Katharine Hamnett is quite seriously back in fashion. It might seem odd to say this about such an influential designer, but as an interview with Hamnett in the Observer today points out, after 15 years or so in fashion's shadows Hamnett is now very definitely back in the spotlight. On TreeHugger we have recently reported about her shining presence at the Esthetica show at London Fashion week, her new range of ethical jewellery and now we can report that she has succeeded in producing a range of organic cotton clothing for the enormous supermarket chain Tesco. Many people may ask where has Katharine Hamnett been since making all that noise in the 1980's with her contraversial protest slogan t-shirts? The answer is: working hard! It has taken 17 years of working from deep within the fashion industry to produce an affordable line of clothing that is completely ethical, from the organic fabric, to the recycled metal zippers, to the palm nut buttons and even the recycled and recyclable coathangers. "'I'd been looking everywhere and I finally found this one little factory in India that was making recycled clothes hangers and I was so excited I practically rang the Tesco technical guy at 3 o'clock in the morning. It's the last piece in the jigsaw. Because I'm very purist about it, and if you're doing ethical and environmental, it's a tragedy if everything is perfect apart from the bloody clothes hanger."
Hamnett is known to many as a forerunner in ethical fashion, but it seems that only now, with the new trends in eco-conciousness, the fashion world has finally caught up with her. The Observer interview says:
"Her 'epiphany' came in 1989 when she did some research into the impact of the clothing and textile industry on the environment - 'Because I'm interested in Buddhism and I thought, "Well I'll just check", I don't think there's anything wrong with just making silly clothes but then, nightmare scenario, we found that 10,000 people a year were dying from pesticide poisoning in cotton agriculture! So I spent the Nineties trying to change the industry from within - and that's when things went a bit quiet. So I found myself in this nightmare.
I slogged on right through the Nineties - designing collections, selling in Japan, manufacturing under licence in Italy, and virtually everything that could go wrong went wrong.' She fell out with her Italian manufacturer when she found he'd switched the fabrics in one of her collections at the last minute and he told her, 'If you keep on about all this ethical shit, you can take your collection and fuck off.' So that's what she did. She decided to tear up her contracts and go it alone - make a range of ethical clothing entirely at her own expense and then try to sell it to a retail chain.
But it was an incredibly hard slog. She would traipse round fabric fairs asking for organic cotton and manufacturers would tell her they didn't make it because there was no demand, whereas now, she says gleefully, she asks if they have organic cotton for Tesco and they all leap to attention and start offering her champagne. Tesco has already ordered 350 tonnes of organic cotton from a mill in India 'so that's great - that's 350 farmers immediately better off'.
Tesco was not her first choice of retailer and 'when I went to see them I thought I was going into the jaws of Hell, but they said they were interested in doing ethical clothing so - good. I don't care if people do the right thing even if it's for the wrong reasons, but actually I think they're really trying.' (Maybe they say the same about her.)
For any designer working and struggling to make their products more eco-friendly this is an inspiring story and we want to thank Katharine Hamnett for really trying, persevering and succeeding! We'd also like to apologise for the fact that it has taken so long for the rest of us to catch up with her! Hamnett's Choose Love collection for Tesco includes pieces for Men, Women and Kids and is available to buy online and in large Tesco outlets around the UK.
:: Kathrine Hamnett ::Observer Woman :: Tesco