At the Center of the World

SAKAMAKI/REDUX FOR TIME

CLOTHES CALL: Li & Fung merchandisers work the phones

Seated in cubicles in a nondescript office in Hong Kong, 1,500 workers are turning the wheels of the global economy. Employing e-mail and the telephone, these merchandisers at Hong Kong-based trading outfit Li & Fung connect the far-flung dots of today's international manufacturing system. Without leaving their desks, they make sure that Victoria's Secret gets its bras, American Eagle Outfitters its T shirts, and Disney its stuffed Winnie the Poohs. One moment, the workers in Hong Kong are haggling over the phone with fabricmakers for the best price on denim; the next, they're ensuring that a shipment of teddy bears gets...

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