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The BoF Podcast: Katharine Hamnett on Protest, Slogan Tees and Cancelling Brexit

This week on the Inside Fashion podcast, the British designer and original fashion activist discusses why the UK fashion industry needs a second referendum on Brexit.
Will Pine
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LONDON, United Kingdom — Political protest is hot in fashion right now. Dior, Missoni, Gucci and Prabal Gurung have all been getting in on the action in recent seasons. But there’s one designer that’s been unwaveringly challenging the status quo for decades — call her the original fashion activist.

British designer Katharine Hamnett pioneered the sustainability conversation in the fashion space, promoting human rights and environmental issues decades before the wider industry started taking notice by channelling activism through the clothes she created — or to put it in Hamnett’s words, “I just use and abuse the voice that clothes have given me really.”

In 1983 her provocative “Choose Life” slogan tee — promoting drug and suicide prevention — dropped. The call to action was endorsed by superstars, from Wham’s George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley to Queen’s Roger Taylor. “We were on a roll and we were getting so much publicity,” says Hamnett.

Hamnett’s slogan T-shirt crusade began with a conversation with PR guru Lynn Franks, who served as inspiration for British comedy series Absolutely Fabulous. Franks was putting on an exhibition to promote Buddist philosophy. Hamnett had other ideas.

“I said you’ve got to do it, huge letters on a T-shirt, people can read it from 200 yards, that’s how you get a message over, not this stingy exhibition you’re putting on,” recalls Hamnett. “That was the start. And then I realised there were also other things that needed screaming about.”

“Choose Life” was followed by more politically charged slogans: “58% Don't Want Pershing.” “Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now.” “Use A Condom.” “Peace”. Her latest T-Shirt, “Cancel Brexit.”, is on sale now and aims to tackle one of the most pressing issues in British politics today head on.

Brexit would be devastating to the British fashion industry, which is worth £32 billion to the UK economy. "The fashion industry is actually enormous and doesn't get any political coverage whatsoever," Hamnett notes. According to Fashion Roundtable, an organisation that bridges the fashion industry and mainstream politics, 96 percent of the fashion industry voted remain.

Hamnett is campaigning for a second referendum.

Here's how you can get involved:


  • Copy and paste the letter below
  • Handwrite the address on an envelope and send it to your local MP using this address: Parliamentary, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
  • To find out who your MP is follow this link
  • Use the #CANCELBREXIT to show support

Insert MP’s name


House of Commons,



Dear Insert MP's name

I want you to represent my views on Brexit, which is I want to remain. I pay you to represent my views, not take decisions on my behalf and if you don’t represent my views I won’t be voting for you at the next election.


Insert your signature and name

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