By: Kanista Zuniga and Michelle Macumber
“So how many t-shirts do you think you made last year?” asked Planet Money’s camera man.
“Gosh, I have no idea,” Bowen Flowers answered sitting in front of his acres of cotton fields. He chuckled to the camera man, “Do you guys have the answer to that?”
Flowers grows enough cotton to make 9 million t-shirts, enough to clothe each and every person living in New York City. But Bowen isn’t the only person involved in the making of those 9 million t-shirts. He is just one player within a global economy that turns his cotton into the clothes on our backs.
NPR’s video, “Planet Money makes a T-shirt,” is a Kickstarter video highlighting the complexity and the global economy involved in making a simple t-shirt. Alex Bloomberg, the brain behind Planet Money explains, “We wanted to tell the story of our clothes to see how the vast majority of our clothes are actually made because behind one shirt there is an entire world. And once you see this world you’ll realize there is nothing ordinary about a simple t-shirt.”
The video breaks down the main stages of a t-shirt’s life, starting with the raw materials and ending with a finished product. What most people overlook are the individuals needed to create a t-shirt, and that’s where Bloomberg and his team really uncover the true story of this everyday garment.
When the video comes to an end, Planet Money’s t-shirt has been to more than four countries, more countries than 54 percent of the United States population has visited.
3 Global Lessons Students Can Learn From Planet Money
1. The world is interconnected.
Globalization is a huge component of our everyday lives, however, many students don’t even recognize how connected we really are to the rest of the world. Planet Money’s curiosity lead them on a mission to follow one t-shirt around the world, and that mission opened the eyes of many students.
One teacher at a VIF Passport School in North Carolina was searching for ways to include global concepts in her classroom. She stumbled upon this video, and thought it would really shed some light on globalization in her classroom, “The kids have been fascinated. The second and third graders and to some extent the fifth graders have been coming up to me to check their tags to see where their shirts came from.”
2. A t-shirt is not just a t-shirt.
Bloomberg uncovers the truth behind a simple t-shirt, a symbol of globalization and prosperity in many countries. In Bangladesh, the garment industry supports the economy. “The role of our t-shirts in Bangladesh play a critical role,” explains Bloomberg. “Four million people work in the garment industry. If the garment industry were to collapse millions of people would be without a job.”
Students will see that something as simple as a t-shirt supports the livelihood of people living in the poorest countries. Though the question remains, is it okay for people to earn less than $80 per month?
3. People living in poverty have dreams, too.
With his team, Bloomberg captures the lives of three individuals working in the poorest conditions, making the lowest wage anywhere in the world. But what he discovers is that they all have aspirations in life.
One woman in Columbia who works in the garment industry making women’s t-shirts for Planet Money also sells her baked goods door to door, hoping to start her own business one day. Another woman living in Bangladesh dreams of living a debt-free life outside of the slums. Students will see that people living in poor conditions aspire and keep hope in their hearts as they go to work for 20 cents per hour.
Globalization is Important
The lessons students can learn from this Kickstarter video are valuable to their education. Students will walk away knowing there is an entire world behind a t-shirt, where people who help make the shirts they wear everyday have dreams too. And all it took was Bloomberg, his team, a camera, a t-shirt and a mission to capture globalization.
Kanista Zuniga is a former ESL/EFL teacher in the U.S. and Japan and global education advocate. Kanista is the Learning Center Manager at VIF International Education and works alongside Michelle to support all global educators in the VIF professional development community.
Michelle Macumber is a global educator and Learning Center Community Leader at VIF International Education where she works alongside Kanista to engage and support all members in their development as global educators.