What would you do with a million bottle tops and 10 tons of old fire hose?

How about empowering a female entrepreneur to create a unique and sustainable product collection which also supports the local community?

Kresse Wesling
Social entrepreneur Kresse Wesling

When Coca-Cola came together with artisan Kresse Wesling, that’s exactly what happened. From the most unlikely of raw materials, mixed with the company’s 5by20 goal to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs across its global value chain by 2020, a remarkable collaboration was born.

It all started after the successful Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Relay, which made its way around Great Britain in the summer of 2012. Coke teams handed out samples of Coca-Cola in aluminum bottles to thirsty spectators, leaving them with 1 million steel bottle tops needing a home.  

Meanwhile, since 2005, Wesling’s social enterprise design company, Elvis & Kresse, has found an ingenious and artistic use for London Fire Brigade’s decommissioned hoses. Sharing a passion for applying high-quality design and craftsmanship to rescued materials, the company based in southeast England ”upcycles” the department’s hosing to make a range of items, including belts, bags and shoes. Before their intervention, all of Great Britain’s fire hoses were destined for the landfill.

Enter Coca-Cola

As keen supporters of women entrepreneurs – and fellow champions of upcycling – Coca-Cola challenged Kresse to turn the bottle caps into art.

“We told her we have a million bottle tops and asked how these could be used to create a sustainable product for their collection,” recalls Liz Lowe, corporate responsibility & sustainability manager for Coca-Cola Great Britain.

Elvis & Kresse belt made from recycled fire hose and Coke bottle caps
Elvis & Kresse belt buckles are made from steel Coke bottle caps.

Elvis & Kresse needed a source of metal for belt buckles and realized the Coke bottle tops could be melted down for this purpose. The company designed a multi-purpose buckle that could be the centerpiece for a belt, a luggage tag and the Elvis & Kresse Mini-Messenger bag. As a tribute to the source of the metal, they called it the London Legacy Buckle. A small Coca-Cola contour bottle icon was stamped into the buckle design to create a visual link to the company’s recycled packaging.

Jackie Duff, Coca-Cola Great Britain's strategic director of women’s economic empowerment, saw a perfect fit with the 5by20 program. She saw Kresse as an inspirational entrepreneur who not only champions sustainability, but also offers delivers long-term value to the local community.

As a result, a Coca-Cola apprenticeship fund was established to direct a percentage of the profits from the sale of these products to help young women from disadvantaged communities receive training and work experience.

“We are passionate about supporting the local community and maintaining the traditional craft skills that used to be so common in Britain,” Wesling says. “We want to pass on these technical skills to help other young women earn a livelihood and build their own business in the future.”

Community Impact

In 2013, Elvis & Kresse employed its first local apprentice in its studio in Bournemouth. The young female apprentice had struggled with alcohol dependency issues and recently completed a rehabilitation program. The program offered her structure, the chance to learn new skills and the opportunity to work in an inspiring and creative business. After completing the program, she enrolled in college and mentors other people coping with addiction.

Apprentice at Elvis & Kresse

An apprenticeship program supported by Coke's 5by20 program allows Kresse to pass on her skills to young women from the community.

The program has helped Wesling realize the positive impact her business can have beyond its reclamation work. Supporting one woman in her community has an effect that goes much further, she says. Over the next four years, Wesling’s goal is to help five to six apprentices learn a variety of skills, eventually going on to work full time as the business expands.

A second apprentice is currently working with Elvis & Kresse at its new location in Kent. Wesling is also working with local women’s colleges to provide work experience to students so they leave college with a genuine boost to their resume.

Lowe says the result is an exemplary collaboration for Coca-Cola.

“Not only does it show our commitment to sustainability, but it’s also a perfect example of how our 5by20 initiative translates into economic empowerment for entrepreneurial women in Great Britain,” she adds. “It’s a social business that genuinely helps the community.”