Justin Boyd, 29

Justin Boyd has been around the sun 29 times, and presently divides his time between Seattle and Ellensburg, his hometown. Boyd describes his style as "Whatever," meaning he likes to wear Whatever is there, Whatever is cool, Whatever is cheap, and Whatever makes him looks good.

Wool hat by Ben Sherman, $30 at Macy's (1601 Third Ave, 344-2020). Justin has many hats, and this wool one is almost his favorite. He bought it this winter and since has been pleased with the way it makes him look--like Whatever.

Jeans by Energie, $50 at Nordstrom Rack (1601 Second Ave, 448-8522). These handsome jeans were marked down from their original price of $150. Justin thanks God for Nordstrom Rack.

Shoes by Nike, $75 at Seattle Retro Shoe Store (1524 E Olive Way, 322-2306). Seattle Retro Shoe Store has the distinction of being Justin's favorite store. It is there, more than anywhere else, he finds Whatever shoes he needs.

T-shirt, $9.99 at Super 1 Foods (200 E Mountain View Ave, Ellensburg, 509-962-7770) The prized item of Justin's Whatever concept is this yellow T-shirt, which bears the image of a sun setting behind a Native American on a horse. Beneath the noble image is the name of Justin's hometown, Ellensburg. The yellow T-shirt is entirely made from cotton.

No one knows the exact date humans began using cotton, but it has been around for more than 5,000 years. In the West, the earliest record of cotton comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote in the fifth century BC, "There are trees which grow wild [in India], the fruit whereof is a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness of that of sheep. The natives make their clothes of this tree-wool." In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great brought "tree-wool" to Europe.

Though much admired and desired in medieval Europe, many had no idea how cotton was grown. In 1350, for example, the knight John Mandeville wrote that "[t]here grew there [in] India a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they were hungry."

India dominated cotton farming and production until the 18th century, when a series of inventions (the spinning jenny, the spinning frame, the cotton gin) gave England the edge. When first introduced, however, these cotton and textile machines were rejected, as Marx shows in Das Capital. "Anthony Muller," writes Marx, "saw 50 years ago [in 1623] in a town [Danzig] a very ingenious machine, which weaves four to six pieces [of cotton] at once. But the mayor of the town became apprehensive that this invention might throw a large number of workmen onto the streets, and therefore had the invention suppressed and the inventor secretly strangled or drowned."

In the 19th century, England's industrial boom was fed by cotton picked by black slaves in the southern parts of the United States. In fact, some historians argue that if the explosion of the global cotton market hadn't occurred, American slavery would have ended long before 1865, and without a bloody civil war. By the mid part of the 20th century, all cotton production in developed countries was mechanized. Machines picked cotton and processed it. But near the end of the 20th century, a very curious thing happened: Peasants in West African countries began farming cotton the old way and making money on the global market. It was one of the few examples of globalization actually meeting its utopian promises. Oxfam, an advocacy group for poor countries that are made poorer by unfair trade practices, writes: "The 175 percent increase in cotton production recorded between 1993 and 1998 was associated with a fall in poverty levels from 50 percent to 42 percent in cotton districts [in West Africa]."

At the beginning of the 21st century, however, this little light of economic hope was extinguished by the U.S. when it began heavily subsidizing cotton. At present, America gives more than $3 billion a year to its wealthy farmers, who then sell their cotton on the world market at a much lower price than it's worth. Many economists believe that if the U.S. didn't subsidize cotton farming, prices would rise by 26 percent and the lives of millions of West Africans would improve considerably.

Neo-liberals are in the habit of blaming bad African leadership for African woes, but here is proof that it isn't always bad African leaders who make life difficult for Africans--bad American leaders do, too. If history is the struggle between those who have and those who don't, then cotton has played a leading role in this struggle to the death. In other words, Whatever, globalization.

Nylon tracksuit jacket by LRG/Lifted Research Group, $90 at Zebra Club (1901 First Ave, 448-7452). Justin somehow manages to make this rather fancy jacket look like he threw it on without a second thought, which is precisely the art of Whatever--to dress well without appearing to have put any thought into it. *