Katharine Hamnett

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Hamnett appearing on TV discussion After Dark "You Are What You Wear" in 1988

Katharine Eleanor Hamnett (née Appleton; born 16 August 1947) is an English fashion designer best known for her political T-shirts.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hamnett was born on 16 August 1947 in Gravesend, Kent, the daughter of James Appleton, a group captain. She attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College.[2]


Hamnett graduated from Saint Martin's School of Art. She set up Tuttabankem with Anne Buck in 1969. From 1975, she was a freelance fashion designer in London, Paris, Milan, New York and Hong Kong until she founded the Katharine E. Hamnett clothes label in 1979.[2]

Media exposure[edit]

Hamnett's oversized T-shirts with large block letter slogans, launched in 1983, were adopted by pop bands, including Wham!. George Michael wore his white "CHOOSE LIFE" shirt in the music video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". The t-shirt also appeared in Queen's video for "Hammer to Fall" (worn by Roger Taylor). Taylor wore Hamnett's "WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW" shirt during Queen's historic appearance at the first edition of the Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In 1984, ZTT's Paul Morley designed a series of "FRANKIE SAY..." T-shirts to promote the record label's chart act Frankie Goes to Hollywood (FGTH). Morley has stated that these designs were consciously based on Hamnett's slogan T-shirts: "What persuaded me was reading Katharine Hamnett saying she wanted the T-shirts ripped off, which reminded me of Mark P, saying he wanted Sniffin' Glue to be ripped off. And I mean, I did a fanzine, so when I read that I thought, great, fanzine T-shirts!"[3] The official FGTH designs were particularly successful, and spawned many imitations of their own.[4]

Models such as Naomi Campbell have appeared in Hamnett shirts bearing the slogans "USE A CONDOM" and "PEACE".

Hamnett viewed 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.[5] Inspired by a Buddhist exhibit, it was a comment against war, death and destruction.[6] Hamnett has spoken out several times against the slogan's use by anti-abortion 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."[6]

In 2015, Hamnett designed a T-shirt reading CHOOSE LOVE for the charity Help Refugees[7] (which is now known as Choose Love).

Outside her own label, in 1984 Hamnett was involved in the founding of Tanya Sarne's Ghost label.[8]

Political activism[edit]

Beginning in 1989, with research showing pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing regions, and sweatshop labour a major part of the textiles industry, Hamnett began lobbying for major changes in the way the industry operated. After disappointment with the results, Hamnett terminated most of her licensing arrangements, and in 2005 relaunched her line under stricter ethical guidelines, including manufacturing and agricultural practices.

In 1984, during the Downing Street reception to mark the inaugural London Fashion Week, Hamnett met with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wearing her own T-shirt with the slogan "58% DON'T WANT PERSHING", the anti-Tory policy reference to polls showing public opposition in the United Kingdom against the basing of Pershing II missiles in the country.[9][10]

In 2003, at a London fashion show, Hamnett's catwalk models wore shirts with "STOP WAR, BLAIR OUT",[11] a reference to the looming invasion of Iraq.

In 2008, Hamnett said that fashion designers participating in the London Fashion Week were racist due to what she views as increasing exclusion of black models, stating:

The catwalks are full of white dogs, cosmetic companies don't like black models – the racist bitches. I have no idea why when it's obvious that black girls are just so genuinely much more beautiful than Caucasians, who have clearly got the short straw. Black girls have much better body shapes and it's such a shame. I just think there should be a bit more of a balance.[12]

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.[13]

Hamnett was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas at the 2015 general election.[14]

In February 2024, Hamnett publicly relinquished her Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) distinction in protest against the UK government's support for Israel’s war in Gaza. Wearing a t-shirt reading "DISGUSTED TO BE BRITISH" in her trademark all-caps font, the designer said "I'm disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza," brandishing her CBE and placing it in a rubbish bin.[15]


In June 2014, Hamnett joined Nimrod Kamer to perform a stunt outside Hackney Town Hall, aiming to make Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe ban the weedkiller Monsanto Roundup being used in the borough.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Hamnett has been married twice, to Richard Hamnett, a graphic designer, and to Jeffrey Pine, a painter. She has two sons.[17]

Awards and honours[edit]

Hamnett won the first ever British Fashion Awards, and in 1996, was voted Britain's favourite designer by readers of Cosmopolitan. Hamnett was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours, for services to the fashion industry.[18] She renounced the honour in February 2024 in response to her perceived lack of action by the British Government in the war in Gaza.[19]


  1. ^ "Katharine Hamnett - Fashion Designer | Designers | The FMD". The FMD - FashionModelDirectory.com. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  2. ^ a b "Hamnett, Katharine, (born 16 Aug. 1947), fashion designer". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U18835. ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  3. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (13 October 1984). "The Morley & Horn Show Present – How to Make a Spectacle of Yourself". NME. p. 25.
  4. ^ Sutcliffe, Kevin (1 December 1984). "The Road to the Pleasure Dome". The Face. p. 26. Indirectly, the band have Morley (a director and minor shareholder of ZTT) to thank for an income beyond the usual record company minimum. Noticing that Katherine Hamnett's outsized polemical t-shirts of '83 were being knocked off in the high street by the spring of '84, he concocted a series of bold slogans for Frankie's second release: 'Frankie Say Relax', 'Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed', 'Frankie Say War, Hide Yourself'. 250,000 t-shirts bearing these words have been sold to date, plus twice as many pirate versions.
  5. ^ Michalewicz, Claire (3 December 2012). "Right Livelihood gets fashionable, thanks to design icon Katharine Hamnett". Lion's Roar.
  6. ^ a b "Katharine Hamnett Online Shop: Campaigns: Choose Life T Shirt". 14 March 2008. Archived from the original on 14 March 2008.
  7. ^ Katie Baron, 'How Choose Love Made Charity Credible Again: Pop-Up Sales Storm Towards £1.5m, Doubling 2017 Total' (22/10/18) on Forbes
  8. ^ Seipel, Tracy (1 December 1989). "Ghost on the rise in fashion Popular line's resort collection comes in loose, flattering shapes". The Denver Post. Retrieved 8 April 2016.(subscription required)
  9. ^ Selwyn-Holmes, Alex (10 May 2010): "Katharine Hamnett meets Thatcher". Iconic Photos.
  10. ^ Armstrong, Lisa; Leaper, Caroline (15 February 2024). "The best (and worst) moments from 40 years of London Fashion Week". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  11. ^ "Fashion Designer Katharine Hamnett Turns 65". Zimbio. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  12. ^ Day, Elizabeth (17 February 2008). "Why racism stalked the London catwalk". The Guardian. London.
  13. ^ Hudson, Kate (27 March 2013). "New Katharine Hamnett anti-Trident designs". Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
  14. ^ Elgot, Jessica (24 April 2015). "Celebrities sign statement of support for Caroline Lucas – but not the Greens". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Renowned fashion designer rejects UK order of chivalry over Israel support". Middle East Monitor. 20 February 2024. Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  16. ^ Emma Bartholomew:Katharine Hamnett accuses Hackney Council of ignoring weedkiller petition, Hackney Gazette, 2 June 2014
  17. ^ Eyre, Hermione (11 October 2008). "Katharine Hamnett: Katharine the great". The Independent. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  18. ^ "No. 59647". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2010. p. 7.
  19. ^ "Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett bins her CBE in protest for Gaza ceasefire". Independent.

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