Author: Elliot Blackburn, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, LubbockOnLine.com
Professor says T-shirt book owed to area cotton farmers
The world may have never known just what happens to cotton fluff once it leaves the High Plains had West Texas farmers been a little more gruff.
Pietra Rivoli, author of "The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy," told a small crowd at the Lubbock Country Club that the busy trade offices in Washington, D.C., and the opaque textile industry in China would have made starting her book impossible, but patient West Texas cotton farmers encouraged her to pursue the project.
"The city of Lubbock, the people of Lubbock made it very easy to start this adventure," Rivoli said.
Rivoli's 2005 biography of a T-shirt, from a fluffy boll outside Smyer to a used garment sold in Tanzania, quickly went from top business book to textbook, Texas Tech business professor Dale Duhan said he offered the text to his class last year and required it this semester as a perfect demonstration of a product moving through a supply chain.
Better still that it's a product students can see on a casual ride around the country, he said.
Duhan and Rivoli sat with two early characters in the book - Nelson and Ruth Reinsch, parents of a colleugue who offered to show Rivoli their operation.
"You get a feel for it when you've been in it all your life that you don't learn from a textbook," Nelson said.
He thought Rivoli accurately described cotton farming but thought it was too bad that economic students were reading about him.
"They don't need me in the classrooms," Nelson said, laughing.
Rivoli, a Georgetown economics professor, expects to return to the High Plains in December and in 2008 to update the changes in technology, trade and farm support programs described in the book. Step 2, a program that paid textile mills to purchase U.S. cotton, vanished not long after the book came out, and the World Trade Oranization has repeatedly found that domestic farm support programs must change.
She hopes this time to add environmental issues related to the life cylce of a tacky T-shirt, as well - from the aquifer demands of irigated fields in West Texas to the consequences of pesticides, textile dyes and the transportation of the shirt across the globe.
She liked that the book was used for education, and it was important to keep the content up to date, but picking the topic back up was a tough decision, she said.
"This has been really taking up my life since 1999," Rivoli said. "It's been a great adventure, but I kind of had to think about whether I wanted to do something else for awhile."
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Story last updated at 10:04 p.m. Saturday, November 3, 2007