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INTERVIEW: Dr. Esther Pugh


We’re excited about next week’s book launch and panel discussion; celebrating The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion by author Tansy Hoskins and chatting through some of the issues it raises with experts and activists.

We’ll be joined by a group of panellists including Dr Esther Pugh — a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Business School at Leeds Beckett University. Dr Pugh’s PhD focuses on vintage fashion fairs and the unique magic they weave in physical, but temporary, spaces, where the spaces as well as the clothes are re-used buildings, like cathedrals, town halls and theatres.

In the lead-up to the event, we asked Esther about her work and the importance of sustainable fashion!

Hi Esther — can you tell us a bit about what you do?

I’m a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students — while also doing research!

My passion is fashion; mostly secondhand, circular, slow fashion and vintage. Before I began teaching at the University, I worked in fashion retailing as well as running my own business. I’ve been involved professionally in fashion since 1991 when I began working for high street brands, including Oasis and Coast, as a Visual Merchandiser. I was responsible for the windows, the layout of the store, the mannequins and how ranges were displayed and coordinated; while working with the designers and the buyers.

I loved moving the clothing into different spaces and creating new looks. I was promoted to Head of Visual Merchandising and I travelled around the world, including Europe, Asia and the Middle East, opening new shops and ensuring that all the stores had a consistent look and feel but were also adapted to local cultural preferences and differences.

Since then, there’s been huge change in the fashion industry and high street fashion especially. As well as a recognition of the lack of sustainability in the industry as it currently exists; the damaging impact it has on the environment and the social issues associated with it.

What fascinates you about secondhand clothes?

For me, it’s the treasure-hunting aspect — the serendipity of discovering clothes you love where you least expect to find them. That could be car boot sales, junk shops, charities or jumble sales.

I’m not a clothing historian or particularly interested in the provenance of clothing in terms of its value, or even how old it is. I’m interested in the stories behind clothing; the spaces that they’ve previously been in, in order to arrive at the spaces that they’re at today.

I don’t believe that clothes have to be designer brands or particularly old, to have a story. Even a second hand high street item still has a story behind it. The older pieces may have longer stories — and longer histories. But there’s always a story to something secondhand; you never know what worlds and environments it’s been in, in order to get to you.

Do you think there’s a collective move towards more sustainable fashion?

I think we’ll see a significant change in the future — and we’re already seeing it happen. Businesses and consumers alike are recognising the joy of pre-loved, and secondhand and the benefit of resale.I think that secondhand clothes, and our appreciation of their stories, have a role to play in that.

You can book your PAYF ticket to the Book Launch & Panel Discussion here.

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