surface and understand that there is so much modern slavery in food and fashion, and in manufacturing in general, you realise that we can’t really address climate change by doing that. Because it’s still unsustainable. We are allowing an unsustainable lifestyle in some countries to be propped up, and effectively subsidised, by people living elsewhere. And I just don’t know anyone who could justify that. I understand that that’s where we are, but I don’t understand any business that isn’t trying desperately to unpick its relationship with where we are.
Beth: I couldn’t agree more. In the UK at least, our Net Zero commitments are now legally binding, so governments are going to be forced to implement regulations for businesses. It would be sad if they wait for regulation to change, but at the end of the day there are businesses out there that need that push. But I have hope things are changing.
Kresse: Yes we all should. Elvis and I were listening to a podcast and one of the takeaways for us was the idea that hope comes from action, not the other way around. So we all need to keep taking action.
Check out Elvis & Kresse on Instagram.