It Takes a World to Make Your T-Shirt

What does your t-shirt have to do with farmers in India, machinists in Vietnam, and sailors in the Pacific? They are all interconnected in a globalized t-shirt supply chain that reacts to the choices you make online as a consumer.

To squeeze a living out of the Earth, farmers have to plan their crop cycles well in advance. Depending on the amount of t-shirts sold annually, farmers attempt to plant enough cotton to meet the exact demand for raw materials. If they plant too much, the price will be too low to meet their costs. If they plant too little, they won’t be able to sell enough cotton to stay in business.

Manufacturing requires equipment and maintenance. The tools and the technical expertise required to make t-shirts ranges from basic techniques for refining the raw cotton to the elaborate machines that rapidly stitch shirts together. Business managers, fashion designers, and engineers, work together to produce the final product.

T-shirts still have to make their way to markets for sale. To do this they must cross a world of complicated geographical and political boundaries. By the time you finally see your t-shirt, it has already traveled thousands of miles and changed hands dozens of times.

A t-shirt is a simple thing, and it’s easy to take it for granted. You don’t really think about all of the work that has gone into producing it. It’s easy to assume that a new shirt will be available whenever you want one. Consider the extraordinary effort that it takes to provide you with this convenience, and understand how, with a click of a button, you set into motion a chain of events that have global consequences.

Life of a t-shirt infographic

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