Category Archives: retail

Career Case Study: Fashion

Susan Leaver careers case study fashion

Today we have a case study from Susan Leaver, Commercial Director at Turtle Mat

Susan Leaver is the Commercial Director at Turtle Mat with a focus on sales, marketing and product development. Initially training in fashion design, Susan spent her formative years in a commercial design environment supplying lingerie and nightwear products to M&S. In 1999 she formed part of the New Product Development team at Sara Lee Courtaulds where she worked on future technologies such as fragranced and therapeutic fabrics, and investigated ultra-sonic technology for seam replacement.

In 2000, Susan left Sara Lee and spent a year designing and developing products for Cerie International (Hong Kong) and for Heathcoat Fabrics in the UK. In addition to her freelance work, Susan enrolled on a Master’s Degree course at Central St Martins where she gained an MA in Design Studies.

In 2002 she joined Turtle Mat where she developed their mail-order and e-commerce business alongside expanding their collection to include design. Susan was appointed Commercial Director in July 2009 and is responsible for all sales, marketing and NPD across both the Direct and Retail channels of the business.


Which subject did you study at university (and where did you study)?

I studied Fashion Design at Epsom School of Art & Design in the 1980’s (Now merged into UCA University for the Creative Arts). I also did a Post-Graduate (MA) degree in Design Studies at Central St Martins (now UAL- University of the Arts London).


What was the most important thing you learned in education/university?

Good design isn’t just about creativity or being able to put pen to paper and make something look good.  As with other industries, there is still a ‘commercial’ process sitting behind the design activity. This is often neglected and people aren’t always aware that being able to dissect (and question) a brief requires a level of understanding of the end use or end user that cannot simply be imagined. Research is key to this understanding as well as being creatively inspired.


Why did you decide to work in this industry?

Having worked in the fashion industry for some years, I was keen to explore other design fields, particularly those with a textile connection, Home interiors was a natural choice and closely linked to fashion. I really enjoyed the combination of design and business in my previous role and the position at Turtle Mat gave further opportunity to expand on this experience.  In addition, Turtle Mat were at an exciting point in their growth with new (design) technologies opening up to them, I felt I had the skillset to turn what was quite a mundane product into something more beautiful.


What was the turning point in your career?

Having developed product collections for some years for a major high-street retailer, I moved internally to work on research-led projects within a NPD team. This really opened my mind to all manner of possibilities within the current field I was working in, plus those beyond it.  It was from here that I went back to college part-time and did an MA.


What does a typical day at Turtle Mat look like for you?

Working in a small business doesn’t bring many typical days! Supplying both to trade and direct to consumers means that we have to often be responsive to their needs. We are a small niche team and my day can be anything from coming up with new mat designs to planning product launches and liaising with both clients and suppliers.


Do you have any motivational words for students aspiring to make it in this very competitive industry?

As with anything, it’s about hard work and determination.  By all means have some fun but make sure you have a clear goal and get as much as you can from every one and every available source- in a nutshell, make every day count. A firm grounding sets you up for the future, fashion courses are renowned for pushing you to the limit in terms of creativity and stamina, this training has served me well throughout my career. Also, don’t underestimate your transferable skills; I went from designing underwear to designing mats- think outside the box. And lastly, write every idea down, physically or digitally, keep a note of it you never know when it might be relevant.


Guest blogger – Daniel Yeo – Search Laboratory

Ones to watch: Kelly Wragg

Here’s the fourth (and final – for now) part of our new ‘Ones to Watch’ series, in conjunction with the University of Cumbria’s Alumni team. We think all University of Cumbria graduates are amazing, and are proud of each and every one of you. Occasionally we get to hear about certain individuals who are already making a huge impact, despite only graduating recently. Those who have really applied themselves whilst still a student; taken advantage of every opportunity and worked exceptionally hard to get where they want to be. 


Kelly Wragg

BA (Hons) Performing Arts

I first became aware of Kelly when I heard about an exciting new shop opening a few miles outside Carlisle in the market town of Brampton. I then read a story about the shop in the local paper and it mentioned that the owner, Kelly, was a recent graduate of our university! I was SO excited to visit the shop and it did not disappoint. Wish Strings .Co is the most beautiful shop I have ever seen! I cannot believe that Kelly is so young and has only just completed her degree, what an achievement. 

I am a huge fan of Kelly’s signature bracelets Wish Strings (I currently sport four of them on my wrist!) and the fact that she is an alumnus all the better as I get to interview the lady herself and share her amazing and inspirational journey so far with fellow alumni and students.

