Courtesy Katharine Hamnett

how to save the world with katharine hamnett

Iconic fashion designer Katharine Hamnett has spent her career fighting to make the world a better place. From making fashion sustainable to cancelling Brexit, here’s her manifesto for change in 2018...

by katharine hamnett
10 September 2018, 7:00am

Courtesy Katharine Hamnett

Fashion gave me a voice in the 80s, or rather I grabbed it, and I’ve used and abused it ever since. I started my career making slogan tees in an attempt to highlight key issues affecting the world. I wanted to make people stop and think and hopefully do the right thing. For this issue of i-D, I’ve highlighted four make or break areas we need to address now and asked key people operating within those areas for their advice on how we achieve a sustainable future...


‘Choose Love’ is a position you can apply to everything, from how we deal with the refugee crisis, to homophobia and xenophobia. It is a solution. We need to be reminded that if we do everything with love it’s going to be OK. I gave the slogan to Help Refugees. All the profits from it go to the charity, an amazing organization working on the ground across Europe and the Middle East. They are working in many places where other older, larger organizations are afraid to go. 94 per cent of the money they raise goes straight to refugees the next day. ASOS are now making the T-shirts for them in organic cotton, and selling them online, taking no money themselves and giving all the profits to Help Refugees. At the moment it’s making about $25 per month.

Josie Naughton of Help Refugees says: “In 2015, when one million refugees arrived in Europe, a group of my friends decided sharing a supportive status on Facebook wasn’t enough. We raised $1,300 and took a van load of tents and sleeping bags to Calais. Three years later and we have helped 722,000 people and raised and spent $16 million. Our core costs are only 6 per cent of that. It’s important for us that the money reaches the ground and those it was intended for. This is about human welfare. How can we reunite these children stranded in Calais with their families in England? How we are treating these children is no better than Donald Trump. What is happening in America is absolutely horrifying but there are also unaccompanied minors in detention in Europe who lack a safe, legal route to the UK, and are being blocked from being reunited with their families. We need to put pressure on our MPs and say: ‘These are the issues we care about and our government needs to do more.’ We need to find ways to force change to actually happen, not just shout about it.”


The Environmental and Peace movement has been going over fifty years but haven’t achieved as much as they should have considering the time and people hours that have been involved. We still have wars, rising carbon emission and now we have nearly got out of control global warming. We must use democracy. Those of us lucky enough to live in democracies can do more than just vote with our wallets. We have the power to force our governments to do our bidding in every area, by exercising our vote and the promise of giving it or withdrawing it. Right now our democracies are in danger from a global swing to the right which will ultimately lead to many people losing their right to vote. We owe it to ourselves and our ancestors — use it now, or lose it.

Rosie Perez, actress and activist, says:
“We can’t just protest. You have to put the pressure on your elected officials. If the majority is on your side, the majority has to act as a cohesive group in their protest and that is not just going on the street, that is going to your MP, that is going to your Prime Minister relentlessly, day in and day out until they are forced to do something about it. You have to attack at all angles possible in order for something to happen, in order for people to really, really be able to affect change. I would just say don’t give up the fight. If you look at the AIDS movement, the Civil Rights movement — we didn’t give up. And we are still not giving up. The number one thing that I was taught by my mentor in the activist world: it’s a long game, don’t give up.”


The clothing industry is 90 per cent unsustainable, socially and environmentally. The millions of people who make our clothes and grow our cotton suffer human rights abuses. The entire planet is a victim of the fashion industry’s environmental devastation. There are only a few materials you can truly safely use — organic cotton, organic linen, organic wool, and Tencel. The rest are not environmentally friendly.

One thing we hear very little about is the plight of the 100 million cotton farmers and their families. They are living in extreme poverty, often on the edge of starvation, with no access to schools for their children and no healthcare. They are frequently forced to buy deadly chemical pesticides. If they cannot afford them they are lent the money with extortionate interest rates; if they cannot afford to repay, because, for example, their crop fails due to a lack of rain, the lenders foreclose and they are forced to abandon their farms and then migrate to the cities or further north. There have been innumerable deaths from pesticide poisoning. 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide due to pesticide debt in the last five years.

Cotton makes up 12 per cent of world’s agriculture and 99 per cent of that uses chemical pesticides and fertilizers which are destroying the environment and contributing to global warming. All cotton should be organic. Farmers then don’t have to spend money on pesticides and fertilizers. They can get extra money for their cotton, allowing them to feed themselves, educate their children and afford healthcare. It is better for them, better for the planet, better for you.

Why aren’t more brands converting to organic cotton? If they really care about sustainability they would. We need to fix the industry via legislation. But a lot of brands won’t support it as they make big profits from making clothing in countries with poor human rights laws. I am proposing new legislation that only allows goods into our economic blocks that is made to the same social, health and safety, labour laws, human rights, and environmental standards as our economic block.

Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution says: “Our wardrobes are part of the fashion supply chain. Every day our choices can make a positive difference. We need to collectively demand a fashion industry with more moderate production, more mindful consumption, fairly paid supply chain workers and our environment protected.”


A lot of people talk about impeaching Trump, but if you do that you get Mike Pence, who has the same values as Trump but is more diplomatic and, worryingly, probably better organized. It lets the Republicans off the hook too easily. To really get rid of Trump, the Republican party has to be voted out. In the letter to America, on the back of our ‘VOTE TRUMP OUT’ T-shirt, we have used a quote from James Comey, the director of the FBI fired by Trump. I love the idea of using a Republican to tell people to get rid of the Republicans.

