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The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade
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The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,220 ratings  ·  255 reviews
The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy takes the reader on a fascinating, around the world journey to reveal the economic and political lessons from the life story of a simple t-shirt. Over five years, business professor Pietra Rivoli traveled from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory to a used clothing market in Africa, to investigate compelling questions abo ...more
Paperback, 258 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by John Wiley & Sons (first published 2005)
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3.68  · 
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 ·  2,220 ratings  ·  255 reviews

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Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Very interesting economics study.

A Georgetown U. economics professor attended a protest demonstration and listened to one of her students speak from a bull horn deriding the plight of third world sweat shop workers. She asked, "Is that true?" and so she spent the better part of three years researching and documenting her studies.

Rivoli describes the history and application of cotton agriculture, trade with China and Southeast Asia and the evolution of the global textile industry. Finally, we l
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: planet money
(4.5) Surprisingly good, though not surprisingly not much actually about the path of her T-shirt

In-depth investigation of the history and politics of the industries that touch T-shirts: cotton production, processing, apparel manufacturing, shipping, recycling. She traces the history of each of these industries from their birth to today, then picks apart the current trends driving the industries today. Particularly eye-opening were the fights over tariffs and import quotas on apparel...many parti
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book! Highly recommended for those in Textile industry, readers interested in global trade and economics or in general a curious soul like me.

Things I did not know before reading the book -

1. Agriculture (subsidies and technological revolutions in the seeds and farming area)
2. Textile production ( Economies of scale in China and US south, social structures deciding workforce, and human rights)
3. Voter blocks, lobbyist, politics of quota and relations between countries that d
Jun 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything asks clever questions and explores them in clever ways. It's a fun read. But if you're going to read just one popularized economics book this year, I recommend The Travels of a T-Shirt. It breaks the major rule of economics-qua-science: it is an extended anecdote with frequent detours into cultural history and popular biography. As my scientist friends like to remind me, and as Rivoli herself is at pains to point out, the p ...more
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pietra Rivoli bought a souvenir T-shirt, and then she wrote a book about it. Inspired to explore the lowly T-shirt by an anti-WTO rally, she determined to look at the issues related to cotton farming, to clothing manufacture, and ultimately to the used-clothing trade.

If there is one message in this book, it is that free trade in the world of cotton is myth. With one exception, that is. More about that later.

First Rivoli traces the story of cotton as a critical commodity. The preeminence of the U
Jun 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is long, carefully researched and well written book about the history, geography, culture, politics and trade in cotton and cotton textiles in particular and trade in general. The author gives an excellent overview of how politics, culture and money interact to create complex trade policies in US and around the world. Although a cotton T-shirt is the last thing you would expect governments and interest groups to fight over, it is surprising to find the number of lives it affects. It is fasc ...more
Garrett Burnett
Apr 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
An economist follows the life of her t-shirt in painful detail. Rivoli starts in the cotton fields of Texas and ends up in Tanzania in the rag and second-hand clothing market. She spends plenty of time in Asia along the way, specifically China, and shares a somewhat dispassionate assessment of sweat shops.

Rivoli spends way too much time talking about the textile lobby in the United States. Throughout, she presents her analysis in a narrative form, and therefore focuses on specific characters an
May 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There is a prologue and a lengthy prologue to the prologue, before we get into the details of Texas cotton farming and being thoroughly educated on the history of cotton farming in the US. That is followed by a very brief chapter about China that focuses on sweatshops, giving the impression that there is nothing else there. Then follows an over-detailed and way too long chapter on trade policies, quotas and politics. At that point I nearly tossed the book, because it was not only painfully borin ...more
Sep 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
There has been a lot written recently in blogs and traditional media about the environmental impact of a cotton T-Shirt. This book is the granddaddy of all of them.

In a well-written and succinct book, Prof. Rivoli tells us about how this most ubiquitous item of western attire is created, used, and disposed of - once, twice, and maybe a third time. Using both objective facts and personal anecdotes, this book is both educational and enjoyable.

Although I read it a little while back and the book its
Alvaro Berrios
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What a superb book. Whether you’re a free trade supporter, a staunch protectionist, or a fierce labor activist you need to read this book! This is hands down the most unbiased book I have ever read from the perspective that all sides of the debate are tdiscussed or addressed. And whatever your beliefs are, I guarantee that you will find something in this book that will cause you to stop, and possibly re-think or tweak some of your own ideals.

The book is well-written, immensely informative and t
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Incredible education on globalism, free markets, protectionism, textiles and cotton.
Bibhu Ashish
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was wonderful to read the book and get so much insight into how the global trade works. Though the book is all about the cotton and apparel industry, it can be applicable to any industry in this world of globalization. It throws a lot of light on how politics affect the global trade.

Another interesting aspect which the book dealt with so nicely was that it is not the globalization which hampers the local economies, but it is the political reaction, political response and political involvemen
Brian Keller
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
An even-handed look at globalization. My views on protectionism and off-shoring were, to say the least, uninformed prior to reading this book. Now, through the lens of this industry, I can see more of the complexity of interaction between the workers, the government regulation, business, and the customers. I highly recommend this book to everyone. The only weakness is also the book's strength, that is, the author's coverage of the topic is so thorough that it becomes tedious in spots.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Detailed, in-depth review of t-shirt trade. Four sections:
1. Cotton
2. Manufacturing
3. Tariffs / quotas (politics)
4. Recycling

All very insightful. Here were my main takeaways:
1. Free trade and globalization are actually beneficial to the environment. Rich countries demand better, cleaner products and set higher standards. International manufacturers want to meet those standards, so they implement the most strict standards in their production.