– Joanne Lusher, Alumni Office

Course: BA (Hons) Performing Arts

Campus: Brampton Road

Hometown: I am originally from Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Prior to attending the UoC, I attended the stage school Cathedral Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA) in Wakefield.

Current job: Owner and proprietor of WishStrings .Co, an online and high street store selling jewellery, vintage delights and WishString wish bracelets.

What made you choose the University of Cumbria?

When I attended my audition at the University of Cumbria I was overwhelmed with how welcome they made me feel! Compared to auditions at other institutes, the UoC audition was warm and welcoming.

Why did you choose your particular course?

The course offered many possible career options and the ability to acquire a wide range of skills. The course allowed room for creative freedom and personal growth. This is one of the reasons WishStrings was born!

What did you like most about your course?

I enjoyed the help and support from the tutors. I found that throughout my time at university, as I began to grow and learn the tutors were always on hand to help and guide me in the right direction. The support from the Performing Arts team is overwhelming!

What was your favourite experience at university?

One particular of my many ‘favourite experiences’ at the UoC has to be the second year of my degree, the opportunity to work with professional directors and choreographers on fantastic full scale shows is an opportunity I shall never forget!

Do you have any particular memorable/funny stories to share?

I have too many memories from my time at the UoC! I have made lifelong friends and shared experiences with them that will last me a life time. Also many of the stories I feel are not suitable for this publication… students will be students… ‘club concrete’ I need say no more!

How did coming to university change your life?

The UoC has changed my life around completely! If you had said to me on my first day of uni I would leave a business woman, with my own shop, rental properties and have taken my first step on the property ladder, I would have probably told you to ‘dream on’.

The UoC provided me with a safe environment, in which I grew and developed myself as a person and in confidence. Whilst much of the business grew outside of university, I did carry many of the skills I learnt through my course over into my business!

University is the experience you make it! Everyone takes different things away from the experience. I used my course and the skills it taught me, in a different way to what many of my peers will. But I do not regret for one moment not choosing a business course as I believe the Performing Arts course offered me the creativity, skills and personality which I wholeheartedly put into my business.

Other than your degree what do you think you learnt and got out of your university experience?

Much valued life experience, amazing friendship and memories that will last a lifetime!

What were your career ambitions when you started studying and do you think that you have achieved them?

When I first started university, I was all set for a career in the Performing Arts industry, maybe a teacher? But as I grew and developed throughout the course and my different modules, the creativity gained lead me to creating WishStrings, and my business was born!

Would you be where you are today, without your degree?

No! Most definitely not! My degree and the experiences it has offered me has given me the confidence to be where I am today! Many people don’t think my degree has anything to do with my business, but when you look beneath the surface you can see the foundations are made up from elements of my degree.

For example – window dressing, comes from the techniques learned in set design and construction. Hands-on making of cushions and other textile items – developed from the skills I acquired in costume. Marketing – came from the skills I gained from marketing shows and other events we held at the UoC. Time management – is needed to ensure the survival on any degree course. Performing – everyday in my shop I see as a performance, I have to leave all my personal problems at the door and put my customers first for the day, no matter how ill or rubbish I feel!

What are your current career ambitions now and in the long-term?

WishStrings is growing day by day. I have huge ambitions for the future, maybe a chain of stores? A brand stocked by leading retailers? A wholesale company? I feel my opportunities for development are endless and I am extremely excited about what my future holds!

What are you most proud of?

Everything I have achieved coming out of the UoC. Owning my own business and property!

How did you stay motivated to pursue your dream when studying hard and enjoying the university lifestyle?

The balance between studying, personal life and having fun is one HUGE juggling act! Thankfully I had an amazing support structure through the UoC and my friends. I had a roller-coaster three years, including my father suffering a life threatening brain hemorrhage and my great grandfather passing away all within the same months during my second year of university! This time proved extremely difficult, but thanks to the AMAZING support of my tutors and my friends I pulled through with no major disruption to my degree!

What advice would you give to todays freshers and prospective students about making the most of their time at university?

Work hard and ENJOY what the UoC has to offer! Make the most of every moment as you never know what may lead to future opportunities! Even the times that feel unnecessary are important so make every second count, push yourself beyond your limits and reach for your dreams! If I had followed the flow I wouldn’t be where I am today!

WishStrings .Co is an online and High Street store selling jewellery, gifts, vintage delights and our WishString wish bracelets. WishStrings was originally founded by myself in 2012, as part of a new year resolution! Since then WishStrings .Co has grown with the loving help of family, friends and of course my loyal fans! WishStrings began life as a hobby attending craft fairs etc and then grew beyond my wildest imagination! Expanding into a full online store and now a high street store!

Find WishStrings .Co on Facebook at