Mead, Arthur [faculty advisor, Department of Economics]




economics; trade policy; textile and apparel industry


The textile and apparel (T&A) industries are global and constantly on the move. The mobility of these industries can be seen here in Rhode Island, with abandoned textile mills stretched across the state. In its search for the lowest-cost production, the T&A industries moved from northern to southern New England, and then relocated from New England to the Carolinas, and with record high unemployment currently hitting North and South Carolina, there is evidence that the industries are moving again. There is also reason to believe the relocation of the T&A industries will have an international dimension. As world power shifts east in the 21st century, this will bring about a dramatic shift in the production and design of apparel and textiles, which is the issue I will be addressing. More specifically, I will examine how world trade policy has affected the geography of the fashion industry, and what we are likely to see in the upcoming years. I begin the analysis by discussing U.S. trade policy in the 1930s, when countries around the world essentially shut down international trade. The West later determined that the best way to avoid a WW III was to revive world trade decimated by two world wars and the Great Depression. I examine the institutions that emerged from Bretton Woods, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that were designed to undo the protectionist policies of the 30s. I then look at how postwar public policy in the West impacted the location of the T&A industries, focusing on Japan, Italy and the US, and what we are likely to see in China and other emerging markets.