Where Underpants Come from: From Cotton Fields to Checkout Counters -- Travels Through the New China and into the New Global Economy

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Overview

One man's intrepid journey into Asia to discover why his underpants are so cheap

When Joe Bennett bought a six-pack of underwear in his local supermarket for five dollars, he wondered who on earth could be making any money, let alone profit, from the exchange. How many processes and middlemen are involved? Where and how is the underwear made? And who decides on the absorbent qualities of the gusset? Joe embarks on an odyssey to the new factory of the world, China, to trace his ...

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Overview

One man's intrepid journey into Asia to discover why his underpants are so cheap

When Joe Bennett bought a six-pack of underwear in his local supermarket for five dollars, he wondered who on earth could be making any money, let alone profit, from the exchange. How many processes and middlemen are involved? Where and how is the underwear made? And who decides on the absorbent qualities of the gusset? Joe embarks on an odyssey to the new factory of the world, China, to trace his underwear back to their source. Along the way he discovers the extraordinarily balanced and intricate web of contacts and exchanges that makes global trade possible-and is rapidly elevating China to the status of world economic superpower. He also grapples with chopsticks, challenges his own prejudices, and marvels at the contrasts in one of the world's oldest but fastest changing societies. Funny, wise, and insightful, Where Underpants Come From is a wonderful and timely picture of the developed world's dependence on China to make all the bits and pieces of our lives-everything from toothbrushes to overhead projectors and artificial kidneys.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

British travel writer Bennett informs and endears in his quixotic quest to trace the provenance of his underpants in order to learn something about the "commercial and industrial processes on which [his] easy existence depends." Despite his publisher's misgivings, the author travels to the outskirts of Shanghai, posing as an underwear buyer and scheming his way into factories and showrooms to piece together the (increasingly) mysterious origins of his underpants. He heads toward the cotton factories, where few Westerners venture and the population is ethnically closer to Afghan than Chinese, and sober accounts vie with marvelously silly escapades around Bangkok and rural Thailand in search of rubber trees (or more specifically, the origins of his elastic waistband). Bennett's education in the world of global commerce sparkles with humor and sharp observations on modern China's competing strains of enduring Confucianism, vestigial communism and the government's ruthless economic ambitions. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A simplistic, often smarmy look at the new Chinese economy by New Zealand travel writer Bennett (Mustn't Grumble: An Accidental Return to England, 2007, etc.). The author's idea to trace the step-by-step fabrication of the "Made in China" underpants he bought in his home country proves entertaining though shallow, and he offers few new insights into the Chinese economy or psyche. Bennett posits himself as a kind of Western Everyman who knows very little about China and nothing about the provenance of the array of commodities produced in its hundreds of sprawling factories. He admits that he read one book on China when he arrived in Shanghai to meet the underwear manufacturers. Passing himself off as a buyer, he visited an underwear factory on the outskirts of the city, observing the legions of young girls from the provinces toiling at their workstations. The author investigates The Warehouse Limited, the big-box New Zealand retailer with factories in Shanghai that made Bennett's underpants inexpensively and well, thanks to abundant labor, increasing quality control and "reverse engineering" (learning how to make Western products cheaper). Bennett visited the Shanghai port where the huge container ships came through and a factory in Quanzhou. To experience rural China ("I'd like to slap the rump of a water buffalo"), he stopped briefly in Wenzhou and other comparatively small cities. Then he moved on to Thailand, where the rubber for the waistbands originated. In Urumqi, located in the western province of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, he felt the cotton. His observations about getting around, eating unusual food and meeting the curious Chinese people are mostly generous. With asmattering of textbook history, he offers a dummy's tour of China. Some guffawing moments interspersed with somber reflections on economic growth, pollution and racism. Agent: James Gill/PFD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590202289
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 7/9/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Bennett was educated at Brighton College and Cambridge University. After teaching English in a variety of countries he became a newspaper columnist and a writer of travel books. He lives in New Zealand.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    This book was an adventure and very humorous. I thought it also

    This book was an adventure and very humorous. I thought it also informs you about world trade and the economics that goes with it. Kept my interest and enlightened one about where the things we use come from.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    Slow go.

    The idea is compelling, and the facts are accurate. In my opinion, the details get in the way of the information. The author is a travel writer, and this book is more side trip than journey.

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