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How Cotton Soaked Up an Entire Sea

Posted by V. A. Bates Kassatly on


The WWF and the National Geographic claim that it takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single cotton tee - as much as most of us drink in 900 days. Cotton tees, cotton shirts, cotton sweaters... they all use a lot of water - and we just keep buying more and more of them. Since the Millennium, clothing production has more than doubled, consumers have increased the number of garments they buy each year by 60%, and without most of us even noticing, cotton has soaked up an entire sea.

In 300BC, in what is now Uzbekistan, Alexander and his army crossed the mighty Oxus. It took them 5 days; the river was more than a kilometre wide, a vast conduit for the glacial waters of the Pamirs, it was the lifeblood of the region. In 2013, when I crossed the Amu Darya (as the Oxus is now called), the river was just a slim shadow in the centre of its bed; it doesn't even reach the Aral sea anymore. Why? Because since the 1960s, the flow of glacial water from the Pamirs, that once ran in the Oxus, has been diverted to cotton production, as has much of the flow of melt water from the Tian Shan mountains to the North, which once fed the Syr Darya in Kazakhstan. As a result, the Aral sea, its two main tributaries shrunken beyond recognition, has dwindled to a mere 10,000 Km2. In 1960 it covered 68,000 km2 and the water volume was 10 times greater than it is today.

The Aral area remains the fifth largest exporter of cotton in the world, whilst much of the cotton that the Aral Sea perished to produce is now discarded landfill in some rich nation. We keep our clothes only half as long as we did 15 years ago; more than half of the fastest fashion is worn for less than a year, indeed some suggest the cheapest garments are only worn 7 or 8 times.

Faced with the facts, surely few would see the loss of the world's fourth largest saline lake with the resultant desertification, salinisation of the soil, and climate change as a fair exchange for fast fashion.  At Commun des Mortels, we believe that it is time for us all to buy less, pay more and wear it more. Your clothes are not cheap if someone else is paying the price; indeed, they are not even truly cheap to you. If you wear that €10 tee, seven times, it has cost you almost €1.50 per wear. If you buy a €60 tee and wear it 100 times (a full year, a couple of times per week, because it still looks great), it has cost you € 0.60 per wear. That is less than half the price.


When realistically priced, more expensive clothes are a better deal for you and they are a better deal for the environment.

We started our company because we wanted to provide fashion forward men with the option of premium quality, ethically, sustainably, produced tops that were realistically priced. It might not surprise you that ‘fashion’ and ‘sustainability’ are not two words usually put together but we wanted to change that. You don't have to shop with us, indeed we would rather that sometimes you didn't shop at all. Next time you're about to click the BUY button, ask yourself: ”Man do I really need that tee?”. If the answer is yes, still don't click until you are sure that you're getting a quality product that will last and last, not some cheap top that will be landfill next time you clear out your closet.


PC: NASA: The Aral Sea in 1989 vs. 2014

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