2. Production of clothing is not actually the most d
Jul 24, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book is extremely racist and imperialist. I read it, way back when, in a class on outsourcing/sweatshops/globalization and knew, even as an impressionable 16 yo, that it was a hot pile of garbage. Frankly stunned at others calling it “revelatory” and “educational.”
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book shows you a bit of the lives of several people along the supply chain and trade routes of T-shirts, including American cotton farmers, Chinese factory girls, trade lobby etc. This is the main contribution of the book and probably also what makes it appealing to many people. However, I found many of the points made quite obvious. American cotton farmers compete based on technology, machinery and generous subsidies, Chinese textile manufacturers on low wages...
Another weakness of the boo
Jan 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, nonfiction
An engaging read and a good book even if you only have a layman's understanding of economics. Very interesting to hear about the people she met along the way while researching.

I disagree with some of the author's conclusions in the last section but there was a lot of good information in here to consider. She believes that the path to world peace is the free market, and believes that it empowers everyone it comes in contact with. I'm unsure that she's in an unbiased position to make such broad st
Kevin Zuech
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Earlier this year I listened to a series of podcasts done by NPR Planet Money from 2013. They followed the life of a T Shirt throughout the creation and life after. This series was based off of this book so I wanted to read it while the podcasts were still fresh in my mind. Although the material is a little outdated since it was written in 2005 I found it surprising relevant to today's topics. This book talks about globalization versus protectionism at least in the textile and apparel industry a ...more
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I think this book should be required reading for schools from HS and up. Many, many people only repeat the propaganda put out by activist groups (ie: anti-trade) without any real knowlege of what they are saying. This book would help to clear up their incorrect thought processes and open their eyes to at least some as to what is really happening in the big picture of trade. I learned so much from this book even having a financial background. I told my friend it was like taking a college class wi ...more
Jan 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-books
There was a horrifying moment when I was reading this book about economics and politics and boll weevils where I found myself laughing out loud. Who am I.

I did actually enjoy reading this book, even though the economic and political topics are not always my favorite. But I'm reading this for a sociology course and the class discussions definitely elevate the book. And the voice of the author was compelling and engaging enough to keep me turning the pages (without falling asleep) and make me laug
Pep Bonet
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: assaig
Very illustrative and informative.Rivoli tries to describe all the approaches to international trade and textiles. Not that she doesn't show her ideology in doing this, but writes in a non-pamphlet way, checking both sides of the divide between protectionists and free-traders. And it contains a certain number of surprises, revelations. Time well spent
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This read more like a dense textbook on history and globalization than the tale of the t-shirt that I was expecting, but it was still a good read. I had to skip chapters in the end to get through it, but learned a ton. Recommend to those who are interested in labor rights, globalization, and international trade. Not much in it on manufacturing though, which I had been hoping for.
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Thought it'd give more insight into the economics of globalism, but ended up with more knowledge about cotton production than I ever really cared to know about.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally did not expect that this would be a page-turner for me! This book was written so well for readers like me who are generally in a fog about politics, trade, and economics. Yet it was so captivating, it did not lose its sense of importance about our modern-day issues.

"The Travels of a Tshirt in the Global Economy" 2nd edition, follows the phase of a t-shirt's life from the inception of an idea all the way to the final destination home. Although a t-shirt is a simple metaphor, the author e
Nov 20, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was painfully boring. The only reason I read it was because I had an economics book report. There were other choices but all the copies of Superfreakonomics (the book that all my classmates wanted to read) were taken at the library and I wasn't going to buy a book I knew I wouldn't be interested in. I don't have enough money to buy books I will only read once. I thought T-shirts would be okay. Why not learn about sweatshops? It's a sad yet interesting topic. I got anything but that. Th ...more
Jeni Enjaian
I read this book upon recommendation of my economics professor after mentioning the Marketplace podcast series on making a T-shirt. While this book was not terrible, I enjoyed the podcast series much more.

I did enjoy how Rivoli discussed the history and historical implications of each stage of the t-shirt's journey. She dives in and revels in the history, making illumination connections. The sheen wears off when one remembers the t-shirt supposedly at the center of the journey and finds difficul
Dec 23, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is eye-opening as to the breadth and quantity of resources that go into the production of a simple good: a T-shirt. It's academic but readable to general audiences. For those who have studied globalization, it may not bring new insights.

I read this book years ago during my first year as an undergraduate. It was a bit dry and hard to get through at points (for a student who had limited understanding of macroeconomics or applied economics at the time). However, this book, along with a gr
Vedrana Kopić
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Other governments enviously looking on have taken
note of this fact. Indian officials like to observe that their Chinese
counterparts don't have to worry about voters. "We have
to do many things that are politically popular but are foolish,"
said a senior member of the Indian government. "They
depress our long-term economic potential. But politicians
need votes in the short term. China can take the long view.
And while it doesn't do everything right, it makes many
decisions that are smart and far-sighte
A little too academic (even for me) in terms of the amount of detail in some places, but overall I learned a great deal from this book and it made me horrified and happy. It takes the reader all the way from the cotton farmers in Texas embroiled in a complicated mix of inter-relationships to serve to the sweat shops of China and the hukou practice that makes low-wage labor possible to the free markets of Africa were the customer is truly king. Nothing as straight-forward as it may seem. Really a ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written in 2005 and still applies as the author sees a college demonstration against apparel manufacturer and so she eventually purchases a t-shirt then follows up with the manufacturer via the tag. She delves into the production of cotton from the civil War era and the difficult process.

Eventually they process went to China where the workers were docile and happy to do the work as opposed to family farm field work.

Modern politics have made the process VERY complicated. Insightful look at free/f
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