“Purpose can be profitable and being sustainable is efficient” Bernice Pan, Founder and Creative Director, Deploy

When Dr Bernice Pan realised she couldn’t make existing fashion companies sustainable, she set up her own. Now, this award-winning entrepreneur has joined the IoD where she hopes to share her expertise and persuade more business leaders that sustainable businesses are efficient and profitable.

“I like to use what is already around me to create something new which is purposeful and useful, whether it is artworks, clothing, furniture or fixtures. I am creative, but also pragmatic, and perhaps that’s why I chose a degree in architecture at Cambridge over a fashion degree.

Architecture is about society, environment and communities and it taught me discipline and to see the big picture, but the stakeholders are so complex and the processes are extremely long. To see if I could make a more direct impact in fashion, I started working with a luxury New York brand house.

Fashion is immediate and personal and that appeals to me. People can walk in and out of a building for years without noticing the architecture, but most people have an opinion about what they wear. When I was dressing women – from Hollywood stars to a retiree – I realised that by listening and consulting, I could make a difference to people’s long-term confidence, through clothing them.

However, I was troubled by the gap between fashion and the environment behind it, from sourcing materials, to looking after the people who sew. It troubled me that no one was addressing it back then, or even seeing it as a problem. When I delved deeper, I discovered a cyclical process destined to repeat the same mistakes. When I realised I couldn’t influence existing fashion companies to improve the given structures, I took a PhD in Design Management to research and re-engineer the fashion system.

I launched DEPLOY in 2006 to put theory into practice. Our aim is to demonstrate how a 360° sustainability circular business model can deliver a customised product-service-experience, zero-waste supply chain, on-demand production, agile retail operation, bespoke after-sale service, and humanitarian partnerships which increase human benefit whilst reducing environmental damage.

The brand is called DEPLOY, as it is a strategic action plan to reform fashion. I see clothing as an interface between the people who design and supply, and the people who wear them. We design to care for people and the environment. Therefore, I want our customers to wear our ethos and values, not just our fashion. If we cannot provide tangible improvements and cultural change, then we too are purely depleting resources to ultimately pump out more waste.

William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade, and Dr Sun Yat-Sen, who ended five thousand years of Imperial China, are huge inspirations for me. Both saw serious systemic problems in their worlds and reconceptualised a new framework with devoted efforts to instigate change. My parents also instilled in me a responsibility to contribute to society through work. I wasn’t brought up to think that girls do some things and boys do others, so I don’t feel any more or less empowered by my gender. However, I have recognised that women are more likely to see themselves through the lens of others while men tend to focus more on their own point of view, and these qualities bring out different strengths in leadership and management.

I think real difference around sustainability can only be made with government support, and that the IoD – as an interface between business and government – is in a unique position to drive change. That is why DEPLOY partnered with the IoD this year to conceive The Changemaker Series, launched on International Women’s Day with the ‘Women Leading Sustainability’ event. A way to move this forward is to gather sustainability experts in different industry sectors, as we had done at the event, to develop a sustainability roadmap for business leaders, and ensure that robust, comprehensive knowledge and knowhow is delivered to business leaders.”

The IoD works alongside our National Sustainability Taskforce to help you achieve your sustainable business goals and halt the climate crisis. Visit our sustainable business hub to access our breadth of advice and resources.

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