Katharine E. Hamnett, born 16 August 1947, in Gravesend, Kent is an English fashion designer best known for her political t-shirts and her ethical business philosophy.
Hamnett’s oversized t-shirts with large block letter slogans, launched in 1983, were adopted by pop bands and musicians such as George Michael who wore her white “CHOOSE LIFE” tee in one of his music videos. Roger Taylor from Queen. Paul Morley from ZTT. Her T-shirts were also designed to promote record label’s and worn by models such as Naomi Campbell to get messages across to the public – Naomi appeared in Hamnett shirts bearing the slogans “USE A CONDOM” and “PEACE.”
Katharine designed her t-shirts as a way of getting her message across: “If you want to get the message out there, you should print it in giant letters on a t-shirt.” Her first shirt featured the “CHOOSE LIFE” slogan. Inspired by a Buddhist exhibit, it was a comment against war, death and destruction. Katharine has spoken out several times against the slogan’s use by antiabortion activists in the U.S. She wrote on her website, “It’s not about the anti-abortion lobby. The US anti-abortion lobby attempted to appropriate CHOOSE LIFE. We are taking it back and promoting its real meaning. Ours is authentic and I believe in a woman’s right to choose.”
Outside her own label, in 1984 Hamnett was involved in the founding of Tanya Sarne’s Ghost label.
Beginning in 1989, with research showing pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing regions, and sweatshop labour a major part of the textiles industry, Katharine began lobbying for major changes in the way the industry operated. After disappointment with the results, Katharine terminated most of her licensing arrangements, and in 2005 relaunched her line under stricter ethical guidelines, including manufacturing and agricultural practices.
at that time, Katharine met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wearing her own t-shirt with the slogan “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING”, a reference to polls showing public opposition in the United Kingdom against the basing of Pershing missiles in the country.
In 2003, at a London fashion show, Hamnett’s catwalk models wore shirts with “STOP WAR, BLAIR OUT”, a reference to the looming invasion of Iraq.
In 2013, Hamnett designed two different t-shirts for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: “EDUCATION NOT TRIDENT” and “NHS NOT TRIDENT”. As an additional sign of her commitment to the anti-nuclear cause, Hamnett joined the 55th edition of the Easter demonstration at Aldermaston, on 1 April 2013.
Hamnett was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas at the 2015 general election.