You are on page 1of 21

From the Cotton Field to the Classroom:

The Geography of Jeans

EDUC 5381 01
Ken Pilkey 0660311
October 21, 2014

The Geography of Jeans

Context: I explored a number of topics for this portfolio that were ultimately too abstract or
remote for students in a typical high school classroom. In keeping with the themes of this
course, I wanted to bring them something tactile something they would be familiar with and
something that would be present, right there in the classroom, even while we studied it. This
brought me to the topic of jeans. This subject matter opens opportunities for the study of a great
number of aspects of geography, from the cotton field through the manufacturing process to
international trade and, finally, to the store shelves in Halifax and to those students who are
wearing them to class. There are elements of agriculture, threats to the watershed and other
environmental concerns, urban/rural disparity, economics and culture that can be readily
explored with the resources in this portfolio that I title From the Cotton Field to the Classroom.

Goals: While this is a work in progress, I have in mind to begin with the cotton industry. India
has recently surpassed China as the worlds number one producer of cotton. This is an
opportunity for students to be introduced to India to learn about the diversity in the culture and
the land, and to take them to Karnataka, a region in South West India that supplies much of the
cotton to the Levi Strauss Company. From there, the students are brought to Bangladesh where
their jeans are manufactured. They can learn about social, cultural and economic challenges in
the country and gain insight about the people and landscape while comparing and contrasting
with their own experience here in Canada. From Bangladesh, the process of importing the jeans
to Canada and examining such things as International Trade, supply and demand, and
distribution can be probed. Depending on the angle of approach, various aspects of these
resources can be either emphasized or ignored altogether. For example, I can choose to teach a
lesson on the effects of Climate Change on the price of a pair of jeans in 2020 or even fifty years
from now. In this case, I would emphasize those resources related to shifts in weather patterns
and the effects on the Indian monsoons that are crucial for cotton production, how the supply of
cotton would be in jeopardy, and perhaps factor in rising shipping costs due to fossil fuel
increases. This is just one example of how my portfolio can be used to create hundreds of
different and engaging lesson plans.
Page | 1

Method: I began with the supplier list for the Levi Strauss Company. It details their suppliers
from over 15 countries, including the local addresses and regions. China and India were by far
their biggest suppliers of cotton. I then looked at country profiles for each of these countries and
found that India, in just the past few years, had surpassed China as the number one cotton
producer. I chose Karnataka, India as the region from which to examine the cotton industry
based on these details and cross referencing against the supplier list. My own Levis brand jeans,
as well as those of a number of friends I checked with, were manufactured in Bangladesh. This
became the backdrop for the second stop on the journey, where the jeans are actually made.
I do not consider Wikipedia to be a reliable source of information, and though the Levi Strauss
Company publishes information on its sustainability practices and labour ethic, I consider this to
be biased information. I therefore have only used these sources where they might point to an
interesting component of this portfolio. Having worked with documents from the United Nations
and the BBC, I know these to be credible sources and have substantiated my findings against
information from BBC country profiles and the United Nations Development Program
documents, for example. I discovered IndexMundi as an excellent resource for providing current
country profiles, glimpses at lifestyles and landscape, decent maps, graphs and charts:
Our mission is to turn raw data from all over the world into useful information for a global
audience. We capture statistics that are scattered or otherwise hidden and present them via userfriendly maps, charts, and tables which allow visitors to understand complex information at a
glance. (from Index Mundi:
And so, with reliable information secured and with a well-mapped method of inquiry, Ive
divided this portfolio into three component sections, The Cotton Industry: A Journey to India,
Bangladesh: the Textile Powerhouse, and Back to Canada: the Halifax Shopping Centre.
Each of these sections has video resources, supporting links, and articles to bring students to a
number of geographical themes that include natural and human resources, climate, culture, and
environmental impacts related to the production of their jeans.

Page | 2

The Cotton Industry: A Journey to India

Cotton has been farmed in India since the Indus Civilization for nearly 7000 years. (Stein,
Burton (1998). A History of India. Blackwell Publishing. p. 47) It is the most commonly used
natural fibre in clothing to this day, and jeans are made of 100% cotton. For a basic intro to the
properties and uses of cotton I could print this brief profile for my students:
( Otherwise, we will look at cotton in
context, as it relates to the people and geography of Karnataka, India.

