Exploring economics: the secret life of t-shirts
Exploring economics: the secret life of t-shirts

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Exploring economics: the secret life of t-shirts

2.3 Stage 3: making the garment

The third stage in the cotton supply chain is to take the woven cotton and transform it into a garment. This stage involves cutting and sewing. To see which countries are involved most at this stage of the supply chain you will use figures on t-shirt exports by country as shown in Table 4.

Table 4 T-shirt exports as a percentage of world exports by country during 2017

Bangladesh 18.3%
China 14.2%
Turkey 5.9%
Germany 5.0%
India 4.4%
Italy 3.8%
Spain 3.2%
Vietnam 3.0%
Netherlands 3.0%
Honduras 2.9%
(Source: Workman, 2019c)

Activity 14

According to Table 4, which countries are the top producers of t-shirts?

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As is shown in Table 4, Bangladesh is the biggest exporter of t-shirts followed by China and Turkey. Bangladesh and China are clearly much more significant t-shirt exporters than the other countries in the table. What can’t be seen in Table 4 is the large increases in t-shirt exports that had taken place in some countries. Since 2013 Honduras saw the greatest increase in exports of 194% with Italy and Bangladesh seeing increases of 42.1% and 16.9% respectively. France was another country experiencing a large increase in t-shirt exports with exports increasing by 17.6%.

Those countries seeing a decline in the value of their t-shirt exports were notably India which saw a fall of 33.8% and China, albeit a smaller fall of 8.7%.

Maths skill 6: percentage change and percentage points

i) Percentage change. What do we mean when we say that India has seen a fall in t-shirt exports of 33.8%?

If our starting point is $1.813bn worth of exports and this declines to $1.200bn what is the percentage change? To calculate a percentage change, we calculate the change as the difference between the most recent value and the previous value, divide this change by the initial value, and to express the change as a percentage, we multiply the result by 100%. In this case, the change is calculated as:

equation left hand side 1.200 minus 1.813 divided by 1.813 multiplication 100 equals right hand side negative 33.811 percent

Which we can round to 33.8% to 1 decimal place.

The share of world exports of t-shirts for India has fallen by 33.8%.

ii) Percentage points. Rather than calculating the percentage change we might just want to work out how the percentage itself has changed. Imagine prior to 2017 the value of t-shirt imports from India was 5.2% of the world total value of exports, it subsequently falls to 4.4% in 2017. We can then say that the proportion of world t-shirt exports accounted for by Indian t-shirt exports has fallen by 0.8 percentage points. This is calculated as (4.4 – 5.2) = -0.8 percentage points.


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