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Sustainable Statements With Katharine Hamnett

Sustainable Statements With Katharine Hamnett

REV Chats To One Of Fashion's Most Prominent Activists

The Earth Issue and The London EDITION are hosting an evening of discussion and debate about sustainable fashion featuring REV co-founder Cora Hilts, Higher Studio founder Sara Arnold, and Katharine Hamnett on April 18th.  Find out everything you need to know about founder of  the iconic namesake label beforehand, and head to our events page for more info.

Tell us about your influences, political and otherwise, and how they have shaped your journey as a designer

 

  My father and his two brothers fought in WW2. They were bought up in Italy, Egypt and Belgium. We moved to Paris when I was 5, where my father worked at SHAPE, early NATO under Eisenhower. He was then posted to Romania and Bulgaria as a British Defence Attaché. We had 5 microphones dug out of the living room. We could only have serious conversations in the bathroom, with the loo flushed and the bath running. He was in the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was a special advisor to the UK Prime Minster.

I was at St Martins in the Golden era when there was a genius History of Art department, incredible pattern cutting teachers, amazing design tutors and being in Soho, it was at the epicentre of everything happening in London. I was there in 68, during the student uprising. I became politicised and shifted from right to left.In the 80s we were horrified at Thatcher and in the 90s horrified at Tony Blair. I felt that democracy was slipping through our fingers.

Why do you believe that fashion is such an effective medium for activism?

 

 Fashion is a way of being able to write on the human body, is the best noticeboard in the world. ‘Now God is dead, we have Fashion Designers’ somebody said. We look up to them and pay an inordinate amount of notice to what they say and do.

"Fashion is a way of being able to write on the human body, it is the best noticeboard in the world."

What was it that made you decide to take action on the environment in your career, and what lengths do you go to, to minimise the impact of your clothing?

 

 Concern for my children and the planet’s future. Realising that I had a voice which I could use to try to help- if you can, you have to!Research that we conducted in 1989, on the social and environmental impact in the clothing industry revealed a nightmare scenario:tens of thousands of deaths from accidental pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture, desertification, long-term contamination of the aquifer and rivers and seas with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. Massive greenhouse gas emissions from fertilisers. There are problems with every process under the sun: dyeing, tanning, chlorine bleach, PVC, conventional viscose, new nylon, new polyester and millions of garment workers working in dangerous conditions close to slavery. The price of fashion is being paid in environmental degradation and human suffering.Katharine Hamnett clothes are made in socially certified factories in the EU, with sustainable materials, ideally GOTS with a minimum of REACH. Again, it’s a working progress, we’re striving to be better and better every season, ongoing.

 

 What was it that made you decide to take action on the environment in your career, and what lengths do you go to, to minimise the impact of your clothing?

 

 Concern for my children and the planet’s future. Realising that I had a voice which I could use to try to help- if you can, you have to! Research that we conducted in 1989, on the social and environmental impact in the clothing industry revealed a nightmare scenario: tens of thousands of deaths from accidental pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture, desertification, long-term contamination of the aquifer and rivers and seas with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. Massive greenhouse gas emissions from fertilisers. There are problems with every process under the sun: dyeing, tanning, chlorine bleach, PVC, conventional viscose, new nylon, new polyester and millions of garment workers working in dangerous conditions close to slavery. The price of fashion is being paid in environmental degradation and human suffering. Katharine Hamnett clothes are made in socially certified factories in the EU, with sustainable materials, ideally GOTS with a minimum of REACH. Again, it’s a working progress, we’re striving to be better and better every season, ongoing.

"The price of fashion is being paid in environmental degradation and human suffering."

Out of all the slogans you have created for your pieces, which is your favourite and why?

 

 Choose Love because you can and should apply it to everything you think and do. In the end it’s the only way.


Some of your slogans are timeless whilst others relating to specific events will inevitably become outdated (e.g. Brexit). Do you take any measures to ensure that your clothing doesn’t go to waste once its relevance is lost?

 

People never seem to throw them away. They end up as nighties. Old tees like ‘Stay alive in 85’ recently sold for £550 at auction – flog them!

"Old tees like ‘Stay alive in 85’ recently sold for £550 at auction."

So many brands have drawn influence from your style, yet not all share your values. The irony of t-shirts sporting ‘feminist’ propaganda supposedly manufactured by underpaid women has caused particular uproar recently.  Tell us about your label’s commitment to social responsibility.

 

We’re members of the Fairwear Foundation, all our factories are inspected and audited and right now, we’re making in Europe, preserving traditional skills. It’s a working progress, striving for constant improvement.

Finally, what does sustainability mean to you?

 

Making something beautiful and long-lasting ethically and as environmentally as possible from organic fibres, renewable resources and recycled materials, using sustainable processes and socially responsible manufacturing, that hopefully makes the world a better place.

 

"Sustainability means making something beautiful and long-lasting ethically and as environmentally as possible."

Create a blank canvas to accompany your slogan tote, or make an equally bold statement with stripes. Shop REV’s picks below…