Bringing You There: India

Id like to introduce students to India with this slide show that compiles photos of people
in India, from very young to very old and from a range of socio-economic status. It captures a
huge diversity, images that some students could identify with and others that are very remote and
strange. It would be from these pictures that discussion about various similarities and differences
in our countries could emerge. Video:
Other video resources: Each of these is chosen to bring about understanding through visual
representation. I believe that when students can see people in lifestyles that would otherwise be
kept remote in text, they gain an appreciation of similarities and differences with their own lives.
Struggle and pleasure are universally human that way. While these would serve as good
introductions they could also be used in class activities. The Caste system in India could be
compared with feudal Europe, for example, as a stand-alone lesson that might include themes of
discrimination and economic distribution, all the while bringing the subject of jeans into the fold:

Page | 3

low-caste society does the menial cotton farming work as the upper caste peoples are the
consumers of the final product.
Video: Introduction to the series A Story of India (4:06min)
Video: The Indian Caste System An Introduction (4:21min) BBC
Video: The sights and sounds of India by National Geographic (4:45min)
Video: Geography and Climate of India (4:48min)

India Summary:
India was under British governance until its Independence in 1949. It has a central
parliamentary government much like Britain and Canada has. It is about a third of the size of the
United States, with marked differences in landscape from region to region. There are mountain
ranges and coastline and desert and rich fertile areas depending where you are in India. There are
also over 20 official languages, extremes of wealth and poverty, and a population of 1.2 billion
people. The central government grants more policy control to the states than we have here in
Canada, partly to better manage the diverse challenges faced by different regions. India also has
the second largest growing middle class after China. The demand for consumer goods has
skyrocketed since the 1980s, and the manufacturing sector has grown to meet the demand.
Much like China, this boom puts tremendous stress on the worlds oil supply and energy
consumption in general.

Page | 4

An introduction to India can be as detailed or as sparse as a teacher sees fit, depending on

the focus of the lesson. The information above was gathered from the following sources and
could be expanded upon:
UN Development Program in India
UN Country Profile
India BBC Profile
India Content Resource

As well as building a country profile for the students, the above links are resources for maps and
charts, population patterns, climate and terrain that could be incorporated in class activities.
Students could map the shift in population from rural to urban centers in India over the past few
decades due to heavy commercialization and growth in consumerism, using Index Mundi. They
could then plot future urban migration based on extensive historical records and continued
population boom in the country.

The Karnataka region, South West India: the Cotton Supply

This is where such aspects of urban/rural disparity, agriculture and climate effects can be
explored in more detail along with the process of cotton growing itself.
It would be interesting to depict the sprawling modern metropolis of Bangalore, the
regions capital, in contrast to the small farming operations in the rural countryside. As the hub
of Indias booming IT industry, it vies with Mumbai as the nation's most progressive city, and its

Page | 5

creature comforts can be a godsend to the weary traveller who's done the hard yards. (from
Lonely Planet:
In the countryside, cotton has been farmed for thousands of years. As part of the five-year
plan, beginning in the late 1960s, the federal government wanted to provide more agricultural
opportunities to farmers in areas that did not have suitable land for farming. They implemented
what was known as the Green Revolution. This was a huge effort to not only supply irrigation
systems to otherwise arid land, but also to investigate options for genetically modifying seeds
that could be used in poor conditions. The groundwork had been laid, even then, for growing
genetically modified food as well as other livestock grain and cotton. In the 1980s and 1990s in
particular, the government and private sector were in collaboration to push these new
technologies on farming operations country wide. Karnataka is no exception.

The following video describes what one man perceives as a great advancement in the
cotton production industry. We later come to learn that it was a horrible mistake. The same video
is a great introduction to the activities on the cotton farm itself, showing people at work and what
the plant and its cultivation look like.

