20100812 bp despair tshirt
Despair. Inc. says this BP t-shirt design is one of the best-sellers out of their Gulf Coast inspired designs the company sells. - 

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: Have you ever noticed how every disaster seems to bring out the t-shirt entrepreneurs? Selling slogans like "I made it through the storm of the century," or, "I survived the big quake of '98." Well, since the early weeks of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, vendors have been hawking shirts. Our sustainability reporter Adriene Hill has been checking this phenomenon out and she's joins us now. Good morning, Adriene.

Adriene Hill: Good morning, Bob.

Moon: So are these joke t-shirts, are these serious issue t-shirts? What are you seeing out there?

Hill: Well, you know, they're both. A lot have oiled pelicans and animals. Tony Hayward's unfortunate "I'd like my life back" comments made its way to some of those. Other shirts knock around BP, there are all sorts of parodies of its logo. And others are more serious -- you know, "Make wetlands, not oil" is one I've seen. Some of these are being sold by organizations looking to raise money for the Gulf restoration. Others just being sold by entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.

Moon: Hmm. Any idea how many of these have been sold?

Hill: My best guess is that there are tens of thousands of these oil spill-related t-shirts out there. Threadless alone sold more than 12,000 of its t-shirt. Cafe Press told me they sold between 4,000 and 5,000 oil spill-related shirts. So putting all these things together, all the companies I talked to were in the tens of thousands range rather than the hundreds of thousands.

Moon: OK, now follow me here on this. A lot of these shirts are decrying the environmental damage that this oil spill has done. But I wonder: Aren't the t-shirts themselves having some environmental impact here?

Hill: They sure do. The average cotton t-shirt takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce. You've got to grow the cotton, you've got to produce the fabric. There's also a lot of petroleum that goes into shipping the cotton to fabric makers, fabric makers to t-shirt makers, and the t-shirts back to the U.S. So there's oil involved here. There is a touch of irony.

Moon: As I suspected. On the other hand, in their defense, you say some of these t-shirt vendors are sending money to the Gulf?

Hill: Yep. A lot of the organizations I talked to are sending a percentage of their profits to the clean-up effort. And here we're in the sort of maybe low hundreds of thousands of dollar range all told. But you might want to hold back on giving your neighbor a hard time for that oil spill t-shirt.

Moon: Haha, OK. Thank you, Adriene.

Hill: Thank you, Bob.

Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill