Katharine Hamnett made fashion political. While fashion statements of the past which re-envisioned the female body could have been said to be political in some sense, there was no doubt of this for Hamnett. She is best known today for her political T-shirt and ethical business practices.
A graduate of Saint Martin’s School of Art, Hamnett’s career took off in the mid-1980s. She was known for her oversized T-shirts which sported large block letters with a message. Her work was featured in music videos such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and Queen’s “Hammer to Fall”.
While Hamnett was passionate about her fashion business, today, she questions whether it significantly changed political discussion. She has indicated fears that the slogans had only served a substitute for concrete action.
In the early 1990s, she began lobbying for significant changes to the textile industry. Citing sweatshop labor conditions and pesticide poisoning in cotton fields, Hamnett terminated her licensing arrangements and moved to more ethical business practices in 2005.
She has also spoken against what she calls racist practices on the part of Fashion Week. “The catwalks are full of white dogs; cosmetic companies don’t like black models – the racist bitches…Black girls have much better body shapes, and it’s such a shame. I just think there should be a bit more balance.”
Though she doubts the political viability of her fashion work, she continued her tradition in 2013 creating T-Shirts for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The slogans on these two T-Shirts were “EDUCATION NOT TRIDENT” and “NHS NOT TRIDENT”.