Inspired By: Katherine Hamnett

June 9, 2010

Daily Digest

Inspired By: Katherine Hamnett

By Siobhan Lam

My name is Siobhan and I am an ethical fashion ‘on-the-fencer’. Yes, that is an entirely made up word but what it means essentially is that when ethical fashion comes up in conversation – I tend to nod my head in faux agreement and scarper as soon as decent social decorum allows.

So when I heard ethical British designer Katherine Hamnett was talking at Fashion Evolution Week in the Sugar Club in Dublin, I was less than enamoured.

Ethical fashion? Could it sound less glamourous? Give me Carrie Bradshaw any day of the week.  But I thought to myself – she is a rather infamous designer albeit it an ethical one, it might be worth it.  It was.

Katherine Hamnett is best known for her slogan t-shirts launched in the 1980’s which were embraced by celebrities from WHAM! to Madonna.  The t-shirts were a platform for Katherine to protest against the government and other such establishments using slogans such as NO WAR, CHOOSE LIFE and SAVE THE WORLD.

But Hamnett brought more than slogan t-shirts to the world – she invented garment dyeing in 1975, an absolutely essential part of fashioning any garment. She was also the first designer to stand up to the British Fashion council, calling them a “bunch of idiots” and so started the trend of showing her collection exclusively in Paris.

Her label KATHERINE HAMNETT was an incredibly lucrative business but after researching how her clothes were actually being produced and that millions of people were dying because of pesticide poisoning (from non-organic cotton), slave labour and enforced and unpaid labour – she ripped up all her contracts and started out again vowing to produce fashionable garments ethically.

Hamnett is the pioneer of ethical fashion and because of this; it has been a very difficult ride.  The government and other designers didn’t want to hear it – she had to do it on her own and she did.

Hamnett had to sell up her business and house in order to fund her ethical brand KATHERINE E HAMNETT (the E stands for ethical).  The brand sources its organic cotton from mills in India – where schools and housing are built for the workers and their families. She ensures that the profits made from her garments go back to the families of the farmers that harvest the cotton, not into the greedy pockets of the fashion industrialists.

Her story is an incredibly inspiring one and never told better than by the woman herself – she is utterly convincing in her frankness and determination to change the way we consume and wear fashion. Not once during her talk did I feel dictated to, but rather like I was an integral part of the future of sustainable fashion – which is really what this is all about.

Sustainable fashion

If we want future generations to enjoy fashion as much as we do now, we must open our eyes to the processes that sustain fast fashion today. Be careful with what you buy. Listen to that nagging voice in your head questioning how such an intricately beaded dress can be sold at such a low price.

As Hamnett said, the “fashion industry doesn’t have to sell ethical clothing but consumers don’t have to buy non- ethical clothing”.  These days we have a choice, so let’s make the right one.

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