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jdavis

Zimbabwe cotton and the Mugabe regime

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just reading the very informative post above and i realised that i actually know the guy who is head of monsantos cotton department! maybe i can get us all some cheap jeans!

lol. funny, but Monsanto has no access to the product, only "intellectual property" of production (i.e. seeds, or in the case of potatoes, the reused tubers from previous seasons)

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Pros for Zimbabwean cotton:

-Organically grown

-provides employment/income for African workers & farmers

Quality these days is somewhat debatable but the above reasons are the two major points being touted by the industry. At one time however Zimbabwe cotton was being touted as one of the finest cottons available in the world.

Edited by Circa on Dec 20, 2005 at 11:58 PM

cotton farming definitely provides employment for supervisors and executives at cargill, etc...

but the farmers, i'm not so sure...

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man saying the cotton industry there is good despite all this shit because it provides jobs to poor zimbabwean farmers... you might as well say the same thing about "blood diamond" mines and child labor factories, "hey, atleast they have jobs"

whoever said they should be farming corn to feed themselves instead hit the nail on the head. but thats now how civilization works unfortunately. you guys are hitting the tip of a serious iceburg here, its too deep for a fashion message board.

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cotton farming definitely provides employment for supervisors and executives at cargill, etc...

but the farmers, i'm not so sure...

agreed. as i said above, and cosidering who owns the farms (i.e. Cargill), the farmers are likely only providing supervision of the growing of the crop. the purchasing price is likely fixed as there is only one or two buyers fixing sale prices and even if they are on a farm NOT purchasing seeds from Monsanto, they are likely purchasing seeds from someone. Understand, that with a company such as Monsanto, it is a breach of contract to reuse seeds (that is to say, gather the seeds naturally produced by the plant through pollenation and replant), therefore they are contracted to repurchase from the company every growing season. not only is this costly, but it creates a ecological monoculture (but that's another topic all together). the jobs "created" would only be unskilled labor. this is not to say that those jobs are unimportant, they are, but lets not start thinking corporations and Mugabe are liberating a workforce by turning Zimbabwe into a cotton field.

also, while i agree it wouldn't effect the economic situation much one way or another, saying that not supporting brands that purchase cotton from zimbabwe won't effect anything is like saying driving an SUV won't effect the environment cause everyone else is. I won't "delude myself into thinking i'm affecting change" but i will have the piece of mind in knowing i'm not supporting unsound environmental and sociological practices; of course you must pick your battles, but if you can identify a battle you can start there. buy the texas cotton samurai's instead, at least the american farmer has rights, albeit limited.

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I think the cotton industry is good for Zimbabweans. Some of them (poor people) manufacture t-shirts out of it and sell it, some use the cotton discarded to recycle and produce other artisanal goods. I believe that it is better for them to have a job than not having one. And jobs there must surely be a problem. Zimbabwe is the country with the worst income distribution, one of the poorest in the world. I think any exports they can make is a benefit.

I'm not in complete disagreement with you here, as I understand the point you take, but it's similar to being ok with sweatshop labor. I lean more towards your stance on the issue, but i wanted to just throw that out there...

This is a complexed issue; not brushed off by some jerk comment.

I lived in Zimbabwe for a little more than year [back in 1996] and have a lot of family tied to the land. My grandparents and my uncle are still living there today under the seemingly hopeless conditions. Two-years ago, my mother's close friend was killed with her family on their farm during the land reform take overs, in which Mugabe ordered the takeover and return of all white farmers land to Africans. My grandparents have lost all of their farm land, were they once farmed bananas and crocodiles. Today the land is bare, without proper training the Africans are unable to care for the land and the crops die.

What people fail to see is that Zimbabwe is not just another poor African country, it has not been until recent years have we seen it become the poorest. One Zimbabwean dollar was worth sixty-seven US cents in late 1979. In 1999, one US dollar was worth Z$40. In August 2002, the figure was about Z$700. It doubled in the next three months, to about Z$1500 in October 2002.

