Flashing Back to ’08 – Katharine Hamnett on Ethical Fashion


“She may have coined the phrase ‘power dressing’ in the 1980s but Katharine Hamnett has never favoured fashion statement over substance. According to Hamnett who also gave us stone-washed denim and whose clothes have been worn by Boy George and Princess Diana, what began as ‘a moral imperative’ to shop ethically has now become an ‘economic imperative.’

A recent report by the World Wildlife Federation on the environmental and social impact of luxury brands found that the greatest shift of the 21st century has been the rise in concern over environmental and social problems- and the greatest rise in such concern is among middle-class consumers.

According to Hamnett the market for ethically produced goods has grown 300 per cent in the last 12 months.

Almost 20 years before the current ethical fashion revolution, Hamnett commissioned research into the cotton industry and was struck by the findings.

‘The results of the research were absolutely horrific,’ she says ‘Back then 10,000 people a year were dying of accidental pesticide poisoning as a result of cotton faming; that figure now stands at 20,000 people. That’s seven times as many people died in the World Trade Centre, dying annually for our clothes.’

Until recently, she says, the clothing business didn’t want to know. ‘The industry didn’t want to change, the media didn’t want to talk about it for fear of alienating their advertisers and so everyone was sweeping it under the carpet.’

Hamnett believes the push towards the use of organic cotton is completely consumer-driven.

‘Ethical fashion doesn’t have to be eco-look, in fact it mustn’t be eco-look because ethical fashion has got to be fashion first’, says Hamnett.

Today Hamnett is as opinionated as ever. She says the two-party political system is a ‘travesty of democracy.

What’s frightening is that our governments are constantly making decisions against public opinion – it is autocratic behaviour. I have a T-shirt called ‘Leaders suck’. I think we don’t need leaders, the country should be run by referendums and civil servants.’

When she’s done fuming about politics…the conversation invariably swings back to the issue of organic cotton.

‘What we need is not awareness –the message is there- but the product delivered. Consumers are looking for it and they can’t find it, so that needs to be filled.’

One could be forgiven for thinking Hamnett is a woman solely on an ethical mission, but she insists she has lots of other passions.  ‘This [championing ethical goods] just strikes me as a job that has to be done.

‘Now that the fashion industry has come on board, it kind of reaffirms your faith in humanity. To lead a happy life you actually need to lead a good life.’


Katharine Hamnett speaking to Ruth O’Connor in The Sunday Business Post, April 27th 2008.

Organic cotton T-shirts, available now at: katharinehamnett.com

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