Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy | MyPaperHub

The "Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy:" by Pietra Rivoli 2nd Ed

It is often a challenge to quickly discuss international trade because of its abstract nature. However, when the focus is based on a single product, then the concept of globalization becomes very clear and useful to learners and readers. The book by Pietra Rivoli looks at the politics, markets, and power of trade globally through the eyes of an economist. There is a high probability that a shirt an individual wear was either made in the United States or China. Most production of cotton is widely done in these two countries. Pietra takes a close look at how world trade takes place and looks at an example of a T-shirt. The book is non-fiction and traces the path of an old t-shirt across the globe. The author is a well-known a reputable in the field of International business and Finance at George Washington University. She has vast knowledge and makes her qualified to take us through the journey of explaining the politics and economics of the T-shirt.

The cycle entails production of cotton at Texas and then proceeding to the China market for sale and later on gets back into the US where it gets now gets into the African market through donation. Pietra decides to take a journey of a T-shirt, and this is highly demanding for her as it takes a period of five years to follow this one t-shirt across several markets. The process entails obtaining the first-hand experience, and that is why she moves with the t-shirt and have a feel of globalization. The $6 T-shirt life story is aimed towards exploring the human elements and politics surrounding globalization.

The objective of the book by Pietra is to highlight different parts around global trade and this include politics, business, economics, and people. In her book and travel experience across the world, she mentions of the influence on the environment as a result of trade and industrialization (Muhammad, McPhail, and Kiawu). Her focus on the single product is a life experience to explore global aspects of the business. The book provides a thesis which explains to the reader about the relationship between international trade and a simple T-shirt. She proceeds to provide arguments supporting global trade and also those against it based on the first-hand experience.

In the first section of Rivoli's book, she talks about the journey of the T-shirt beginning at a cotton industry. The cotton fields are in West Texas, and she states that the undisputed leader of global cotton production is the United States for over 200 years (5). The evidence of this leadership is seen in the advanced cotton production techniques found in the United States. The Eli Whitney's cotton gin is one of the advanced techniques used in the United States (15). The role played by the United States government is critical to becoming a global leader in the cotton industry as it provides subsidies to farmers. The grants help in cutting down on the cost of production hence avoid farmers in the United States from hiring cheap labor sharecroppers (20). In return, the farmers easily get to prevent or suppress any competition (Muhammad, McPhail, and Kiawu). Some people argue that the impact of eliminating competition increases the gap between the poor and the rich (14). Several other factors can be attributed to the cotton production success in America such as education, climate control, capitalism and scientific advancements (25). The result includes price control of cotton by the United States globally and cutting subsidies would increase the market price substantially (63).

As the book progresses, the second part now focuses on cotton's journey from American fields to China. The cotton is transported through ships and trains after it is picked by machines and deseeded in the United States. Upon getting to China, machines are now not involved in the spinning, cutting, knitting and stitching but humans (78). People are engaged in the hard work to make the T-shirt. China has control over the apparel and the global textile industry just like the United States in the cotton industry (87). However, the leader of exports in clothing is Hong Kong along the mid-1970. China dominates the textile sector due to the availability of sweatshops. Some of the sweatshops are illegal and workers there are exposed to low wages and poor conditions to produce affordable shirts. In the process, the environment ends up suffering since it is expensive to acquire clean manufacturing techniques in the industry (89).

Some American citizens have for a long time aired their views on what is happening in the textile and apparel companies in the country, concerning the adverse effects of cheap labor and clothing that came from China. Similar sentiments expressed by American corporations were also raised by British manufacturers concerning cheap cotton that was coming from India and the United States during the earlier centuries. The political aspect of the global trade in clothing has enabled nations such as America that buy from China to demand better working conditions for workers in their factories.

In part three of the book, the focus shifts to global trade and globalization. The author follows the journey of the T-shirt from the Chinese industry to the American market. Policies such as quotas that have been imposed on imports from China by the American government are aimed at increasing jobs in American manufacturing firms (146). Americans become more nervous as the number of imports increases into the American market (157). In this section, Pietra provides two different arguments about free trade. The first argument by Auggie Tantillo claims that America has to reduce its dependency on imports if it wants to be successful. His basis of the argument is that when America maintains its manufacturing jobs, then their reliance on China would reduce (189). The second argument is by Julia Hughes who profoundly believes in free trade. Her point of reasoning is about helping poorer nations such as African countries to engage in global commerce. Also, Hughes believes that Americans will benefit from cheaper imports on T-shirts from countries all over the world (151). The two, Julia and Auggie have two entirely separate economic perspectives concerning international trade. In 2005 when quotas were lifted, exports from China rose by more than 800 percent (196). However, four years down the line, the quotas were reapplied by President Bush, and this describes the debate over uncertainties on what is politically and economically best for America (D. Churchwell).

