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Katharine Hamnett: 'I couldn’t carry on making clothes and destroying the planet'

Katharine Hamnett, designer, activist and pioneer for sustainable fashion, has urged brands to do more than “just shout about sustainability”.

Speaking to hundreds of delegates at the Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2019 conference in London’s Tobacco Dock today, Hamnett said: We’re getting a bit bored of brands just shouting about sustainability. Shout about it when you’ve really got something to shout about.

“I think brands should just do more good things. We need everyone involved.”

Hamnett launched her eponymous brand in 1979. Then in 1989, she requested an audit into the environmental impact of her business and discovered how cotton production affects the environment and human lives. 

In conversation with Drapers’ head of content – fashion and features Graeme Moran, she said: “I thought we weren’t doing anything wrong, just making silly frocks.

“When [the audit] came back, there was so much wrong with what we were doing: every possible raw material came at a social and environmental cost. It was devastating. So we said, ‘Let’s work differently.’ There have been sacrifices, but it has been worthwhile. I couldn’t carry on making clothes and destroying the planet.” 

In response to the audit, Hamnett relaunched her brand using only sustainable and organic fabrics. 

She added: “Attitudes have changed enormously since 1989, when people knew nothing about sustainability. It’s a tsunami change. It’s top of the agenda, but it’s taken a hell of a long time.”

However, Hamnett said the shift towards sustainability is not moving fast enough: “It’s fantastic where it is now. But there is still huge amounts of work to do.”

Hamnett argued that all change needs to start at the top of fashion companies: “It all starts at the top – it’s a CEO decision.” 

However, environmental impact is decided at the design stage of a product and the materials that will be used: “Everyone here is responsible for product in every way. It’s challenging making beautiful products that can be completely recycled.”

Hamnett was awarded the British Fashion Council’s first ever Designer of the Year award in 1984.








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