From pebbles on the beach to the pearls of wisdom

Colleague spotlight | Dr Esther Pugh


Esther Pugh

I'm passionate about fashion, shopping and retail and take every opportunity to pursue and talk about these interests - so much so I made them my career. In my role as visual merchandising manager at Oasis, I spent 20 years creating impactful fashion retail environments / windows spanning Europe, the Middle East and Japan. 

I'm now a senior lecturer in business strategy and marketing, and I make it my mission to create a great student experience for every individual, putting their interests at the heart of my teaching.

Tell us a bit about you and what led to working with Leeds Business School

I was invited to deliver a lecture to a group of students about my retail career and to share my experiences of working for large international fashion businesses and running my own small vintage fashion business. I set the students a fashion retail sustainability project and they came back with innovative ideas for the sector. This is what made me want to work here at Leeds Beckett University. What I discovered on that day was that every student is unique and has a different viewpoint. It is the diversity of the student community that makes higher education such a vibrant and enjoyable sector to work in. I absolutely love engaging with the students to explore the issues of today and to support them in pursuing their own business passions. I am naturally an outgoing person and I love bringing together my 3 favourite things; my network of industry contacts, my research, and my teaching, all of which come together in delivering a great student experience.

What makes you passionate about your work around the fashion retail business and why is it important?

Never before has retail and shopping been so talked about in the news. It is facing an existential crisis but is potentially at its most exciting point in its history. Shops and shopping are part of our history and heritage, but while the news tends to focus on the closure of House of Fraser, Debenhams, Topshop, and the loss of jobs, at the same time many exciting and sustainable ‘direct to consumer’ and ‘pure play’ brands are emerging, operating on social media and offering new opportunities to engage consumers. This is an incredibly exciting time for retail because some of these digital native retailers are now looking for physical spaces, to act as brand community hubs and immersive experiences. The pandemic has only accelerated trends which were already happening, in retail. Consumers have become bored of the same, tired old retail formats and want something new; like experience, entertainment, and education, will all play a part in the future of retail. Funnily enough, these 3 E’s are also at the heart of my teaching, I aim to make it fun.

How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?

It is a priority for me to engage the students in live projects with real businesses, who deliver lectures, chair discussions with students, set and assess assignments. For example, John Lewis on the second year Visual Merchandising module. The students positively embraced this opportunity to create a Pop-Up shop or a window for their Leeds store: Rhiannon Andersen, a second year BA (Hons) Marketing student told me that: “working on the John Lewis Project was an opportunity to transfer the skills I learned at university and apply them to a real-world business context."

In Business in Action, first year students were asked by North Brewing how they can attract a more diverse workforce. 

The task with North Brewing, has given me a fantastic opportunity to put my skills into practice. I had the opportunity to develop my teamworking skills whilst working to resolve a very current issue through research and collaboration.

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Bethany Chambers BA (Hons) Business and Management

These business collaborations have enlivened student work, taking it away from the textbook, and into the real world of business.

What achievements in this area have you been most proud of while working in Leeds Business School?

One achievement that I am most proud of is achieving my PhD last year, which is all about the serendipity of vintage shopping. This has triggered a number of opportunities for me, to speak on the TV and radio about retail, to take part in webinars, and podcasts about retail and to engage with the Charity Retail Consultancy and the Charity Retail Organisation about how that sector can take advantage of this special moment, where consumers are embracing conscious shopping and the circular economy.

As I look forward to the Summer, and the further unlocking of the British economy, there is so much discussion on the news and in the trade press, over the future of physical retail spaces. I will be presenting at the Retail Institute Webinar in September with John Lewis, on this very topic. Over the Summer I will be visiting as many UK stores as possible, to observe the current retail scene. I will be planning and preparing for teaching next year, by meeting with industry contacts, such as Retail 247, innovators in retail technology, who will be participating on another project with the students. These students remind me of those pebbles on the Amalfi beach, sparkling with enthusiasm and shining like the future business stars they are.

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