Editor's letter: Pro authenticity

Dressed in white

Jurriaan Kamp| July/Aug 2006 issue
Not long ago, we threw a surprise party on the occasion of our daughter Majlie’s high-school graduation. All the guests were asked to wear white. Charged with this task, I dug to the back of my closet, where I did indeed find a pair of white pants. They were pants with a story.
An Indian tailor had made them in 1958 for my father, who was then living in Bombay (now Mumbai). My father had a whole series of these pairs of pants made to help him brave the tropical Indian heat. They were constantly being washed, and in India this is not a gentle business. The dhobis (washermen) beat clothing against rocks to get them clean. The pants held up well and accompanied my parents when they returned to the Netherlands in 1959, the year I was born.
In 1986, Hélène and I left for a stay in India’s capital, Delhi—with the pants, which had turned out to fit me perfectly. I wore them intensively for four years, and our dhobi, too, took them vigorously in hand each week. But don’t think any of Majlie’s friends came up to me last month looking worried, asking why I was wearing worn-out old pants. Almost 50 years on, these pants can still go up against the best of them. And not only that, I haven’t bought a single pair of cotton pants in 25 years that wasn’t completely destroyed after that many washings.
The story of my father’s pants touches this issue of Ode in many ways. Cotton today is less closely woven and strong than it used to be. Clothing made of cotton is meant to be replaced—as soon as possible? This reduction in quality, in the interest of commerce, is a good example of the lack of authenticity we see in so many parts of modern society; Jay Walljasper writes about this on page 30.
Now, while I understand that my fashion-conscious daughters don’t want to go around in their dad’s old pants, I can imagine that there’s room in the fashion world for a lot more sustainability. Clothes made from quality materials can be reworked into cool new ones, but in today’s economy there’s almost no room for dressmakers: labour is too expensive. Dutch entrepreneur Eckart Wintzen has the answer: a simple but highly effective reversal of the tax system (see page 80).
And perhaps most importantly of all, the cotton in those old pants came from an Indian field that wasn’t drenched every year in pesticides harmful to nature and humanity. On page 16, Marco Visscher reports on how the “green revolution” launched in the sixties has gotten stuck in a tragic situation that has resulted in a large-scale wave of suicides among Indian cotton farmers.
Meanwhile, my honest, genuine, pesticide-free, plain old cotton pants are hanging neatly in the closet again, ready for the next party.
jjk@odemagazine.com

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