Video Biotech Cotton in India: (2:00min)

The actual case is that Karnataka has suffered major hits to cotton yield in the last ten
years. This is in part due to weak monsoon rains that are the primary source of water for the
cotton industry. It is also believed to be due to the genetically modified cotton, known as Bt.
Cotton or BioTech Cotton. Private interests from huge Indian owned companies such as Mahyco
have made it difficult for government to provide adequate direction to the farmers until just
Page | 6

recently. It is interesting to note that Monsanto, the American based GMO giant is part owner of
this company and has tremendous pull internationally. Even so, the state government of
Karnataka has tremendous powers over the agriculture industry there and has banned Bt Cotton
entirely, with a plan to phase out use of these strains which currently comprise more than 90% of
all cotton grown in the area. The following article documents the process:


With actual supply of indigenous cotton dwindling to near extinction, a farmer in North
Karnataka living in Makari Village started a seed bank and managed to collect natural non-GMO
cotton seeds and has saved a number of varieties. This brings about a huge environmental
concern and one that would be interesting for students to study that is the impact of investing in
GMO products over the lack of preserves natural or organic species of food and other plants. I
found the notion of reliance on the Bt. Cotton at the expense of real or actual cotton to be no less
than shocking and appalling! This farmers story can be found in the following link:

Another intriguing element, perhaps a disturbing one as well, is the amount of water that
goes into the production of a pair of jeans. From the point of irrigation of the crops to the
manufacturing process to the number of times they are washed during the course of wear, a pair
of jeans costs over 3500 litres of water. Cotton needs water in greater volumes over any other
singe plant used in the clothing industry. Details can be found in the following New York Times
Page | 7

Despite years of planning and investment, agriculture in India continues to depend
heavily on monsoon. The monsoon arrived late this year, and is progressing slowly, running up a
deficit of 23 per cent till last week. Maharashtra has managed to irrigate barely 0.1 per cent of
land in the last decade despite spending nearly Rs 70,000 crore. Any change in the monsoon
pattern adversely affects farm output, leading to a spike in food prices and hitting rural incomes.
(from This would be a good topic to expand on in my portfolio, following the science
and climate aspects of geography as they relate to global warming and the dependence on the
seasonal monsoon in India for a great percentage of water, both for agriculture and as drinking

Other resources for this section include farmers demands after poor cotton crops, child
labour in the cotton fields, dependence on the monsoons for strength of crops, and changes in
drinking water levels in the area. If climate and terrain were to be emphasized, for example, the
article related to monsoons would be used as a starting point and this would be in conjunction
with maps and climate change information to build a lesson on rain-fed agriculture in the
country. Subsequently, effects on drinking water could be studied using the report below.
Students could look at water-use for the cotton supply for jeans against and falling levels of
available drinking water, and do a human cost analysis of their jeans.
Video news clip: farmers demands (2:02min)

Page | 8

Article: Cotton planting dropping from weak monsoons and rising prices:
Video interview: Bt Cotton is Killing Sheep in India (3:32min)
PDF Resource:DRINKING WATER SUPPLY: Environmental Problems, Causes, Impacts
and Remedies Experiences from Karnataka by Puttaswamaiah S.
GUJARAT AND KARNATAKA By Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu
The document directly above has some disturbing finds about child labour. Though much of the
process has been mechanized, some of the pollination process remains up to traditional hands on
pruning of the plant and can be painstaking and intensive work. This is left up to underpaid
children in many instances. From the publication: The estimates of child labourers are
calculated on the basis of total area under cotton seed production, per acre average requirement
of labour and proportion of child labour to total work force. The sample survey data indicates
that an average of 6.7 children are employed in one acre cottonseed farm. During the 2003-04
crop season, the total estimated area under cottonseed production was 4000 acres. Based on this
assumption the total number of child labourers (7-14 years) employed in cottonseed farms
in Karnataka for 2003-04 is estimated at 26,800, out of which nearly 88% are girls.

