Globalization and Our T-Shirts: Catawba Students Learn about Globalization
November 8, 2011
Catawba College first-year students enrolled in the "Living Globally" first year seminar learned about globalization in an unexpected way — from their t-shirts.
The students in this honors class, taught by Dr. Steve Coggin, Dean of Catawba's School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology, went through their closets and noted the country of origin for their t-shirts. They then used this information to produce a world map showing where the items in their wardrobes were manufactured. Some striking trends appeared.
The country that made the largest proportion of t-shirts in the students' survey was China at 17%. However, the country coming in second place in manufacturing the clothes tallied in the students' survey was Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti made 11% of the t-shirts for the students in this class. Coming in at third place was the USA with 10%, a surprisingly high number given all the loss of textile manufacturing in this country.
The world map that the students produced showed striking geographic distribution. Asia and Latin America were the main sources of clothing for this class. Africa and Europe provided the fewest t-shirts with only one between them. The economics of this global manufacturing is clear. Countries with an average per capita income of less than $10,000 per year made 68% of the shirts. Haiti, the country that produced the second highest number of shirts for this class, has the lowest income ($1,200 per year) of all the countries represented in the students' closets. Clothing costs have remained low in the United States because the manufacture of these products has moved to poor countries. These same economic forces moved the textile industry from New England to the southern United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
What the students concluded was that globalization affects many aspects of their lives, even their t-shirts.
"A surprising number of our t-shirts didn't come from China and America," explained Nathan Riddle of Kannapolis. "There was a lot more diversity than I expected."
Austin Snider of Salisbury was surprised that 68% of the countries represented in the manufacture of the classes' t-shirts had a per capita income of less than $10,000 a year. "Anywhere in the world that's just ridiculously low," he said, citing the low per capita incomes of Haiti at $1,200 a year and Bangladesh at $1,700 a year.
Chris Koehler of Burlington noted that one of his t-shirts was actually manufactured in two countries – the U.S. and El Salvador. "Where things are manufactured is something you generally don't think about. We live in such a convenient society that it takes a class like this to force you to see that things you use every day would not be with you without a complicated system of trade."
Darby Reedy of Reading, Pa., explained that two virtually identical t-shirts that she purchased at the same store but at different time were made in two different countries, Cambodia and India.
In addition to the aforementioned students, others enrolled in the "Living Globally" first year seminar include Danielle Bunten of Southport; Steven Gibson of Statesville; Patrick James of Charlotte; Sloan Kessler of Onalaska, Wis.; Christian Krzykwa of Wilmington; Adam Kurdi of Chapel Hill; Michelle Newberger of Lutz, Fla.; Verity Pryor Harden of Abilene, Texas; Shelby Ragazzo of Wilmington; Emily Schilling of Charlotte; and Emma Stoneberg of Asheville. The teaching fellows for the course are Ana Cooke of Fairfax, Va., and Sarah Devlin of Candler.