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Defining Style and Sustainability: Dee Poon ’97

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
While the fashion industry has historically evoked images of indulgence and excess, Dee Poon ’97 is bringing the distinctly modern values of sustainability and simplicity to her work as Managing Director of Brands and Distribution for Esquel Group in Hong Kong.
Fashion is in Dee Poon’s blood. Her father, Dickson Poon, owns British retailer Harvey Nichols; her mother, Marjorie Yang, is Chairman of Esquel Group, a woven shirt manufacturer that provides premium cotton shirts for companies like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Hugo Boss. Even so, Dee has a broad array of interests that could have taken her down a very different path.
After graduating from Fay in 1997, Dee went on to Hotchkiss School and then Harvard University, where she graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Early in her career, Dee’s mother challenged her to revamp Esquel’s PYE brand, the company’s own shirt label, which at the time was down to a single store in Beijing. “It was a small business unit, and I had to do everything for a while,” Dee recalls. The experience was grueling, but it quickly taught her the value of leaning on one’s peers. “I entered the workforce as a generalist, and that forced me from day one to admit that I don’t know things.”
After 18 months, Dee decided to step away from PYE. Walking away from a promising career might have seemed like an unexpected decision, but it enabled Dee to reintegrate a variety of passions and interests back into her life. “A career and a life is a marathon, not a sprint,” she notes.
During this time, Dee wrote an eco-lifestyle column, mining the nexus between the environment, design, and lifestyle, as well as fashion articles for several Chinese magazines. She directed a short film, An Exercise in Futility, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. She also pursued her passion for art and design, an interest that continues today. Dee sits on the International Council of the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When Esquel Group lured her back in 2009, she was determined to synthesize her passions and use them to craft a meaningful career. “I am constantly juggling, but I cannot imagine not being part of as many aspects of the world as I can, and I think that they all cross-pollinate.”
Within the fashion industry, Esquel has long been a pioneer in sustainability and environmental consciousness. The company has manufacturing sites in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, where extreme weather events have directly impacted their employees’ lives. Dee organizes the speakers and program for Integral Conversation, an annual sustainability conference hosted by Esquel that takes place in Guilin, where Esquel is also building sustainable manufacturing operations and an industrial eco-tourism garden. The company is looking to recycle, upcycle, and reduce their impact on the environment in any way it can. “I work on a lot of sustainable products, and I am constantly thinking about how the fashion system can adjust to ensure a sustainable future,” says Dee. PYE is moving all of its packaging to recycled cotton this year, an innovation that came out of a product that Dee created for Esquel.

As Chief Brand Officer for PYE, Dee is also proud that the brand created conversation around sustainability through their annual capsule collection this year, ECOLOGICAL BY PYE. However, the pressures to sell more clothing but also to reduce the impact on the environment are often in direct conflict. It’s a struggle Dee is all too aware of. “This conflict increases my desire to create products that are stylish, functional, and durable, so consumers can get the best and most use out of our garments,” she says. Dee has launched a new brand, DETERMINANT, which sells mainly white shirts, the staple of most young professional wardrobes. “With only a few high-quality items, the idea is that one doesn’t need that many clothes,” says Dee. “Honestly, while I love to shop, I basically wear a uniform. It’s simpler for me, and probably better for the world.”
Reflecting on a career in midstream, Dee is most proud of the fact that she has retained her idealism. “I think it’s easy to get cynical and to think of success in terms of position on an org chart or compensation, but I genuinely don’t believe in that,” she says. “I try to surround myself with people and projects that are fascinating and challenging, and that has pushed me forward in ways that I might not have taken myself.”

Read about more Fay alumni who are pursuing lives of meaning:

Stephen Hodi '81 is at the the forefront of cancer research, treatment, and education as Director of the Melanoma Center and the Center for Immuno-Oncology at Dana-Farber/ Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Meet CJ Hunt '00, writer, performer, producer on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah - and this year's Commencement speaker.

Read more from Fay Magazine

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