All I got is this lousy T-Shirt

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli

This book was a Christmas gift from Chris. The title was a little intimidating and similarly to Bad Science, I thought I needed to research every other word in order to understand it. I was wrong. I absolutely love the book. It is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in the last few years.

The edition I have is revised and updated. This adds so much to the book, as you get the original plus updates and stories of how things have changed since the first version. I would love to read another update in the future. Chris can easily put it on his watch list for future Christmas presents.

The author takes you methodically through each stage in the lifecycle of a T-Shirt. Economics, manufacturing, industry are not areas I have read much about outside the school requisites so I was pleased with myself to be able to keep up with the details. Probably it is more due to the author’s skill of making information accessible to people like me than anything else. This lifecycle links to many areas such as: cotton, clothing factories, imports, sales, quotas, employment, trade, charity, mitumba. Each one of these is influenced if not fully driven, by politics, research and the complex forces of global markets.

I hear many people criticizing how the current world is driven by consumerism, how we are allowing factories in China to take over jobs, horrible working conditions and sweatshops. I appreciate informed criticism, balanced with facts and used to spot areas of improvement, criticism from the people involved in the process or activists. But I am developing an allergy to criticism for the sake of having something to say. Reading some email forward about a sweatshop and preaching not buying clothes Made in China is an attitude I don’t particularly find useful.

Thanks to this book, I feel better now when I see the ‘Made in China’ tag. My clothes being made there can participate to moving life into better directions as it did for Manchester a long time ago. It may not be an easy road but as the result of informed consumers and their demands for ethical conditions, new jobs have been created for Quality Assurance and clothing companies have to run regular checks. As a consumer you can read about their Mission Statement, see if ethical working conditions are mentioned and respected. You can make an informed choice to buy or not to buy based on the company’s dedication to whichever principles you think are important.

Mitumba was another incredibly interesting stage in a T-Shirt’s life. While the US market is highly regulated and not a free market as it prides itself to be, mitumba seems to be the only time in the lifetime of the T-Shirt when it enjoys a free market. Even this negative aspect of the American market, that is its regualtion, there is a positive aspect: Due to the United State’s complicated quota system, factories and workers have been pushed to a variety of countries, not just China. These countries would otherwise not have access to the clothing manufacturing market.

The main reasons I loved the book was that it made me an informed consumer and it gave me the good, the bad and the ugly and then the good again about the life of my T-Shirt. Every single stage had both good and bad associated with it and I want to hear both the good and the bad. No more negativity and criticism by itself thank you very much.

I also feel I have learned a bit more about Manchester, our current home. Considering it’s rich cotton related history it was good to see it’s role in history.

So where does your T-Shirt come from? The one I am wearing now is Made in Cambodia. Thank you Cambodia!

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