Patagonia Reads with UCSB
After a very successful inaugural launch last year Patagonia got involved again with the University of California Santa Barbara READS program. UCSB students and Patagonia employees were given The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli to learn more about globalization.
Patagonia was asked to get even further involved and have representatives from the company speak as panelists at Santa Barbara county libraries over the course of a couple of weeks.
As strange as this might sound, a book on globalization and trade, all following the story through a T-shirt’s life, was actually an easy read. So if that hasn’t fully sparked your interest to read this book, I thought I would give my thoughts on it for potential readers to know what you are about to engage in.
This is a great book to give the reader a macro view of how global trade works. One of the most often asked questions I get from customers is, “Why doesn’t Patagonia make more products in the USA?” This is a great question that involves a long answer with a lot of detail and this book helps answer some of it from a big picture perspective.
The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy gives the reader a good understanding of the complexity that exists in the world around the apparel industry specifically, and could be applied to many other industries. Sourcing and production of goods has become global for so many reasons that cannot be summed up in a simple answer. Therefore if you are interested in this subject, jump into the deep end of the pool and start learning. Luckily this book gives you a good start to understanding the complexity.
One key point that I took away from this book is that we are in the midst of a cycle that has occurred many times before. Currently there is a great resistance to manufacturing going oversees, but at one point the USA was that oversees. In the early 1800’s production was leaving England and moving to the New England. The northeast coast of the United States was able to produce fabric and garments much faster and cheaper than what was occurring in England at the time. But soon it made more sense to manufacture textiles and sew garments in the south as labor was cheaper and that is where the cotton was being grown. So production moved down south and the north tried through various means to keep production in the north, and then other countries became the new destination. I apologize for my gross simplification of this time in history. I only want to show that what we are experiencing today is not an isolated incident; there are past examples that we can learn from.
One topic that came up again and again in the conversations I had during the community dialogues with the UCSB READS program was about global citizenship. As citizens of the globe, are we all responsible for taking care of each other and the planet? Even if we feel this way there are many forces working against this goal. Compared to the 1800s the impact, socially and environmentally, of production moving around the world is causing problems we are all starting feel. Cotton specifically has enormous land use, water use and hazardous waste issues; and the social implications of a low-skill, low-wage, high-labor industry affect a much larger community beyond those directly involved. But as Rivoli outlines in the book social and environmental problems are greatly influenced by economic drivers including international trade agreements, country duties, and market forces which makes solving these problems even more complicated.
There was a deep frustration at a couple of the events that I participated in about how we are going to solve these big issues when the problems are so complex and intertwined. I say that we all have the power to unravel this mess, but we cannot solve the world’s problems with the tools we used to create them. We need a new model for doing business that calculates the social and environmental costs. If we want to operate in a capitalist society, which seems to be the one that keeps getting reinforced, then we need to account for all costs. What costs are missing? Some might include environmental damage and degradation, informal economies, fair wages, and inefficiencies. We can do business better, but we have to embrace the complexity of how business is done today and stop thinking short term.
So I would recommend reading The Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy to expose yourself to what challenges are out there. Then put on your thinking cap and consider how you can make a difference. The people that caused these problems had short-term and self-interested decisions. We can do better, and must, if we are going to have a globalization model that works for everyone and the planet.
If you're in the area and want to know more, come hear the author, Pietra Rivoli, speak March 5, 2008 8pm at UCSB's Campbell Hall in Santa Barbara.