Mugabe has espoused pan-Africanism and African independence and unity, all the while responsible for mishandling of land reforms, economic mismanagement, and a deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Lining up for basic staple foods & gas, useless currency, wildlife being poached to extinction. This destruction of a once beautiful place is very hard to stomach, it is really sad to see it go. I hope one day I will feel safe enough to go back there.

As for buying Zimbabwean Cotton, if you knowingly are directly supporting a corrupt government for some jeans, good for you. But dont for one second make yourself believe that your providing a better life or job for some one in Zimbabwe.

Sorry for the length, I could go on for days, but this just struck a chord.

this is one of the best discussions i've heard in the 3 years here on supertalk. With the "standard jean" changing from APC and Nudies to 45rpm and Flathead recently, it's interesting more now so then ever. almost all the time americans look at these situations they look at them through the american scope where there is a definitive black and white...but no where in this situation can you see any win situation...kudo..rep for you

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By far one of the best threads i've read on SF sofar, I actually e-mailed the Iron heart UK guys about this, they said that they ultimatley didn't know, much like us :). while organic high quality denim is relativly easy to come-by i have not seen any "fairtrade"(or similiar) high quality denim around.

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i'm glad that this thread has been started. And this is one of the main reasons why i started Sling & Stones - as a brand we wanted to make informed decisions on what types of cottons, fabrics, construction we used and what organic meant to us as a brand. Here is a couple facts that took me away in the beginning -

147 lbs per acre of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are used in cotton cultivation.

1/3 of a lb of pesticides and chemicals are used in every 100 percent cotton t shirt.

A regular 100 percent cotton t shirt is actually only 77 percent cotton, the rest is resin, chemicals, and fillers.

Being organic in the brand was definitely an issue to us - not only for the environment but socially as well. Respiratory illness from pesticides for farm workers, children and those living in or around farming areas that use chemicals are much great than those living in the smoggy conditions in urban areas. There is also a high rate of suicide in farmers as the costs of fertilizers and pesticides are much higher than their cotton yield, especially in India.

the facts and figures environmentally can go on for days on end. but the truth, to me at least, is that cotton grown through single crop, crop rotation, and organic methods is simply much healthier and sustainable for the environment and the people working in it. While we were shopping for different japanese denims at the mills, i was presented with many zimbabwe cottons that they said were organic and were purchased at a fair price to the farmers - but upon asking for organic certifications and proof of transactions, they could not come up with one. Which led me to believe that something was lost in translation between mill, yarn, and cotton suppliers.

And from what I believe from reading Agricultural GAIN reports, zimbabwe cotton is not a classified E.L.S cotton, if we call agree that E.L.S. (extra long staple) cottons IS a luxury cotton.

brief history of e.l.s.

Extra-Long Staple (ELS) cotton has been grown in the Southwest United States since the early-1900's, but it wasn't until mid-century that much attention was given to the new cotton. The real breakthrough came in 1951 when a seed was developed and introduced that produced an ELS cotton with superior fiber properties, luster and silkiness...as well as an unusually high yield. Subsequent variety releases in the 1970's, 80s and 90's included Pima S-5, S-6 and S-7, all of which boasted higher yields and better spinning characteristics.i

The name "Pima" was applied to ELS cotton (previously called American-Egyptian) being developed in the U.S. desert southwest in the early 1900's. The name was given in honor of the Pima Indians who were helping to raise the ELS cotton on the USDA experimental farm in Sacaton, Arizona.ii

Although South America is the center of origin of the species gossypium barbadense, to which ELS cottons belong, these cottons were photoperiodic, and the fiber was medium staple in length and coarse, as typified by the current Tanguis cottons of Peru.iii The origin of true extra-long staple cottons can be traced to the introduction of Sea Island to the U.S. in 1786 from seed received from the Bahama Islands, an area from which Columbus is reputed to have taken Sea Island samples to Europe in 1492.iv The g. barbadense cotton that first appeared in the U.S. in 1786, where it became known as Sea Island, had strikingly different fiber properties from the native g. barbadense of South America.v The exact origin of Sea Island cotton is unknown, but geneticists suggest that the most logical hypothesis to explain the ELS type was that it developed by transgressive inheritance through the introgression of length genes from outside the species, possibly from g. hirsutum.vi

