At Legacy Trust, we often talk with our clients about the importance of a global perspective when it comes to their portfolios. New economies continue to emerge and develop and technology has served to accelerate the cycle, creating many new investment opportunities for growth investors. While it is easy to understand the logic behind this concept, it can be difficult to gain first-hand perspective on the realities. I would like to share something I recently experienced that helped turn the abstract idea of the “global economy” into a flesh and blood reality for me.
Last year, I funded my first-ever Kickstarter campaign by contributing $25 toward a project by NPR’s Planet Money team, a group of reporters dedicated to covering economic stories in a way that is interesting and fun. Planet Money had an idea that the best way to truly understand the infrastructure of the global economy was to follow the path of a simple product – a cotton t-shirt made by American company Jockey – from the cottonseeds all the way until the finished product reaches the consumer. This was a project that I followed beginning in April of 2013 when I first learned about the Kickstarter campaign all the way until my very own Planet Money t-shirt was delivered to my door shortly before Christmas.
I tracked my t-shirt from a lab in Wisconsin where the seeds were engineered, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi delta, to Indonesia where the cotton was spun into yarn, to Bangladesh and Colombia where the shirts were sewn, to the cargo ship that transported them back to the U.S. through the port of Miami. Every step of the way I learned something new and found myself impressed and humbled by the level of technology and expertise that goes into something that I had never thought twice about before – a basic t-shirt. When my t-shirt arrived on my door step in Lowell Michigan, I reflected on the coordination and precision with which our global system functions – science, agriculture, logistics, design, and the labor forces of our emerging economies – as well as how something so seemingly simple can fuel global commerce.
I’ve included a link to the Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt site so you can view the various legs of the journey for yourself. There’s lots of fascinating information on the site but I’d especially encourage you to check out the “People” section, and look at the side-by-side photos of garment workers in the U.S. in the early 1900s next to garment workers in Indonesia and Bangladesh over a century later. It’s a great reminder that today’s developing economy workers are just the most recent to emerge in a long-term trend of industrialization, a story that has played out again and again across the globe.