Have you ever wondered what you’re actually doing with your life? How are you making an impact? Are you giving back? What makes what you do matter? As a recent graduate, these questions are constantly poking their heads into my mind—and I have a feeling that I’m not alone. Isn’t that the dream—to not only get to do what you love, but also manage to give back?
Jacky Cheng and Tanner Beck of Pan Clothing are doing just that. The college seniors came up with their idea for Pan after witnessing the lack of adequate school supplies while building the Henrickson School for Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. 250 million children around the world lack basic reading skills due to insufficient school funding and the subsequent limited access to quality education, and this is the issue that Jacky and Tanner have set out to solve. Their company aims to significantly combat childhood illiteracy throughout the world by providing textbooks to schools in need. I had the privilege of sitting down with Jacky to discuss the inspiration behind the idea, and their plans for the future.
We met in one of my favorite Brooklyn coffee shops, on the kind of day where the wind will rip your umbrella from your hands just so the rain can absolutely drench you. The dampness steamed from coats and boots as the espresso machines hissed and we found a small table tucked in between fellow soggy humans seeking a refuge away from the puddled sidewalk. Over a soy cappuccino, a large mocha, and the clatter of mugs on saucers, Jacky filled me in on what couldn’t be found in their website’s “impact” tab or on their Youtube channel.
“Our story began really when we met Ubi. Ubi and his family are Haitian refugees who moved to the Dominican Republic after the earthquake. We bonded with Ubi and his family through our service trips in the Dominican Republic, and were so touched by his parent’s desire for a better future for their sons that we decided to sponsor Ubi’s education in January 2017. Their desire for a better future spoke to me on a personal level. Being an immigrant and the product of the American dream, I saw this same desire in my parents throughout my life.”
His eyes lit up as he began explaining their goals for the company, and his animation only further conveyed how passionate he is about doing his part to make a tangible difference.
“This trip was life-altering. After we returned to the states, we knew that we could not sit idly by knowing that there are many more kids out there in the world who face the same problem Ubi faces. We began exploring different options that we believed could be the solution to this problem. We researched further volunteering our time and using our limited financial assets and even starting our own charity to help be apart of the solution. Our whole outlook changed after reading Blake Mycoskie’s (the founder of Toms) book ‘Start Something That Matters.’ And that book changed our lives.
We developed a business plan for Pan the next week. Whenever we told someone what we planned on building, their faces lit up. I’m not sure if it’s the impact that we can potentially make—or the naiveness of two (at the time) college juniors trying to tackle a global problem that brought a smile to their faces. By luck, we were able to get our business plan for our socially conscious clothing startup to the former CEO of Armani Exchange, Harlan Bratcher, and he offered us a lot of invaluable advice. We hope to grow into company that will be a socially conscious alternative to JCREW, and that we will impact kids throughout the world not only by giving textbooks but hopefully constructing and staffing schools.”
Their Kickstarter campaign, “Pan, The Only Shirt That Educates” brought in hundreds of backers and even led to a segment in Men’s Health for Facebook. They used these new resources to begin producing their garments. Jacky and Tanner took their time finding a manufacturer, and ultimately settled on one of the same environmentally conscious factories used by Patagonia in Chengdu, China. In addition to minimizing their environmental footprint, the factory also employs seniors without the skillsets to find jobs elsewhere.
In the short time since their launch, Pan Clothing has already donated over 2,200 textbooks. They not only completely supplied the Christ-Roi school in Cammy, Haiti but have also begun donating to additional local schools through partnered charities. All of the textbooks are manufactured and purchased in Haiti, in an effort to help contribute to the local economy.
They are still working on growing the fashion aspect of their plan, but currently offer both men’s and women’s t-shirts and sweaters. I helped myself to one of each (purely in the name of this article, of course). While it’s not next season’s Balenciaga, Pan provides the kind of versatile, high quality basics that can actually be rather challenging to find at traditional retailers. The t-shirt was simple, well-tailored, and surprisingly flattering—and the terrycloth sweatshirt was so comfortable I didn’t want to take it off. Their current merchandise is perfect for running errands or layering under your favorite fall jacket, but I can’t wait to see what they come out with next (or the good that they are going to be able to do with it).
So if you’re stuck for holiday shopping, why not treat your person to something they’ll not only want to wear every day, but that will also give back? Take it from the former fashion major—I would highly recommend thinking of Pan Clothing the next time you need to replace your worn out top, or want to treat yourself with something cozy to brace for the coming cold.