The first successful crop of Sea Island was produced by William Elliott on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in 1790. Although production of this ELS cotton later expanded into the interior regions of Georgia and Florida, the best Sea Island cottons were grown on the Sea Islands; James, Edisto, John and Wadmalaw.vii The crop continued until 1920, when a severe boll weevil infestation had made it unprofitable. Attempts to revive the Sea Island industry in the U.S. in the 1930's failed.

The evolution of ELS cottons began in 1825 when Sea Island cotton was brought into Egypt and crossed with a tree cotton named Jumel. The crossing of Jumel and Sea Island resulted in the development of Ashmouni in about 1860. The next several Egyptian cultivars were derived either by selecting within Ashmouni or from crosses of Ashmouni and Sea Island. The successful utilization of inbreeding between the years 1910 and 1940 led to the gradual development of Egyptian cottons that could compete with the quality of Sea Island.

unless zimbabwe is a derivative of sea island it should have been more known from the cottons spinners and mills that it is an e.l.s. instead of ... 'umm maybe'

So from all that being researched, zimbabwe cotton japanese denim was not for me.

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*** ‘The southern African country is in the grips of a deepening recession marked

by the world's highest inflation rate of 1,281 percent … ’

-- http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/feb7_2007.html

Since Zimbabwe cotton is certainly not the be all and end all – then why would the Japanese heritage denim brands choose the Zimbabwe cotton variety over Egyptian-grown, American Pima or even cotton from other parts of Africa?

I’ve heard rumors too that members of the big three – Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler – made use of Zimbabwe cotton at some point in their heyday, but there has to more too it than that. To me this suggests a business decision of some kind – the pursuit of profit is usually a good place to start.

Good cotton - perhaps even very good cotton, available at prices that make choosing it over others easy. Why ferry containers of Pima across the Pacific to Japan when Zimbabwe cotton is less expensive? Zimbabwe cotton farmers are paid less comparatively than other cotton farmers, they’re paid in Zimbabwe dollars which as mentioned before are free falling in value, and of course it all takes place under the watchful eye of the dictator, in a regime with non-resistant human rights and prolific disease. This to me would make Zimbabwe cotton more of the cheap alternative than ‘the best cotton to be found anywhere in the world’.

I’m glad there’s more people interested in questioning where our denims come from. Reading though this thread again and seeing all of this, andrewisalorad in particular, I feel pretty sad. As far of threads go this definitely isn’t one of the happiest ones. I might be a bit of a hypocrite myself – a victim of western civilization – more possessions than I’ll ever really need – but I’m certainly not above the guilt and remorse for a country and a people that’s being consumed.

The trouble with denims I’ve found is that – unlike fabric origin - the origin of the raw materials is considerably harder to find. Some make the Zimbabwe origin plain to see – but most don’t …

I’d love to hear from anyone who has some knowledge they’d like to share...

It’s still a very important issue I think, and I'm glad other people like the thread too!

Alterion – I think a fair trade denim is a great idea!

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from a manufacturer perspective - zimbabwe cotton selvage was incredibly much cheaper than thecertified organic supima selvage that i use - - (i'm not going to say price but enough to justify many denim brands choosing zimbabwe over egyptian or american pima) --- and fair trade denim is great - here is a brand that focuses on fair trade organics www.kuyichi.com and this hot new thing www.slingandstones.com (not to be a selfpromoter)

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ilovespaz - what's the origin of your organic supima cotton? the USA?

this is a very interesting read. would it be accurate to say that therefore zimbabwe cotton is perched perfectly on the centre of the scale between high quality, luxury cottons and moderately priced cottons? ie. with a moderate to high quality and yet a reasonable cost. because to my mind it would be strange that a $400 - 750 jean like 45rpm would choose zimbabwe over what ilovespaz argues is real "luxury" cotton, the E.L.S. breeds.

