The unordinary life of an ordinary T-shirt
Published: Monday, April 24, 2006
Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2009 05:07
The life of an ordinary $6 T-shirt can demonstrate and explain today's complex global economy, a speaker said April 17 in Clayton Hall as part of the fashion and apparel lecture series, "Fashioning Social Responsibility."
Pietra Rivoli, author and professor of finance at Georgetown University, told an audience of approximately 400 students and faculty the T-shirt is a small and simple thing, but has a complex story to tell about the global economy.
The life of a T-shirt covers three continents and three different global economies, Rivoli said, speaking about her book, "The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets Power and Politics of World Trade."
By following the T-shirt from the cotton fields of West Texas to the sweatshops in Beijing and eventually to the east coast of Tanzania, where it is sold for 50 cents in a used clothing market, it can act as a guide through various social justice and economic issues, Rivoli said.
"As you think about the apparel we wear, it's not only far flung geographically, it is also far flung if we look at these very different industries," she said.
Rivoli said every aspect in the journey of a T-shirt touches on some current social issue in the textile industry.
"Each of the people involved in the life story of this T-shirt represent a tension or controversy about social responsibility and social justice today," she said.
One of the major questions people in the apparel industry must ask themselves is what is fair and what is right, Rivoli said.
"How can we, as a country, support our domestic goals while at the same time play fair in the global community?" Rivoli asked.
It is the responsibility of fashion and apparel students to understand the multiple aspects of the textile industry, she said.
"I think that everyone, no matter what, needs to understand how they plug into the global economy," she said in an interview before the lecture.
"Almost all of us tend to focus on our own little narrow silos and so what I hope they get out of it is a broader perspective than maybe what they have in their day-to-day studies on just the apparel side," Rivoli said.
She said her goal is to force people to think about where their clothes come from, who was involved and what kinds of social and human issues are a part of the process.
"We are so separated from the things that are on our skin that we have forgotten even the basic fact of who was involved," she said.
Marsha Dickson, fashion and apparel professor and chair of the lecture series, said Rivoli was chosen as the first speaker because of how well her book fit the lecture series topic.
"The book she's written gives an idea of the importance of the industry and global economy and the ways that globalization has really impacted the apparel industry," she said.
The topic of fashion and social responsibility was chosen because professors are concerned with making sure their students are aware of all aspects of their industry, Dickson said.
"This is the place where you can learn about social responsibility and how you can make a positive impact when you get into the industry," she said.
Junior Deborah Montalvo said she learned about a different facet of her major as well as the fashion and apparel industry.
"I didn't really know a lot about the economic aspect of fashion because I'm more in the creative part of it," Montalvo said. "But it was really interesting because there's so much that goes into the little things like what you put on and I didn't even know about that."