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Expert Interview With Susan Leaver Director Of 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.