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I'm curious now that fairtrade cotton has been brought up, what garuntees the "fairtrade" of this aspect? I mean if it's run by a regime, any certificate can be forged....

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I took an international class where fair trade cotton was under discussion. After looking up the purchasers of the cotton, PRPS definitely came up. There's a bit of economical argument attached to the topic as well as ethical argument. If something is "certified fair trade" (like much starbucks coffee) it has definitely been rigorously tested. These organic products are under as much general scrutiny as many people think that organic food is of higher quality (which it may or may not be). Fair Trade also ensures a higher selling price from the producer. For this reason, many cotton farmers exist in Zimbabwe. The comment on why don't they grow corn is very valid. Though they would feed themselves, they wouldn't make any extra money. Economically, this is a waste of talent.

Also, being certified fair trade (I believe) does not ensure that growers see the higher profit. This profit may go directly to some type of manager who is not picking cotton themselves. So basically buying this fair trade good is just a service to Zimbabwe growers in hopes that they see higher than normal profit.

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the cotton we use are from farms in new mexico and texas which has been certified organic and certified pima by the supima council of the usa. it just seems to me that 45rpm or any other denim brand that could mark up their jean from the perception that zimbabwe was the end all luxury cotton because of their brand clout - they would, because at the end of the day when you have a business you want to make as much margin as possible on each product you sell. and from experience dealing w/ different denims and the price difference between zimbabwe and other e.l.s. cottons made in japan is a 25 - 40 percent difference in price loomed on the same machines, with the same dyeing methods, one would have to assume that the difference in cost is the cost of the raw goods, one being superior than the other.. .. or maybe i'm just being tricked and supima actually isn't cotton at all, and supima council only certifies fibers from dried up cow dookie - - who knows..

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I'm curious now that fairtrade cotton has been brought up, what garuntees the "fairtrade" of this aspect? I mean if it's run by a regime, any certificate can be forged....

usually an international fair trade certification board gives the certification through inspections such as IFAT (ifat.org)

and the problem with fair trade these days is that, imo, there are too many different fair trade certificates and certification programs w/ different standards of what fair trade is.

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Reality is, all of Africa is corrupt.
I understand several of your points about buying organic, but please don't try to disregard the whole biotechnology field and GMO's with your one example.

There are too many ill informed consumers AND activists running around making false claims about many potentially helpful GMO's. No, you're not getting cancer from eating a genetically modified tomato. No your DNA isn't going to mutate because your food's DNA was altered. People blindly protest some things they don't understand, and it's seriously hampering scientific progress. I'm not referring to you Circa in reference to ignorance about GMO's, you seem informed. I'm referring to PETA zealots, Hippy Nazi's, and any other extremist group blinded by its agenda. Make information based choices, do the research.

Aubrgene- Do you honestly believe that? I don't know where you're from, and I'm sure it hardly matters since most of the world probably cultivated their own similarly ethnocentric and misinformed delusions about Africa. Which, by the way, is a tough place to generalize. Keep in mind that not only are you making a pretty bold generalization, but you're making a generalization about a continent that contains well over 1000 distinct ethnic groups, speaking thousands of languages on a piece of land large enough to contain all of Europe, China and the United States (including Alaska.)

Crisis- the key word in your entire rant is "potentially". Certainly, GMOs may be potentially helpful. But despite your resoluteness, they also may potentially have catastrophic consequences (aside from the catastrophes they are already responsible for.) GMO's with ingrown pesticides are actively responsible for reducing the biodiversity of both plant an animal life in the areas they are planted in. Monsanto/Dow/Etc realized that these plants were almost impossible to kill, so they produced a specific pesticide to kill these super-crops. Unfortunately it was found that the pesticide, like most others, is a carcinogen, and they were forced to find a new method of crop control. So they began creating "Terminator" crops. You've probably heard of them, they are genetically altered so as to only grow once, and not reseed themselves. Essentially, they are infertile. Certainly this is some kind of minor improvement, except that now farmers who choose to plant these crops are unable to plant each season without buying their seed directly from Monsanto. Before, they had simply been able to save some of the seeds from the previous year's crop. Essentially now, farmers (who are almost universally in debt and persisting upon subsisdies as it is) are not sharecroppers for Monsanto and the of corporations that manufacture modified crops.

