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The Kid Should See This

Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt

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What does it take to make a t-shirt? NPR’s Planet Money travels across the globe to document the people and processes of this task firsthand.

“Our t-shirts started here or near here anyway, on a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta. America, it turns out exports more cotton than any other country in the world. For about a century, America maintained its cotton dominance by using slave labor. Today, it does so using technology.”

The stories are in five chapters. Above, Chapter 1: Cotton, and below, Chapter 2: Machines.

cotton fields
giant bale of cotton

“Twenty years ago, there was no GM cotton. Today, over 90 percent of American cotton is genetically modified. And all this technology, the machines that automatically bale the cotton, the specially designed trucks to haul those bales away, the high-speed gins that remove those lab-designed seeds, all this technology has an impact. Since the 1950s cotton yields have almost tripled.”

How much cotton would that be in 2013 when this video series was made? “The answer from just this one farm in just one year, there’s enough cotton for 9 million t-shirts.”


cotton machines

A note for younger viewers: In Chapter 3: People, which features the story of Jasmine Akhter, a garment worker in Bangladesh, there are graphic scenes of the Rana Plaza factory building collapse from 3m10s to 3m52s.

You can watch the entire piece on their information-filled site: Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt.

In the archives: more videos about money, clothing, textiles, and cotton, including:
• A Slaton Co-op Gin truck easily flips 20,000lbs of cotton
• Li Ziqi’s ‘The Life of Cotton’
• The Impact of One Cotton T-Shirt
• Weaving on Mount Vernon’s 18th Century Loom
• Is Your Fleece Jacket Polluting The Oceans?
• How woolly sweaters are made
• Behind-the-scenes at Chicago’s Dearborn Denim & Apparel

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