Planet Money wanted to know exactly what goes into making a t-shirt. In the above video, Planet Money shadows two female factory workers, Doris and Jasmine, in Colombia and Bangladesh and details the global story of the garment industry.
The life cycle of a t-shirt starts with cotton picking in the Mississippi Delta and fabric manufacturing in Indonesia. The fabric then makes its way to factories in Colombia and Bangladesh, where Doris and Jasmine play a hand in making the actual t-shirts. Finally, the product is shipped at $0.07 per shirt, a small fraction of manufacturing costs.
The garment industry supply chain is also a story of inequality. Doris’s factory salary of around $300 per month supports herself and her mother. She runs a pastry business on the side. Doris plans to leave her job at the factory within a year. In Colombia, the garment industry is just another industry.
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, the industry is a “social upheaval.” Jasmine lives with three others in a small apartment with no running water. Her wage of $80 per month provides for her extended family, who lives in an impoverished village 12 hours from the factory. She keeps only $10 a month for her own personal expenses. Rural poverty drives millions of Bangladeshis to move to cities for work.
Despite dangerous working conditions at many factories in Bangladesh, Planet Money says that the departure of the garment factories would be a loss for the country. New jobs give new opportunities for Bangladesh’s poor to provide for their families. The struggle lies in keeping costs low without compromising the safety of factory workers.