The Aral Sea used to be the fourth-largest lake in the world, spanning an area of 68,000km². The basin of the lake formerly encompassed multiple countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This changed in the 1960’s, when the Soviet Union decided to launch a global cotton industry in Uzbekistan. The two rivers feeding the Aral Sea, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya were diverted to supply this short-lived venture. Consequently, the lake began shrinking.
Under Soviet planners, cotton became beloe zoloto ("white gold"), but this "gold" was obtained at a high cost to agriculture and to the environment. Central Asian countries became cotton monocultures devoted to delivering an ever-increasing number of fibers to state factories and overseas buyers. In spite of the noticeable loss of water in the Aral Sea by the mid-1960s, Soviet planners continued to increase the area of land devoted to cotton production further into the 1980s. The Soviet Union's obsession with producing "white gold" at any cost is the primary reason for the Aral Sea largely disappearing.
The shrinkage of the Aral Sea had terrible social and ecological consequences. What was once a thriving fishing industry employing more than 40,000 people in the early 1960s collapsed within 20 years, leaving many people jobless. Traces of the old fishing harbors can be found in the form of hundreds of abandoned shipwrecks littering the desert. Additionally, the increasingly salty water became heavily contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides used for cotton production. This caused many diseases to erupt in the people living nearby, and many were left with no choice but to move elsewhere. Due to the declining amount of H2O, salinity levels rose too high for many sea animals, including 20 native fish species, to survive.
What is left of the Aral Sea now remains only in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Due to overuse between 1960 and 1998, the sea's surface area shrank by 60%. In the years that followed, it kept on depleting further. Even though some water restoration projects were implemented, the shrinkage could not be prevented. As a result, in 2009, the area of the lake was equal to 13,000km², surrounded by the deserts it used to fill.
Soviet scientists and policymakers condemned the Aral Sea as "nature’s mistake." They considered it a body of water that had no reason to exist and commented that the Aral should "die beautifully".
We believe that everything exists for a reason and serves a greater purpose. To us, there are no mistakes in nature. People tend to underestimate and not appreciate what they have at a given moment in time. And in many cases, it is only when we lose something that we start to see its value. This is why I think my quote "Only after something is gone [do] we see the beauty of it all" is accurate not only with regards to the Aral Sea but also to life at large.
Through the first collection of our garments titled "Aral Sea", we want to spread awareness of this matter, show our appreciation for nature and promote the importance of taking care of the environment through switching to sustainable materials. We are Thirsty and ready for change. Are you?
Written by Krzysztof Trzebiński
Designed by Jan Banasiak