He said that “Americans have to vote with their values.” This is of particular importance in the upcoming midterm elections on November 11th. We need to ensure that as many Democrats and independents got these seats away from Republicans.

Because do American values include Children ripped away from their parents and kept in cages? Black men being shot in the back for minor traffic offenses? Endless wars? 8 per cent of government spending going towards education and 52 per cent being spent on the military? All those fossil fuels wrecking the planet? The neglect of Puerto Rico?

Trump is probably the most dangerous man on earth, fronting and confronting many of the most dangerous men on earth, taking us to the brink of annihilation on a weekly basis. The American electorate holds the future of the world in its hands. Vote Trump and his gang out. Do the right thing!

Rosie Perez, actress and activist, says: “You have to break down what policy means and what politics mean. What your politics mean is how you think the world should play out on a day-to-day basis.

We believe everyone should receive free education and free higher education. Everyone should have access to free healthcare. Everyone should be able to eat. Everyone should have a house to live in. If you think you should have that, shouldn’t everyone?

If you break it down to that level, and say that if we give everyone this, everyone can add to the economy, well then it will make us richer as a society. We will create a more educated society and therefore we will have a stronger workforce.

The UK must keep fighting Trump because it actually excites Americans. Believe it not, Americans still look up to Brits.”


Brexit is the biggest issue Britain has to deal with. Leaving the EU will be a disaster for every sector of the economy. According to Fashion Roundtable, a think tank of fashion industry insiders, 98 per cent would vote to remain if there was a second referendum, and 80 per cent believe that leaving the single market will be bad for business. They are not the only ones. The CBI, the IMF and James Carney, governor of the Bank of England, have all said leaving the EU could cause a recession. Everything is going to suffer; jobs, trade, the environment, food safety, human rights, education, social care, healthcare, agriculture, arts and culture, the creative industries, defense, travel, retail, the service industries... And to top it all off, the poor are going to be the hardest hit.

The leavers seem to think that an exit from the EU with no deal would be just fine, and we could do our own advantageous trade deals. Dream on! Whatever deal the government tries to negotiate is going to be worse and more expensive than the one we have now. And really, what is wrong with being 20 miles away from Europe, the biggest trading block in the world?

Remember that the people actually have not spoken. Many of them were not allowed to: the expats for instance. They are all British citizens and will be first in line to be hit by any changes in pension payments or healthcare provisions. There are approximately 1.5 million of them. 70 per cent of them would have voted to remain. Many people, now they have been presented with new information as to its impact on everything, have changed their minds from leave to remain, which under a democracy you are allowed to do. Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, said, “If British voters changed their minds they would be welcomed back with open arms.”

Write to your MP, telling them you demand a second referendum now, one that all British citizens can vote in, with one of the options being that the UK remain in the EU as we are -- and if not you won’t be voting for them next time. Otherwise people can say the decision either way was not democratic.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, says: “Europe is best reformed from within. I voted remain because I thought the best option was to remain. Let’s stay within Europe and reform it.”


We desperately need to get out of fossil fuels to move to a low carbon economy, but nuclear power is not the answer. We should cancel Trident, Britain’s obsolete nuclear submarine fleet. It is no longer undetectable, which was its justification as a weapon. Its projected future cost over its lifetime, according the CND, is $235 billion, which we should spend instead on the NHS, on free higher education and on a renewable technology industry.

Nuclear is dirty, dangerous and expensive. It cannot exist without massive public subsidy of taxpayers’ money. It’s at risk of terrorism, and worst of all there is no long terms safe storage for the incredibly dangerous radioactive waste that carries on being dangerous for 100,000 years. No human artifact has lasted that long – it’s longer than recorded history. It is not low carbon either, if you take into consideration milling the uranium, constructing and decommissioning power stations and transporting the uranium.

Neil Crumpton, Friends of the Earth, says:
“We need safe, secure, low carbon and carbon-negative renewable energy technologies. The UK has considerable renewable energy resources. Offshore wind farms could supply all of the UK. The earth has sufficient renewable energy resources to meet all foreseeable energy demands several times over. Nuclear power is simply not needed and should be avoided. It’s easier, cheaper, faster and safer to build renewables.

Compared to an offshore wind versus nuclear inclusive over the 60 years life of a nuclear power station, the nuclear scenario is likely to cost future consumers (today’s children) around $14 billion more than an offshore wind scenario. The public needs to oppose the Government’s planned ‘innovative funding models’ (ie state subsidies) for new nuclear projects and vote for politicians who support renewable energy and oppose any more nuclear projects.”


Chemical pesticides and herbicides should be banned. They are one of the greatest threats to life on earth. They are killing everything, they are designed to kill and they carry on killing. As well as killing the bees and all other insects, and the very organisms that allow organic matter to decompose so that the elements it contains can be taken up again by plants, they are also killing us. They are associated with cancers and birth defects, and they are present in bread, in beer, in honey, and indeed in all non organic fruit and vegetables.

Keith Tyrell of Pesticide Action Network UK says:
“We have historically been the whistleblower and campaigner on some of the most dangerous poisons known to man. The biggest challenge is unbridled consumption and judging success by economic growth. This model has driven us to the edge of the abyss. There are for me two global scale catastrophes — climate change and biodiversity loss. We are in the middle of the sixth great extinction event and are losing species at a rate that we have not seen for millions for years. This threatens to disturb finely balanced ecological systems, and much as we might want to ignore it, we are part of an ecosystem.”

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.