Most Americans, whether we know it or not, have a connection to Vietnam and Cambodia. Many of us enjoy foods like Pho noodles or Bahn mi sandwiches. Some have traveled to the famous temple complex Angkor Wat in Southeast Asia for vacation.
It is even more likely that you are connected to Vietnam or Cambodia through an article of clothing you are wearing right now.
That’s because Vietnam is the second largest exporter of clothing in the world.* And Cambodia is becoming a popular choice for big fashion brands to produce labor-intensive clothing and accessories, too.
Faculty at Appalachian State University see Vietnam and Cambodia as an ideal backdrop for students to learn about the complexities of policies and politics that influence global supply chains.
Textiles Global Supply Chain
“We all have a favorite T-shirt,” said Jesse Pipes, a senior lecturer of management in App State’s Walker College of Business. “And it’s important to think about where our things – like that favorite tee that we put on our body – come from.”
Pipes, who oversees the university’s William R. Holland International Impact Exchange Program, said App State students are doing just that through the annual exchange program.
“Considering where our things come from and how they get to us is not only good business; it’s also good citizenship,” said Pipes.
The university’s core values include fostering responsible citizenship, and the Walker College’s motto is Business for Good – an emphasis on teaching students sustainable business practices.
The advent of the T-shirt can be linked to a North Carolina company – Stedman Manufacturing Company, founded in Asheboro, North Carolina during the 1930s and World War II. Big fashion labels Lee and Wrangler are connected to Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Our individual and regional connection to global textiles runs deep – from our closets to the farms – the spinners, knitters, sewers, dyers, finishers to the companies that sell them,” said Pipes.
Inspired by NPR’s 2013 Planet Money’s T-Shirt Project, which followed the making of a simple cotton T-shirt through the global economy, Pipes chose textiles as the topic for his Holland Fellows to explore in 2022-23.
The students visited Recover Brands based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn the process of designing and ordering T-shirts. The students also visited Material Returnin Morganton, North Carolina, which works with regional manufacturers and national brands to transform waste and worn out textile products into new products and South Fork Industriesin Maiden, North Carolina, to learn more about the process of dyeing and finishing bolts of fabric for many national and global brands.
“The people who work at these companies are connected deeply to the history of textiles in North Carolina,” said Pipes. “And all our students were familiar with the major global brands whose products start off here as part of their global supply chains.”
With the knowledge they’d gained through these visits, the students later spent two weeks traveling through Cambodia and Vietnam, gaining a deeper understanding of the places where products from the U.S.’s largest brands are manufactured.
Connecting products to places is just one of the outcomes the Holland Fellows achieved.
“The students also enjoyed the sights, the smells, the colors, the grit and the beauty of the cities we visited,” said Pipes. “The entire journey stateside and abroad turned out to be more about celebrating questions than finding specific answers.
“Questioning leads to a richer understanding of people, places and systems,” said Pipes. The most interesting insights we make come from brushing elbows with others, from conversations, and not strictly in seeking answers.”
Walker College Alumni Connections
“Next year, we hope to take App State students to business sites in Cambodia, Hong Kong and Thailand,” said Wendy Deng, who works with Pipes to coordinate the students’ travel.
As one example, Walker College alumni Preston Powell '01 and Adam Scherer '01 have invited next years’ cohort of students to visit their Cambodian business center. The duo owns MOAM Group, a full service original equipment manufacturer company with offices in Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, North Carolina that specializes in the design, manufacturing and financing of a wide range of Consumer and Sporting Goods.
Apply for the Holland Fellows Program
Interested juniors should apply online by October 30: William R. Holland International Impact Exchange Program. An information session will be held on Wednesday, September 6 at 5:00 p.m. in the Holland Engagement Room (PH 4140).
Article by: Jesse Pipes