The book looks at the journey surrounding used T-shirts after Americans donate them. Rivoli states that between the years 1995 and 2007, America exported close to nine billion pounds used clothes and other textile product to other parts of the world (216). The clothes get usually shipped to clothing industries like Salvation Army, where they become categorized by type and color. These type of businesses by used clothes at 5 to 7 cents per pound (219). When the clothes are fully organized, they are sold and shipped to other countries around the world. Some of the clothes such as Nikes, and Levis, Disney apparel are sent to Japan (221). Other countries that use used clothes include Guatemala, Philippines, Chile, and countries in Africa. The distribution of used clothes is big business since different countries order specific clothing (226). Looking at the journey that used T-shirts play in the economy and the global market, it is right to say that, this kind of business is one to reckon with in the world stage.


This book offers a great insight into the processes that take place when a product is produced to when it reaches consumers. Also, the author highlights the competition that products face not only in one country but all over the world. I found it interesting learn the journey of outputs from their state of manufacture to when it gets sold. I knew that the United States gets products from China, but the fact that the author hinted on the politics that faces this type of market, I knew this was new information that many people don't know. The book is helpful and informative but, I would have liked if the author, would have given more opinions concerning globalization and how it affect the distribution of products.

I did not have information regarding cotton production, but after reading the book, I realized that cotton farmers are serious about their niche and how the country impacts on the cotton industry. The main issue that caught my attention from the book is the fact that the American government offers subsidies to the state's farmers and if this move is unfair to farmers from other countries who cannot produce cotton successfully and efficiently as American farmers do. The production of cotton is not even all over the world, but I strongly feel that American cotton farmers need to be given subsidies to support their work. The weather and environmental factors fluctuate now and then; this means that farming is not predictable. Thus it is paramount that the government to offer assistance to farmers. Like working people in the US, cotton farmers don't have a guarantee of an annual salary. Thus the government subsidies are high to ensure the cotton industry thrives. Grants provide that cotton farmers stay employed, and the subsidies that the government offers ensure that the country remains as the leader in cotton production. Sometimes t is right to consider America before thinking of other nations. It is true that the subsidies the government offers drives up the market price of cotton worldwide; thus, affecting developing countries negatively. However, American farmers are not supposed to suffer because the government of other emerging nations is not able to offer subsidies to their farmer.

In the beginning part of the journey, the primary business was that of the cotton industry. As stated by the author, "A label saying Made in China will be tacked on the collar. However, when Texas cotton gets transformed it eventually gets back to the United States (77)." I was surprised by this statement as I had less information of America supplying cotton to China. All the cotton used in China comes from America. Therefore, the textile industry in China highly depends on and can easily be dictated by the American cotton industry. I tend to believe that the label should be changed and no longer say China Made as all the cotton come from America. America relies on China, and at the same time, China also depends on America. It is a mutual relationship, and the perception of imposing quotas since China is exporting their clothes to America is debatable (D. Churchwell).

In the book, she also talks about challenges faced by the environment as a result of T-shirt production and cotton. A good example is the cotton farmer mention in the book, Nelson Reinsch, who applies chemicals to freeze his crops. However, he does this whenever he feels like which is a threat to the environment (39). The chemicals used by farmers of cotton are highly toxic and dangerous to groundwater and humans. Such compounds are used to improve on cotton quality and yield. However, excessive utilization and misapplication would create the need for the EPA to step in and regulate. The next aspect of the environmental impact is air pollution in China as it affects major cities. The designs also are made out of a chemical substance named Phthalates that causes deformities in a baby when the mother gets exposed to it during pregnancy (132).

International trade is a way of connection with several nations, and the book clearly depicts how they rely on each other. It is also evident that without cotton from America, China would not be able to produce clothing. However, without the cheap labor available in China then, the United States would not have cheap goods. Politics and economics have a significant role in the journey of the T-shirt from cotton production to the process of manufacturing, movement of the T-shirt to America, and finally donation to the Salvation Army. Despite the economic policies on free trade by the American government where politics come into play, they are just part of the measures to protect the economic interests of the American people.


Works Cited

D. Churchwell, Cynthia D. Churchwell. "The Travels Of A T-Shirt In The Global Economy: An

Economist Examines The Markets, Power, And Politics Of World Trade." HBS Working

Knowledge. N.p., 2005. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

Muhammad, Andrew, Lihong Lu McPhail, and James Kiawu. "Competition Between The U.S.

And West Africa In International Cotton Trade: A Focus On Import Demand In China". N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

Rivoli, Pietra. The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines

the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons,

2009. Print.

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