Several months ago, NPR’s Planet Money launched what became a runaway Kickstarter campaign with the goal of following a typical t-shirt through its entire global supply chain.
So many people in our community have been in touch with us this week as NPR has been highlighting Planet Money’s T-Shirt Story. We’ve heard, “The Cotton of the Carolinas t-shirt brand would have been a better choice. Why did they go global when there’s a 100% transparent, made in USA option available?”
As Planet Money stated in their Kickstarter Campaign:
We’ll meet the people who grow the cotton, spin the yarn, and cut and sew the fabric. We’ll ride on the cargo ships that bring our t-shirt from factories in Bangladesh and Colombia to ports in the US. And we’ll examine the crazy tangle of international regulations which govern the t-shirt trade the whole way.
And while we completely agree that Cotton of the Carolinas would have been the better choice, it’s important that Planet Money took the time to follow the supply chain of an ordinary shirt.
As Alex says in the video, it’s just a regular shirt. Not organic. Not anything handmade, or made in the United States. Just a shirt like so many millions of shirts. A shirt that follows a path very similar to how the vast majority of our clothes are made. They wanted to tell that story. And we agree that consumers need to understand the world behind the apparel industry. You’ve heard more and more voices clamoring about the real cost of cheap apparel, and sadly, we’ve seen disastrous consequences of how it’s managed (or not managed, as the case may be).
But what we also need are more and more voices telling the story of a transparent, sustainable alternative. It’s not just a great idea, it’s happening now. And we’ve been pioneering the trail for the last 5 years growing Cotton of the Carolinas to success, no matter how many nay-sayers joined the bandwagon.
And believe us, there were nay-sayers. Plenty of them.
“You can’t expect to grow cotton in the same region that you gin, spin, cut, sew and finish it. It just doesn’t happen that way. A farmer doesn’t see what his cotton is made into. He just ships it off!”
Well, we’re mighty proud to say that our farmer, who had indeed never seen a finished product made with his cotton, wears our Cotton of the Carolinas t-shirts.
We’ve proven the nay-sayers wrong. We’ve seen the demand grow. And we’d like to see it grow more. And not because more orders means more business for us (thought that’s nice too), but because it means that consumers are choosing to put their money where their mouths are. People love talking about supporting “made in USA” and buying local. They have heated discussions about how important transparency is, and how social responsibility really matters when it comes to how products are manufactured; but when it comes to supporting it with their dollars, well that’s different. Businesses love increasing their profit margin; people love getting a deal and saving money. But now we’re seeing the real cost of following cheap labor. For us and those who are like-minded, it’s providing a challenge and an opportunity to pioneer a new path. One that brings jobs back home, provides living wages and supports a more robust and sustainable national economy.
Our community is aware that an alternative to the typical t-shirt model exists. And it’s been great to hear from them the last couple of days. But we need more voices talking about how the principles of sustainability and transparency are really coming to life. How this one supply chain positively affects over 500 jobs in the Carolinas region. How when our customers choose to order Cotton of the Carolinas brand tees, they are choosing to invest in their neighbors and in the prosperity of our country.
Planet Money was inspired by Pietra Rivoli’s book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy. It’s considered a “must read” and highlights the nuances of globalization. In contrast, our efforts to journey through the apparel industry while staying much closer to home have inspired others within the sustainable, locally-focused community to continue spreading the positive impact within their spheres. It’s a chain reaction that we want to continue to be a part of and see grow, so that it changes our country’s attitude and habits.
So, sure. Planet Money made t-shirts. That’s great. But more importantly, they gave the country an opportunity to listen and learn, and hopefully change their minds about where they choose to spend their money and what kind of apparel they choose to buy.
Let’s tell them we’re interested in sharing the story about made in USA products that offer a 100% transparent supply chain. Reach Planet Money via Twitter and Facebook. Use the hashtag #seedtoshirt. Let’s get their attention so that they know we’re interested in hearing more about the other side of the story.
Post Script: Keep in mind, Planet Money is aware of TS Designs and the Cotton of the Carolinas t-shirt brand. NPR is actually a customer of ours and we love having the opportunity to work with them on apparel campaigns. We believe in an educated consumer, and think that Planet Money’s project is helping to make the market more aware of the issues surrounding the current (and in our opinion, broken) model. What people choose to do with that information is up to them, but we can hope it’ll mean more making more t-shirts, dirt to shirt in the Carolinas region of the USA.