The fact is, no one knows the effects of GMOs. I don't care how many reports companies that produce them commission, or how many ad campaigns they invest in, the fact remains the same: sufficient testing has not been done. (If you are interested in a brief history of chemical corporations burying and attempting to discredit reports that don't favor their products, read When Smoke Ran Like Water, by Devra Davis.)

Unfortunately, people in the developed world, and especially in the United States, are all to eager to accept "innovation" as an end unto itself. Those who live in the developing world frequently don't have a choice. To define those who argue we should wait and see the effects of GMOs and the accompanying pesticides "zealots" "nazis" and "extremists" is not only incorrect, but dangerous. Do you call a parent an "extremist" because they warn their children against eating things off of the floor of the supermarket? Or against eating mushrooms that look yummy in the forest? Or against diving into a shallow river without checking the depth? Of course not. Being cautious is a good thing, and there simply is not enough information about GMO's to say "No, you're not getting cancer from eating a genetically modified tomato. No your DNA isn't going to mutate because your food's DNA was altered."

You may well be right, some people may, "blindly protest some things they don't understand" but you yourself serve as a good example of someone blindly supporting something they obviously are ill-informed about. And as for hampering scientific progress . . . GMO's have taken off, while bio-diesel and alternative energy sources have seen consisten cuts in funding ever since George Bush told us he was interested in "switchgrass."

So I would ask you: what exactly is standing in the way of scientific progress? And progress for whom?

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glad i bumped this thread and that more people are adding to it. i'll have to catch up with the posts later...

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i can attest that iin my opionion, the cotton on my sling and stones (synthetic dyed) feels nicer than my 45rpm sorahinko's. it just feels more "deep." both are easily comparable because both are very regular weave with little imperfection, the 45rpm a lot tighter woven though (both are raw and unwashed)). i'm talking about fabric alone, not the dye job. for the record i like my 45rpms better.

+rep for ilovespaz

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Appropriate to the discussion, an article in today's New York Times on the utter collapse of the Zimbabwe economy. It actually does not mention cotton as a crop, although it notes the corn crop this year is looking to be worse than last years, which was the worst in modern history.

This is a very worthy thread. Thanks for the thoughtful posts.

The article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/07/world/africa/07zimbabwe.html?ei=5094&en=ed4c068a350ed2d8&hp=&ex=1170910800&partner=homepage&pagewanted=all

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...to my mind it would be strange that a $400 - 750 jean like 45rpm would choose zimbabwe over what ilovespaz argues is real "luxury" cotton, the E.L.S. breeds.

just to clarify, the high-end 45rpms (umii and jomon) use suvin cotton; the mid-range jeans like sorahikos use zimbabwean cotton

great thread

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This is an excellent discussion. I especially appreciate andrewisalsorad being kind enough to share how this issue affects him personally. We're not obligated to consider where our luxury goods come from and how it impacts others, but it's nice to see that people do.

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Crisis- the key word in your entire rant is "potentially". Certainly, GMOs may be potentially helpful. But despite your resoluteness, they also may potentially have catastrophic consequences (aside from the catastrophes they are already responsible for.) GMO's with ingrown pesticides are actively responsible for reducing the biodiversity of both plant an animal life in the areas they are planted in. Monsanto/Dow/Etc realized that these plants were almost impossible to kill, so they produced a specific pesticide to kill these super-crops. Unfortunately it was found that the pesticide, like most others, is a carcinogen, and they were forced to find a new method of crop control. So they began creating "Terminator" crops. You've probably heard of them, they are genetically altered so as to only grow once, and not reseed themselves. Essentially, they are infertile. Certainly this is some kind of minor improvement, except that now farmers who choose to plant these crops are unable to plant each season without buying their seed directly from Monsanto. Before, they had simply been able to save some of the seeds from the previous year's crop. Essentially now, farmers (who are almost universally in debt and persisting upon subsisdies as it is) are not sharecroppers for Monsanto and the of corporations that manufacture modified crops.

