The T Shirt

The T shirt industry is a worldwide manufacturing production. As we read in the article “Two for A Penny”, by Pietra Rivoli, there is an entire T shirt industry in Tanzania. The T shirts are shipped in from various places, as it states, “the labels reveal that most of the T shirts were born in Mexico, China, or Central America.” The shirts also arrive with a backstory: “the T shirts also reveal something about their life in America.” These shirts are sold secondhand for a bargain. There are different strategies and methods for picking out which shirts to accept and sell, and how to sell them. Although the concept of the auction-like marketplace in Tanzania may seem foreign to us, to the locals it is as normal as an American buying a T shirt in any local store. The author draws a comparison between their Tanzanian marketplace to being their “Walmart”, as he writes, “the dregs are piled up, Mitumba’s answer to the clearance table at Walmart.” This article is eye-opening for different reasons. Firstly, it shows us where the clothes we donate to the Salvation Army goes. Also, it makes us realize how global the T shirt industry is. In addition, it shows us that although we may feel very distant from a village in Tanzania, they go T shirt shopping just like we do, and it is a worldwide aspect of culture. An article written by the New York Times, “The T-Shirt Industry Sweats It Out”, by Isadore Barmash, speaks about an aspect of the T Shirt industry which shows American T shirt culture is not necessarily that much more sophisticated than the Tanzanian one: “T-shirts are the only clothing sold not just in stores, but also on the street, in gasoline stations, bowling alleys, movie theaters and zoos. A single shirt can fetch as little as $5 or as much as $150 when sold in boutiques.

The T shirt industry also creates jobs worldwide, which on the surface seems like a good thing. In both Columbia and Indonesia, many seek out work in the lucrative garment industry. Yet if you look at these jobs on a deeper level, you will see that wages are low and working conditions are far less than ideal, even more so in Indonesia. Still, many people in these places have no choice but to accept these jobs. Upon further study, I have found that there is currently a human rights study going on in Indonesia held by these garment workers about human rights abuses in the industry. A website called cleanclothes.org discusses the case as follows: “Evidence has been gathered which demonstrates issues such as illegal compulsory overtime, inhuman productivity measures, wage theft, systematic denial of social security payments, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and active suppression of the right to freedom of association.” I think this is a very important situation and not a widely known one. Spreading awareness of this cause is essential. While we appreciate out T shirts and get good wear out of them, we also have to think about where they come from and the human beings making them.

While I was thinking about the people who make my T shirts, I actually created a garment myself. During the Shelby Head workshop, I had the opportunity to create a T shirt based creation with my peers. Using T shirts that all had sentimental value to us, we gave the material a new life by combining them all into a skirt. I specifically appreciated that my group made a skirt, being that we are all religious Jews and follow a specific dress code that requires us to wear skirts. I appreciate this dress code as a part of my heritage and culture and appreciate the opportunity to reflect that in our project. We worked together to use techniques Shelby showed us, such as fringe and bunching up the material. While it was strange to see shirts that held emotional value us being cut up, we created an entirely new garment that now has it’s own story.

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