The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy
The book “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” by business professor Pietra Rivoli tracks the journey of her $6 T-shirt from the cotton fields of the united states to its very end as a second-hand clothing in Africa. She uses this T-shirt to show how global trade takes place and facilitates production and availability of materials that are often taken for granted by consumers living in the united states and other western developed nations (Rivoli, 2015). The reason she gives for using this single product to draw its path around the world is the complexity of international trade. As the T-shirt travels all over the world, its form, usefulness and value vary.
The interesting life cycle of her T-shirt begins in a West Texas cotton field that then exports the cotton to China where it is spun into yarn, fabric and later into a T-shirt that is imported into American stores and sold to the consumers. Most of the consumers only consider the product, remaining ignorant to the processes, places and people that the product has passed through. The inspiration to write this book was derived from the complaint of a woman during a demonstration in 1999, who claimed that workers in India were going through horrific working conditions to make T-shirts for American consumers (Rivoli, 2015). This statement touched Rivoli and made her want to investigate whether there was any truth to the statement made by that woman. This set the author on a journey that covered thousands of miles across three continents. She realized that there is a complex system of people, politics and markets that contributed to the manufacture of the T-shirt made available to the American consumers. The aim of writing the book was to discover morals as opposed to conveying them.
The author states that it is not just the competitive economic market that influences the story of her T-shirt. The key events that take place in the story and journey of the T-shirt have more to do with politics, history and attempts to avoid the restrictive markets compared to the competitive economic market. There are winners in the various stages of the T-shirt journey, but their victory is not caused by their competitiveness in the market. Rather, they win because of avoiding the market (Rivoli, 2015). The actions of these organizations often affect the poor the most, making them sink deeper into poverty. The story of the journey made by this T-shirt reveals how globalization can be used to enhance the wealth of some individuals while at the same time imbalances in the society. This is caused by a power imbalance fuelled by ill-informed politics that doom the economic future of sections of the society.
The journey of the T-shirt begins in Florida, where the author bought the T-shirt. She returned to Washington DC and used the tag on the T-shirt to trace it back to the Sherry Manufacturing Co. in Miami. This company is one of the largest screen printers of T-shirts in the United States. It was at this company that it dawned on her that the T-shirt was one of about 25 million T-shirts that had been imported into the united states from China using the US apparel import quota system in 1998 (Rivoli, 2015). Further research revealed that the cotton that had been used to manufacture the T-shirts had been exported to Shanghai from Smyer, Texas.
Rivoli also uncovered that the United States has dominated the global cotton industry for more than 200 years. This is made possible by the better farming technology that the American cotton farmers have. The farmers are also given subsidies by the government, which makes their farming activities very sustainable and inspires them to improve creativity and productivity. The evolving and adaptation of the American cotton farmers makes them produce more at a lower cost (Rivoli, 2015). This allows them to respond positively to the shifts in demand and supply in the global marketplace. At the same time, the cotton farmers in the poorer countries in the world are still using inefficient methods to grow and process cotton. They, therefore, cannot compete against the farmers from the united states in terms of quality and quantity of production.
The author then followed the trail of the T-shirt across the country to a ship that sailed from Long Beach California to Shanghai. It was at this point that the cotton was spun into a yarn and knitted into cloth. The clothes were then cut and sewn into a T-shirt. This was followed by attaching a “Made in China” label on the collar before shipping the T-shirt back to America. In America, it was printed in Miami and then distributed alongside similar garments to various stores in the country (Rivoli, 2015). It was at the selling point of these T-shirts that Rivoli bought the T-shirt.
Having worn the T-shirt for some time, Rivoli no longer had a use for it and took the T-shirt on its final leg to a Salvation Army bin in Bethseda, Maryland. The journey takes the T-shirt to a sub-Saharan country where it is sold in a used clothing trade. The T-shirt is bought and sold by small entrepreneur in Africa. These used clothing items are called mitumba. They consist of clothes and shoes that have been thrown away by Americans and Europeans. They are the major source of clothed for men and women in this part of Tanzania where the T-shirt finally lands (Rivoli, 2015). The journey of the T-shirt showed Rivoli an interesting side of global trade where the small dealers in the used clothes are replacing big corporations. This is a consequence of global trade and economic democracy in the third world countries that is rarely experienced in the developed countries.
In conclusion, the tracing of the journey of a T-shirt by Rivoli revealed to her a side of corporate globalization that she was not aware of earlier on. She could at last understand why labor groups protest the wage schemes of the western corporation in the developing nations were all about (Rivoli, 2015). The corporations are out to cut costs no matter who their primary consumers are. These inequalities in the global market with regards to cotton were made clear. It no longer makes sense to advocate for free markets on a global level when these inequalities are obvious. The developed economies will continue to dominate the poor countries and market anomalies such as the one of mitumba continue to occur in the third world countries.
Rivoli, P. (2015). The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the M. John Wiley & Sons.