June | Take 5
With Katharine Hamnett
London's original sustainable designer on eco-activism and her fashion legacyEmma Sells
Katharine Hamnett didn’t have to care about making fashion sustainable. The iconic London designer founded her label in 1979 and, by the late 1980s, she’d built up an extraordinarily successful business: she’d created the still-instantly-recognisable Choose Love slogan tees, was stocked by 700 stores in 40 countries around the world, and worn by everyone from Princess Diana and George Michael to Madonna and Mick Jagger. But then she commissioned a report into the environmental and human impact of the clothes that she was creating – confident that it would find next to nothing – and the evidence that came back was devastating. Confronted by the consequences of everything from pesticide poisoning to the vast water use involved in cotton production, she determined to make a change.
Fashion has been dispiritingly slow to catch up with her. Hamnett shuttered her label in the early ’90s in the face of overwhelming resistance and reluctance to do things differently from every area of the industry, only relaunching it in 2017 when enough fabrics and practices had evolved for her to produce her clothes responsibly. But even though so little has changed after 30 years of campaigning and conferences, Hamnett still has the tenacity and passion to really care about saving the planet. Her life-long love of nature endures – she chalks that up to her grandmother, the first woman in England to get a science degree and doctorate, who had an orchard that she would walk Hamnett round when she was small to stroke the flowers and see the bees. And she’s determined to educate the rest of us about how damaging the choices that we make can be – and how we can do better. She’s an inspiration, a fearless revolutionary – and, of course, she was right all along.