Why make bags from… reclaimed fire hoses?
Have you ever come across our Elvis & Kresse range whilst browsing our long-lasting products? If the answer is yes - or perhaps you’re seeing them for the first time - you were probably intrigued by the words ‘reclaimed fire hose’. Well, it’s a pretty incredible story.
In 2005, Kresse Wesling had a chance encounter with the London Fire Brigade. The moment she laid eyes on their decommissioned fire hoses, stacked up in lustrous red coils, it was love at first sight. After a noble career of saving lives, these damaged hoses were destined to rot in landfill. She decided she couldn’t let that happen.
To give the fire hose a second life, she founded Elvis & Kresse. They started turning this unique material into luxury accessories - ones that didn’t just make use of the hoses, but showcased and celebrated them. Today, Elvis & Kresse have transformed over 300 tonnes of reclaimed material into bags, belts, wallets and purses. One of their Weekend Bags even lives in the permanent collection of the V&A museum.
To top it all off, Elvis & Kresse have given half of their profits to charity since day one. It’s an amazing example of upcycling and responsible business. But as much as we love that, it’s the exceptional strength of these bags that really makes them buy-for-life products. And it’s all down to that beautiful red fire hose…
Why fire hose?
Fire hoses have to be tough. Really tough. Throughout a fire hose’s lifetime, it can expect to be licked by flames, dragged through broken glass and knocked by falling debris, all whilst having water pumped through it at high pressure. And as well as being exceedingly durable, these hoses also need to be flexible, and light enough to be carried comfortably.
It’s a challenging set of requirements. The solution? These fire hoses are made from nitrile rubber, with a woven nylon core to give it structure and strength. The warm, liquid rubber is extruded through and around the woven nylon, and then cured.
Unfortunately, this method means the hoses can’t be recycled. Due to the mixture of materials, they can’t be chopped up, melted down and made anew. This is why fire hoses are destined for the dump if they aren’t repurposed. Whilst small leaks can be patched up, large tears mean the hose has to be taken out of commission. And for safety reasons, all fire hoses are retired after 25 years’ service.
Luckily, the hoses’ fire fighting properties lend themselves perfectly to bags, belts, wallets and other accessories. They’re incredibly durable and strong, shrugging off damage that would destroy a regular bag. They’re supple, flexible and light. And best of all, they’re waterproof too. These accessories could feasibly last a lifetime - it’s the perfect afterlife for this extraordinary material.
A bag with a story
Just as every fire hose has had a unique career, every Elvis & Kresse piece carries individual character. After being thoroughly cleaned of the soot and grease they’ve gathered in service, the hoses reveal subtle markings that tell the stories of their past lives. By keeping these features, Elvis & Kresse are honouring the fire hoses and the history within them.
The hoses also come in a wide variety of different red shades - as well as rarer yellows - and some parts even have lettering on them. On some Elvis & Kresse pieces, you might see the words ‘Angus Duraline’ (or sections of the name). This is a brand name for the best fire hoses in the world, which have been manufactured in Bentham, North Yorkshire for over 200 years. They’re the only kind that the London Fire Brigade use.
This lettering serves as a reminder of the material’s past - or, occasionally, your own! Elvis & Kresse once sent out an emergency replacement to a frantic customer, who had bought a fire hose purse for his fiancee as a Christmas gift. The name ‘Angus’, from Angus Duraline, was written in bold capitals across one of the panels. The problem? The caller wasn’t called Angus, but you can guess what his fiancee’s ex’s name was…
What does fire hose feel like?
If you’re accustomed to leather accessories, you’ll be curious to know how it feels to wear something made of fire hose instead. The rubber isn’t squeaky or matte, like a tyre is. Instead, it’s smooth, supple and cool to the touch. It’s also light to carry, and flexible - though with enough weight and structure for it to keep its shape and feel satisfying to hold.
The hose also has a slightly dimpled texture, a bit like a golf ball (which helps water to move through the hose), and has ridged areas. On certain products, you can see where Elvis & Kresse skilfully alternate ridged and smooth panels. Don’t be surprised, by the way, if your bag has a rubbery smell - it’s part and parcel of owning a piece of reclaimed fire hose. The smell will fade over time and use.
Loved for life
It’s not often that super-strong industrial materials turn up in consumer goods. What other bag could you expect to survive both a house fire and a downpour? Fire hose is so tough, it can weather a lifetime of use. But if your Elvis & Kresse product ever does need a repair (more likely for a stitch or a zip than the hose itself), their skilled team is on hand to fix it for a very reasonable fee. The team knows these products inside and out, so getting them repaired at source is the best way to get them looking good as new.
Ultimately, if a material has been specially developed to save lives, it’s not going to let you down in its second form. We love how the power of craftsmanship has given an amazing new life to these heroic hoses. And with such a story to tell too, Elvis & Kresse accessories are pieces anyone would cherish forever.
Do you fancy owning a buy-for-life accessory crafted from the London Fire Brigade’s reclaimed fire hoses? Take a look at our Elvis & Kresse collection here - featuring all sorts of bags, belts, wallets, purses and other accessories, ready to last a lifetime.