The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy

The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy focuses on the impact of globalization and free trade. Pietra Rivoli recounts her fascinating adventure around the world in order to find out the origin of her T-shirt.

She travels from a cotton field in Texas to a Chinese factory and from there goes to a used clothing market in Tanzania, and in the process describes the transformation of raw cotton into a T-Shirt. She analyses the international trade through the story of a simple product and gives her perceptions of the workings of a global economy.

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She resolves that, without blatant efforts by protestors and NGOs, free trade would lead into exploitation of disfavored workers in the factories of developing countries. This essay gives a critical examination of the Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy by looking at its purpose, the impressions it creates, how it could be improved and finally, its relation to economic geography.

In telling her story, Rivoli used a simple concept to find out the globalization of world trade. She randomly purchases a t-shirt while on vacation then talks to the shop proprietors to discover where they initially bought it from. She then tracks down the persons and factories that probably had a direct influence upon her t-shirt. Her story commences at George Town University in Washington where she encountered a student demonstration about the sweatshop that produced their t-shirts.

She becomes concerned and decides to investigate how the process worked, and so, she buys a T-Shirt which sets out the whole story. The story begins right at the cotton fields where the farmers encounter several challenges and from there, hops from country to country as it undergoes different processes (Rivoli, 2005).

The story is recounted in an interesting and efficacious way to attain its objective of educating on global economy. She explains that cotton farmers in America are MBAs in entrepreneurship in the sense that they are moving toward their vision of earning wealth to themselves and to the whole community as well. This is achieved through cutting off the foreign and domestic competitors. As Rivoli states, Texas cotton remains the lead as a result of placing limits to competitors instead of competing.

She describes the cotton industry using an imagery; the Texas cotton industry as a lion and its competitors as gazelles. This finely illustrates her idea of the Texas cotton industry quickly destroying its opponents so as to avoid competition. This way, she helps in elaborating on the reasons for continuous success of Texas cotton (Rivoli, 2005).

Moreover, she also sheds light on the benefits incurred by farmers as a result of cotton farming. The farmers of the United States are subsidized by the government, and the American textile industries are made to buy the cotton from the farmers which in turn, subsidize the difference in price.

Programmes for compensating farmers of the losses, developing new technologies and for loaning are also available. On the contrary, other countries as India and Pakistan cannot even afford to compensate their farmers. This is quite the opposite of America. Farmers in such countries are depressed as seen in the example of an Indian cotton farmer who decided to drink pesticide as a way of expressing his fate in farming.

Through this, the economic situations of different countries are depicted. Protectionist policies are what the American government has applied in order to prevent imports, and though this might be viewed as a short-run resolution of imports to any nation, it does help in preserving domestic products and the jobs of dozens (Rivoli, 2005).

When drawing the cotton processing in Chinese factories, Rivoli reveals the inhuman conditions in the sweatshop. She mentions the condition of workers and especially women who work for long hours at the factories for little pay. She provides an example of a young woman, Jiang Lan, whose work is to tie strands of broken yarn.

She works for six days per week, eight hours a day, and all what she gets is $100 per month. This is surely a low pay considering the fact that she works for long hours and only has one day to rest in a week. Quite to the contrary, these women are willing to work on the factory as it frees them from the donkeywork and arranged marriages in the countryside China.

This reflects the poor political governance that does not protect the workers’ rights. China’s communist policies that socially classify people such as the hukou are unnecessary and unfair to many as it prevents people from becoming who they want to be. This is a matter that the Chinese government needs to look into (Rivoli, 2005).

Nevertheless, Rivoli’s writing creates such an important realization that the need for new clothing has made cotton a necessity. This is deduced in the section concerning the Salvation Army where she says that “There are nowhere near enough poor people in America to absorb the mountains of castoffs (clothing), even if they were given away” (p.176).

This essentially means that, there is unlimited desire for new clothing in and outside America. The used garments are taken to Tanzania trading markets where they are sold as second hand garments. Used clothes have become an issue of controversy and some African countries have banned the importation of castoffs as a way of protecting their local textile industries (Rivoli, 2005).

Her opinion on economic policy is something that I agree with. Her sentiment pertaining to the agreement on free trade between China and the United States is that, the two states should stop competing and instead let the market determine the best product. Through this, it is made clear that free trade might not be the best line in the short-term after all (Rivoli, 2005).

Moreover, another similar problem occurs when Rivoli talks about the unintended outcomes of congress legislation that proposes to affirm the occupations of America. A particular case is that of CBTBA and the “yarn forward” requisite that deters American yarn spinners from exporting their yarn to the Caribbean and from changing production to a cost-effective location.

One asks themselves whether the legislations being passed are of any assistance since they prove not to be working to begin with. Instead of wasting time and money maintaining disused jobs, it could be better put to use in other places like funding educational programs and educating dismissed workers (Rivoli, 2005).

Finally, the book touches on several issues of globalization which are informative. Rivoli though, can further improve the book by discussing the matters of political and economic subversion. In addition, environmental impacts of the garment industries should also be more dwelt on. The textile industry nowadays illustrates the issues faced by the global economy.

Owing to its globalization, the textile industry moves around boundaries, connecting governments, industries and economies of underdeveloped and developed nations. As seen, the garments move from a developed country to a less developed country as they get old. This explains the economic situations of these countries.

Americans are able to afford new clothing and as they get old they are transferred to a less developed country as Tanzania who may not afford new garments due to high charges imposed on them. This is a very interesting book as it elaborates on various matters pertaining to the economies of different nations (Rivoli, 2005).

This book looks at the cycle of a T-shirt transformed from a cotton field in Texas to a fabric and finally sewn to a T-shirt in Chinese factories. The T-shirt is then taken back to United States, Florida, where it is printed and sold in the streets of Washington. As a used T-shirt it is eventually discarded and thus encounters a free market.

On its way to Tanzania, it may pass through china again for sorting, and that is how the T-shirt as she analyzed, travels. This book expresses approval of the business individuals involved in global trade together with their antagonists who assist in ensuring that trade does not at all cause dehumanization to those that it may serve to assist.

Pietra Rivoli hence recounts a story that deserves its success. She has done deep research, written well, argued well and even largely elaborated on the turbulent complexness of the global economy. Rivoli though should elaborate more on the economic and political corruption.


Rivoli, P. (2005). The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade. New York: John Wiley & Sons.


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