Social entrepreneurs from Hampden-Sydney College visited Albemarle County this week to meet with young design consultants at Baker-Butler Elementary School.

“It’s interesting to see how thoughtful the students could be,” said Tanner Beck, co-founder of Pan Clothing. “We have gotten more value out of this than I would have anticipated.”

Beck and co-founder Jacky Cheng, both seniors at the college in Prince Edward County, helped teach a design-thinking unit for third- and fourth-graders at Baker-Butler this semester that had students propose solutions to challenges facing their apparel startup. 

“We want our kids to be flexible, creative problem solvers,” Baker-Butler Principal Stephen Saunders said. “Design thinking makes it simpler to teach complex problems.”

Pan donates five textbooks to schools in developing countries for every clothing item it sells. Its business model is inspired by TOMS shoes and other popular brands with “buy one, give one” philanthropic programs. 

Last fall, Pan contributed 2,300 books to the Christ-Roi School in Cammy, Haiti, through a Kickstarter campaign. Beck and Cheng plan to continue their work on Pan Clothing in New York after they graduate in May. 

Beck and Cheng met Saunders in November when he gave a lecture on design thinking at his alma mater. 

“Design thinking is very interesting to us,” Beck said. “Even before we knew what it was, we were solving a lot of our problems in a similar way.”

Saunders saw an opportunity for his school to collaborate with Pan to give students firsthand experience with this empathic, human-centric approach to problem solving. 

“Everyone learns better when you can see the relevance of what you are learning,” Saunders said. “This project makes the kids come out of their own world. … They are thinking about that kid in Haiti who walks through mountains for two hours to get to a school that doesn’t have any resources.”

Beck and Cheng made three trips to Baker-Butler to introduce the students to Pan and the global problem of illiteracy that it aims to address.

Students filled dozens of Post-It notes with examples of “roses,” “thorns” and “buds” — Pan’s successes, difficulties and opportunities to innovate and improve. They used this information to hone in on specific problems to tackle with their projects.

On Wednesday, the students presented their solutions to Beck and Cheng and gave feedback on their classmates’ projects.

One fourth-grade team designed a flyer to advertise Pan Clothing and recommended places for it to be displayed in Charlottesville. Another shared a plan for the company to raise money with bake sales. 

A third-grade team recommended that Pan expand its product line to include children’s clothing. They made a prototype shirt that incorporated playful images of aliens and monsters. 

“Instead of plain colors, they might want to have other designs that are more interesting to kids,” said third-grader Nate Paul. “Kids like more action.”

One team of third-graders made a model of a drone that could airlift food, firewood, medical supplies and other goods to remote villages. 

“We thought about making a rocket that would go up to space, but that’s too expensive,” said third-grader Collin Brill. 


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.