Page | 9

Bangladesh: the Textile Powerhouse

Bringing You There: Bangladesh

I have the following video to introduce Bangladesh. It is a high quality, highly

romanticized advertisement for the Department of Tourism in that country. It will introduce
aspects of culture and countryside but will be in stark contrast to the study of the textile industry
there. Video from Bangladesh tourism:

Bangladesh Summary

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet with 152 miliion
people living in area about the size of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined. There was a
15 year period of military rule until 1990 when a democratic republic was re-established.
Bangladesh gleans 75% of its national income from the textile industry and is the wolrds second
largest exporter of finished apparel such as jeans. The Ganges Delta river system dominates
much of the landscape and floods frequently. It is estimated that even a 1 metre rise in the sealevel would put 10% of this country under water. (Ali, A (1996). "Vulnerability of Bangladesh to
climate change and sea level rise through tropical cyclones and storm surges". Water, Air, & Soil
Pollution 92 (12): 171179.) Poverty is widespread and health and education delivery to the
population is not well-serviced. Economic Development is hindered due to lack of energy
resources among other issues, while the country is attempting to diversify its economy away
from dependence on textiles and agriculture.
Page | 10

The information above was gathered from the following sources and can be expanded to
accommodate various themes on Bangladesh.
United Nations Development Program (Bangladesh):
Bangladesh country profile BBC
UN data
Content-rich resource: index mundi

Bangladesh is not only flood-prone, but has had a number of catastrophes that have
needed attention at an international level of support. One of the programs that are in operation in
the country is the World Food Program. Details are as follows:
Info: World Food Program in disaster prone Bangladesh

Into the Manufacturing of Jeans:

This video is a very brief glimpse at how cotton goes from raw material into the making
of currency and textiles. It hints at the process: (from Google learning)
Video: Cotton Production (2:12min)
The truth is much of the labour conditions in Bangladesh are dismal. There are unsafe
working conditions in backyard factories, and in Rana Plaza just last year, a 7 story textiles
factory collapsed killing 1000 people. The Fifth Estate, a reputable news magazine with the CBC

Page | 11

did a documentary on the story. Depending on where I wanted to focus with particular lesson
plans, I have this available to show in whole or in part:
Video: Made in Bangladesh video by the Fifth Estate: (45:11min)
(EPISODE SYNOPSIS: A lot of our clothes bear the label Made in Bangladesh. But before the
deadly collapse of a garment factory there last April, most of us never thought about the people
who make them. After clothes bound for Canada were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza,
Canadian companies reacted with surprise - how could such a tragedy happen?
the fifth estates Mark Kelley went to Bangladesh and tracked down workers who say they are
still forced to make clothes for Canada in dangerous conditions. And Kelley goes behind bars for
an exclusive interview with the jailed owner of one of the biggest factories inside Rana Plaza,
who details his long-standing, multi-million dollar connections to Canada.)
Further evidence of human rights violations could be explored with my class and are
included in the following links:
Info: United Nations Human Rights Bangladesh:
Article: Labour Issues in Bangladesh

This following alternative video is a documentary recap of child labour in Bangladesh

factories that exist in peoples apartments and backyards with little supervision or safety
standards. The investigating team found ruined finishing houses and matched barcodes found
there to product sold at Wal-Mart and other chains in the US. At just five minutes it is easy to
include in a lesson plan without the time expense of the Fifth Estate video.
Video: Journalists Find 12 year old Girls Making Jeans in Bangladeshi Factory (5:01min)

Page | 12

The following is a good exploration of a typical jeans factory in Bangladesh and serves
well to illustrate the process of manufacturing as well as bring up concerns about safety
standards and potential childrens rights violations. It is a news story produced by CBS and is in
the public domain:
Video: CBS Bangladesh factory video (4:40min)
Though the conditions that weve explored are deplorable, Levis claims to be trying to
improve the situation. The following is their collaboration with a company called BSR to
monitor working standards in their factories.
Info: Levis trying to make things better:

I believe that its important to try to represent multiple angkles of a story and help gudie kids to a
big picture perspective. Using the resources above, Id have half of the class form the
perspective of the company and half of the class take on the perspective of the workers, with
both sides being argued out in a debate format. The students would come together at the end in a
jigsaw style learning process, sharing what theyve learned from the readings and video from
both sides of the story. This is but one of many ways to use these resources.

Page | 13

This is an online lot-sale for 1,500 pairs of Levis. I thought this would make a good
place of reference to study the water load for a single shipment of jeans. In this case, over 5
million litres of water was used to produce this quantity of shipment.

