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Katharine Hamnett looks back at 40 years of trying to save the planet

The legendary fashion activist launches a new campaign which references the past while simultaneously looking to the future

Forty years ago, British designer Katharine Hamnett launched her eponymous brand, disrupting the fashion industry with her unique and explicit political message – as plastered across the ‘Choose Life’ and ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’ slogan t-shirts which became definitive of the 1980s. 

Now, for her AW19 capsule collection and accompanying campaign, the designer has cast her mind back to the start of her career and replicated a collection from the 80s – only this time in a much more sustainable way, with sustainable fabrics and ethical manufacture all high on the agenda.

Fashion now versus fashion when the original campaign was shot looks very different. Within the last year alone, at the hands of organisations such as Extinction Rebellion, the fashion industry has been urged to take responsibility for its impact on the planet, with many upcoming designers now thinking in a sustainable way. Fast fashion, however, still prevails.

“Everything has changed, it’s an oversupplied market and manufacturing has virtually died in developed economies,” Hamnett said. “It’s been an explosion of brands, a tsunami of outsourced product. There’s also now a dawning understanding of the horrendous impact that the fashion and textiles industry are having socially and environmentally across the planet that nobody knew about then.”

The decision to recreate the original campaign came as a response to the societal issues which have come to light in the time since the first image was created, such as Trump’s presidency, the murder of unarmed black men by police officers, and the devastating effects of the Fukushima disaster. 

One of the shirts features the slogan ‘No More Fashion Victims’, something Hamnett describes as a plea for the fashion industry to take the wellbeing of its workers seriously, while the ‘Save Life on Earth’ tee was born out of the current zeitgeist surrounding the climate emergency. “Extinction was a word hardly ever used in the early 80s and now it’s an everyday event for one species or another,” Hamnett explains.” Other shirts include the slogans ‘Please Stop Killing Whales’, ‘Choose Love’, ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Protest and Survive’. 

Fast fashion is another element of the industry which is deeply unethical. For Hamnett, her best piece of advice for future generations is to only use sustainable materials such as organic linen and cotton, Lyocell Tencel and recycled polyester. “Buy organic cotton whenever you can and ask for it. It’s a complete game-changer for the farmers that grow it, it’s better for climate, better for the insects and pollinators, better for the rivers and seas and ultimately better for you.”