The fact is, no one knows the effects of GMOs. I don't care how many reports companies that produce them commission, or how many ad campaigns they invest in, the fact remains the same: sufficient testing has not been done. (If you are interested in a brief history of chemical corporations burying and attempting to discredit reports that don't favor their products, read When Smoke Ran Like Water, by Devra Davis.)

great post!

does anyone know if the GM cotton seed with Bt Monsanto produces is "terminator?" I know (or at least am 99% sure) their Bt NewLeaf potato was not, but that may only be because of the distinctly different reproductive process of that species. terminator crops are used on american corn farmers as well, as i mentioned in my previous posts. This and GM is REALLY to the deteriment of the farmers trying to resist monoculture farming and as the poster above noted, certainly not something to disregard with the blanket statement "you are afraid of progress." It is certainly possible that at some point GMOs will show real progress, but that is still far from determined. At this point, the most progressive farms are still those that try to balance local ecology through crop rotation and regeneration.

Seems like the thread has developed into two seperate arguements, one pertaining to the environmental impact of GMO crops and corporate control of ecology, the other pertaining to the political/sociological ramifications of govt./corporate control of farming procuction in general. my reason (and i hope Christmas In A Submarine's reason) for continueing down the ecological path, is only to note that the two issues are far from mutually exclusive. it is far easier for corporations to ignore environmental impact when they have no political dissent from the farmer and government. I would also suggest everyone read The Botany of Desire by Micheal Pollan. deals directly with these issue and discusses Monsanto at length.

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Apparently the best cotton in the world is Sea Island cotton, with a fiber length of up to 64mm, and it's also the most expensive. It is grown in the Caribbean Islands. Then there is the top variety of Egyptian cotton (up to 44mm) and American Pima cotton (up to 41mm). Source: http://www.swicofil.com/products/001cotton.html

Suvin cotton from India seems to be more or less the same quality as Pima cotton. Zimbabwean cotton seems to have a lower length than these, although still being rated as high-quality cotton. I've read it somewhere but couldn't find the URL anymore.

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Apparently the best cotton in the world is Sea Island cotton, with a fiber length of up to 64mm, and it's also the most expensive. It is grown in the Caribbean Islands. Then there is the top variety of Egyptian cotton (up to 44mm) and American Pima cotton (up to 41mm). Source: http://www.swicofil.com/products/001cotton.html

Suvin cotton from India seems to be more or less the same quality as Pima cotton. Zimbabwean cotton seems to have a lower length than these, although still being rated as high-quality cotton. I've read it somewhere but couldn't find the URL anymore.

is it possible that Pima and Zimbabwe, although being shorter than Sea Island, are the longest lengths used in yarn for denim? I know Sea Island and Egyptian cotton tend to be used in for much finer fabrics (dress shirts, sheets, etc.). perhaps someone in the industry could speak to this, are the relatively shorter (although still long compared to some) Pima, Suvin and Zimbabwe better suited for workwear (perhaps due to strength) than their longer brethren?

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I'm curious now that fairtrade cotton has been brought up, what garuntees the "fairtrade" of this aspect? I mean if it's run by a regime, any certificate can be forged....
just to clarify, the high-end 45rpms (umii and jomon) use suvin cotton; the mid-range jeans like sorahikos use zimbabwean cotton

great thread

i'm developed some t shirts made from Suvin - - and it is b.o.m.b.

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What was always weird to me was a BIG part of slavery in the USA involved picking cotton ( Africans picking slaveowners' cotton ) and now it is IN Africa but they are being paid I guess so it is so different ?

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