Jeans for Sale:


Brand Name: LEVIS ( Original)
RN/CA/IAN No : Style 514-4010 ( Rigid)
Fabric Details: 100% Cotton, Ring Denim
Gsm/Weight/Ounce: 11 0zs
Quantity: 1,500 Pcs
Color : 04 ( Light & Dark blue wash)
Size Details: 28-40 inch
Breakdown: Dont have
Ratio: No Ratio
Export Market: Canada
Pack Type: 11 Poly, 60 Pcs/Blister Poly in Export CTN,
MOQ: Full Qty
Measurement: CA Standard.
Country of Origin: Bangladesh. (NOC not Possible)
REASON OF STOCK: Access Shipment Goods. Goods in Our warehouse.
Export Price: Fob Bangladesh -Fixed $6.99/piece by advance T/T Only.
ID: M57040001

The next page (page 15) was retrieved from Intertek Bangladesh and explains the export process.
It would be used to introduce a class on International Trade and would be compared with
Canadas Import/Export Policies. Information on trade from Bangladesh can be found at the
following link:
PDF Resource:
Page | 14

Page | 15

Back to Canada: The Halifax Shopping Centre

Finished product is shipped by container to the United States and Canada; many of those jeans
we buy at Halifax Shopping Centre arrive directly to the Port of Halifax. The following video
demonstrates the process in just a few minutes, showing how the cost to make a pair of jeans is
about $8.00 including all material and labour, and rises to about $12.00 by the time the shipping
and customs fees are paid. It is used to show the final product, packaging and shipping and to
spark in-class debate about the 400% mark-up cost for purchases of jeans once in the stores in
this country. It would make for a good economics discussion about the many middle-managers
of the jeans from cotton growing to store shelves and the respective cuts of the profits along the
Video: from Bangladesh to Canada (2:20min)
Info: Halifax Port Authority
Info: Canadian Import Guidelines Government of Canada:
The following TV commercial brings the students abruptly back to the jeans we know,
presenting jeans as part of the way we live day. Presenting them as the clothing we adventure in
sexy and exciting. Following what weve studied, it begs the question, Are there ways we can
do this better? and Can we make our jeans with less impact on the environment and with better
conditions for the people who struggle to bring them to us?
TV Commercial: Wear them, dare them, abuse them, share them. You can do anything in a
pair of Levi's. Just don't bore them. #LiveInLevis (1:00min)
Page | 16

And with the following link, we have one persons personal view on buying Made in
Info: Observations on the Ethics of buying Made in Bangladesh:

Levi Strauss & Co.

Levis Jeans at Halifax Shopping Centre

7001 Mumford Road
Halifax, NS
Boathouse (902) 455-2781
Envy (902) 454-5359
Pseudio (902) 454-5655

Where it started the Levi Strauss & Co. supplier list:

Page | 17

Possible Lesson Plans from these Resources

1. Flooding and Natural Disaster in Bangladesh: Influences on the Textile Industry

2. A Comparison of Genetically Modified Cotton to Natural Cotton: Yields to the Framer
and Consequences for the Planet
3. Minimizing Water Use in Jean Production: An Informed Brainstorm
4. Levi Strauss had Manufacturing Plants in Alberta and Ontario: Mapping the Shift in
Industry to Cheap Labour from a Geographical Perspective

Possible Field Trips

1. To the Port of Halifax to witness hands-on unloading of container ships and learn about
import/export practices there.
2. A visit to the Halifax Shopping Centre to have a scavenger hunt for a pair of jeans that
read Made in Canada. This would bring consciousness to the dependence we have on
overseas labour in manufactured goods sold here in Halifax.

Page | 18

Peer Feedback from Graham Tuck






Page | 19

In Response to Grahams Peer Review

Having put together a solid resource framework in this portfolio, I agree with Graham
that it would be interesting to further develop the notion of jean-culture. To do this, I would
include resources that detail the origins of jeans, how they became popularized, and perhaps add
links such as video from James Dean movies, advertising through the ages, and songs, articles
other media that document the popularity of jeans from the symbol of the worker to modern
day fashion. While this area has been given only marginal attention in my portfolio, it has been
introduced at the end of it, with the intent that having studied the process, the lessons learned
about the environmental and human implications will have greater impact on the students.

Page | 20