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Over the past few years, the commodity chain construct has demonstrated various studies related to international trade and production networks in different aspects such as sociology, geography, and history. In recent times, the construct has entered the anthropology and pop culture arena as well. The inter-disciplinary appeal comes from the ability of commodity chain subject to ground abstract analysis of economic globalization. The commodity chain concept studies different aspects of daily living from how firms operate, to workers welfare, household, and consumer welfare. In the project “Planet Money T-shirt Project,” the jockey team together with the NPR team takes to videography to give a one-on-one journey of a t-shirt[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

The Structure of Commodity Chains
As Abernathy, Volpe, and Weil (2006) observe, commodity chain concept was developed in the late 1970’s by Immanuel Wallenstein and Terence Hopkins. The idea was to differentiate their understanding of capitalism from methodological nationalist approaches to economic changes. According to the two, a final commodity is the outcome of different linked processes connecting those that are involved and the activities involved (Abernathy, Volpe, & Weil, 2006). [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

Commodity chains otherwise referred to as value chains take a snapshot of global structures of production, the global economy, and thus represent a valuable field of assessment that has yet to be fully undertaken by geography. In understanding commodity chains, comprehensive approaches are required as an array of activities are conducted. Commodity chain analysis takes part in different perspectives such as transactional perspective; this is the identification of the transactions and the flows that create them (Abernathy, Volpe, & Weil, 2006). It concerns the decision process in the making and management of commodity chains. There is also the comparative perspective, which involves the assessment of the relative competitiveness of all the elements of the item in consideration to added value. Lastly is the functional perspective whereby the identification of the physical processes takes place in the circulation of items including but not limited to capacity. Assessment of capacity constraints in a distribution such as modal, intermodal, and terminal effectiveness is also carried out (Abernathy, Volpe, & Weil, 2006).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) defines economic geography as the study of the location, distribution, and spatial organization of economic activities across the world (n.d.). Since the late 1970s, most countries globally have developed exponentially due to the dominance of knowledge-based economies and services. Economic geography has surpassed its complexity with its borrowing from different theories and methods in sociology, cultural studies, and as mentioned above, anthropology. Literature review shows that different commodity chain analysis projects have added value to search perspectives (UNCTAD, n.d.). Mainstream economic geography has experienced significant turns in research.

The t-shirt project, a first of its kind by Planet Money, ventures into video-centric territory with the different aspects of making a t-shirt from one horizon to the next. When Planet Money embarked on the project, they ensured that they tracked the making of the t-shirts from the initial step which was the cotton fields of Mississippi through to the factories in Bangladesh, to shipping containers through different global points (Lu, 2014). The project adds significantly to economic geography literature. This interactive and responsive kind of project changes people’s perspective about the distinct processes.

Lu (2014) further states that the project shed light on the people in the Mississippi cotton fields as well as the Bangladesh factory people. Through this project, there is a ton of information thus adding to the western economic geography and their progress. The t-shirt project added to economic geography literature regarding information on the region and local development and industrial geography (Lu, 2014). [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]

Through the t-shirt project, NPR highlighted economic globalization, ease of movement, and interaction with different global countries for production and consumption. The project attracted various people from all over the world. Additionally, it did not only open up the possibility of globalized production; it opened eyes to the different markets available. Another addition was innovation geography. Who knew that the simple podcasts about the mere making of a t-shirt would open up discussions and research towards innovative avenues of production and selling of products? According to Brian Boyer, managing producer at NPR, the reason why they used video in the t-shirt project was to convey scale (Lu, 2014). The subject matter made visuals particularly important as they were afraid of leaving out important details. In the video, Blumberg asserts that Robert Smith and Jess Jiang did an excellent job of describing the immensity of the cotton fields, but nothing beats flying over the fields which are how the documentary begins (Lu, 2014). Regarding innovative geography, the t-shirt project proved that new ways to do things have its rewards. The most significant aspect that the t-shirt project brought forth was the environmental, economic geography, and the financial side of making products from Mississippi, Bangladesh, and finally to the clients across the globe.

The t-shirt project adequately captures the implications of global commodity chains. The producers prance from the cotton fields to Bangladesh and document the consumers wearing their t-shirts. This video documentary has captured the allusion of the global commodity chains.

The t-shirt project suggests various policy implications such as friendly environment and impeccable infrastructure, which allow flexible global markets that ease transportation of raw materials, products, and machinery (Koech, 2012). Access to credit and innovation are also important in global commodity chains. For example, Kickstarter played a significant part in the NPR’s t-shirt success story (Abernathy, Volpe, & Weil, 2006). The crowdfunding approach played to their advantage as more people who funded the project were willing to be buyers of their hard earned efforts. The participants felt like they were part of a great journey which they wanted to support to the end.

In sum, commodity chains examine global structures of production and the world economy and thus represent a valuable field of assessment. Global value chains do not respond to piecemeal approaches to a policy change; a whole lot is expected. Some policies are horizontal such as connectivity. The birth of internet brought about the birth of innovative ways of forming value chains such as videography. Other policies such as tariffs and export performance requirements are more stringent. The t-shirt project teaches valuable lessons on the economic geography of apparel production which can guide individual consciousness towards the fashion and apparel industry.

Abernathy, F., Volpe, A., & Weil, D. (2006). The future of the apparel and textile industries: prospects and choices for public and private actors. Environment And Planning A38(12), 2207-2232.

Koech, J. (2012). T-Shirt S Journey to Market Highlights Shifting Global Supply Chain Economic Ties.

Lu, D. (2014). Behind the Scenes of NPR Planet Money’s T-Shirt Project. Retrieved 15 September 2016

UNCTAD. (2013). World Investment Report 2013: Global Value Chains: Investment and Trade for Development. Geneva: UNCTAD.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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