Last Sunday I saw a very strange thing: two business speakers who were really inspirational politicians.
I attended the Design Your Career conference in Bournemouth on Sunday 3 February and I heard the stories of two creative entrepreneurs: Kresse Wesling and Wayne Hemingway.
Kresse Wesling turned up casual. She wore jeans and a jacket and had one of her handbags by her side. She stood up and explained how, from when she had been a small girl, she loved going to the dump. This had grown into an obsession. While most tourists visit the cafés and museums on a foreign holiday, Kresse would visit the landfill sites and root in the dustbins. She saw opportunity.
She developed a business recyling discarded fire brigade hoses into luxury goods. She makes belts, wallets and handbags out of them – the kind worn by Cameron Diaz and featured in Vogue. She added that she wasn’t a handbag type of gal.
The most important thing for her was a commitment to changing society. She studied politics at university. She thought the way we waste things was a disgrace. In India they don’t throw stuff away. They put it outside the front door and it’s taken away by someone who will use it for something else. Kresse made an initial investment of £40 to create one of her products and she turned that investment into a thriving international business.
Kresse was followed by Wayne Hemingway, who together with his wife founded the fashion label, Red or Dead.
Wayne described his Northern working class roots. He told the story of how he came to London seeking to be in a band. He spent so much on hiring rooms for his band, he and his girlfriend couldn’t afford to pay the rent. So they decided to sell all their clothes, many of which they had made for themselves, on a market stall in Camden market. Their rent was £6. They made £200 on the stall on their first weekend.
Wayne explained how he came from a thrifty family. They recycled everything. He persuaded the manufacturers of Doctor Martens boots to sell faulty stock to him for pennies. He had an idea. His father had repaired a pair with a split sole using a soldering iron, which gave them a ‘used’ look which people wanted. He did the same thing by getting his friends to help him solder dozens of boots which he resold on the market stall for £20 in the 1980s.
They had clear visions. Wayne conquered the fashion world with a strong political agenda. He wanted to make designer clothes affordable to all.
Kresse wanted to save the planet and she’s created a global fashion brand by recycling rubbish.
What was fascinating was that these are very political entrepreneurs. They weren’t telling you how to start up in business, they were inspiring you by explaining how their businesses had emerged when their own upbringing, curiosity and values met with opportunity.
What distinguished them from our real politicians was that they managed to use their creed to create social change, earn a living and offer inspirational leadership to the rest of us.
Photographs by Louis Jolley