The devastating collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh earlier this year brought light to one of the links in the global clothing supply chain. (The tragedy has since lead the country to double its minimum wage and companies to improve working conditions.) But do you know the rest of the complex world behind the making of those clothes? A new series from NPR's Planet Money takes a look inside the people, machines, and systems behind the most basic item in any wardrobe, the cotton T-shirt.
Instead of trying to trace the path of a single T-shirt, Planet Money decided to make T-shirts of its own (regular T-shirts: no organic cotton and not made in the United States) and track its progression through the supply chain -- from a cotton farm in Mississippi to a garment factory in Bangladesh and back to the United States in shipping containers ("the unsung innovation that makes the global economy possible").
Planet Money partnered with Jockey and used Kickstarter to raise funds to make the T-shirts. The original goal of the project was to raise $50,000 but the project was so successful that it raised almost $600,000 to make nearly 25,000 T-shirts.
In addition to episode above on the machines that transform the cotton for your T-shirts into usable yarn, you can see the rest of the episodes, here, that look at everything from the cotton farms to the people who make the T-shirts.
And here are some fascinating numbers Planet Money dug up about the T-shirt making process.
- It took 13 people and 26 machines on one farm to produce enough cotton for 9.4 million T-shirts in one year
- 6 miles of yarn are in one of the Planet Money T-shirts
- Factory workers making the the Planet Money T-shirts make around $80 per month (those wages are on the rise)
- A standard shipping container can hold 82,880 Jockey T-shirts.