How to build a SUSTAINABLE BRAND

Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing raw materials and transforming them into luxury lifestyle accessories since 2005. Here their co-founder Kresse Wesling provides a blueprint for sustainable businesses

SOLVE AN ACTUAL, CRISIS LEVEL PROBLEM Most entrepreneurs consider themselves to be problem solvers. They roll-out ideas that make life easier, more entertaining, healthier, or safer. But this is 2019, you can’t avoid the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, global social inequalities. If you are building a sustainable brand you absolutely must be engaged with the big problems and if you need inspiration, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a good place to start. We didn’t set Elvis & Kresse up to create a luxury goods brand, our sole reason for starting the business was to rescue London’s damaged, decommissioned fire-hoses and keep them from languishing in landfill. For reference, by mounting this rescue and working in an ethical and sustainable manner we are tackling the following SDGs: Decent Work and Economic Growth (number 8), Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (9), and Responsible Consumption and Production (12).

FOCUS ON MULTIPLE POSITIVE OBJECTIVES You also have to remember that you can’t solve a big problem sustainably if your solution causes other problems. It isn’t enough to just rescue and rescue material (like we do with fire hoses), we are a certified Social Enterprise and a founding UK B Corp. We are a living wage employer, we use renewable energy, we make all our own packaging from reclaimed materials, we offer apprenticeships, we donate 50 percent of our profits to charity. I serve on the board of Keep Britain Tidy (an amazing waste related charity), and we only take business decisions if we think the outcome will make the world better for other people’s grandchildren, and we never feel like we are done. This is a journey. We can always do more and be better.

LOVE YOUR PROBLEM Be an expert at your problem and be totally committed to it. Remember that the solution might change over time. By remaining wedded to fire-hose we never fail to have impact. By being experts in our waste materials we can adapt and change our business over time while continuing to solve our chosen problems and deliver real change.

BE GENUINE Remember that a brand is meant to stand for something, so stand for something and then deliver. A brand isn’t a stunning logo or a catchy strapline. It is the recognisable manifestation of 
a team, their activities and the goods or services they provide. There are a lot of companies whose brand or identity is more sustainable than their actual work. This kind of disconnect is essentially a lie. Don’t do that. We rescue materials, transform them into beautiful products and donate 50 percent of our profits to charity. The authenticity of our brand is that we deliver, every day, on these promises. We don’t need a marketing strategy; the truth is interesting enough. Last year our donations created three scholarships for female solar engineers at Barefoot College. Through the design, manufacture and sale of accessories, we transformed around 3000kg of leather that would otherwise go to landfill into three scholarships. When the choice is between creating three tonnes of waste or three scholarships, we all know which is the right choice. 

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