We asked Katharine Hamnett for her pro tips on protest dressing

The O.G. fashion activist is back - and we need her more now than ever
Katharine, far right, in one of her original '80s campaigns
Katharine, far right, in one of her original '80s campaigns

Fashion warriors don’t come bigger – or more impactful – than Katharine Hamnett, whose barnstorming, political protest tees and fearless approach not only turned her into an ’80s firebrand not to be messed with, but certainly someone to have in your wardrobe. 2018’s political climate, then, is possibly the best time to resuscitate those tees – and with the help of Matches Fashion, that’s exactly what she’s done. Grazia spoke to the crusader herself about the power and messages behind the slogans…

Is the slogan T-shirt the most effective form of protest dressing?
Slogan tees are one of the best forms of protest dressing in so far as they can be read from 200 metres. You can’t not read them. Once you’ve seen one, its message is in your brain.

Silk Choose Life T-shirt, Dhs1,360

What are your thoughts on how political fashion has become again? Is there a danger of it becoming gimmicky, and would this still help the cause in the end anyway?
It’s definitely cool to look as if you care.

What role did you play in this politicisation back in the ’80s? What was it that spurred you on?
I initially did ‘Choose Life’ T-shirts inspired by Buddhism under Thatcher, when it seemed democracy had slipped through our fingers. They gave you a voice. They got picked up by pop stars like George Michael and Boy George and became the height of cool.

What causes still need galvanising and what new ones are you backing?
Sadly, nearly all the tees are as relevant today as they were then. ‘Save the world’, ‘No war’, ‘Save our seas’, ‘Choose life’, ‘Ban pollution’, ‘Save life on Earth’. The new ones include ‘Cancel Brexit’ and ‘Second referendum now’.

Silk Climate Control T-shirt, Dhs1,360

Your most iconic moment was wearing the ‘58% don’t want Pershing’ T-shirt to meet Margaret Thatcher in 1984. What would you wear to meet Theresa May or Donald Trump?
I’d either wear ‘Second referendum now’, ‘Cancel Brexit’ or ‘Education not missiles’ to meet Theresa May and I’d wear ‘Cancel Trump’ to meet Donald Trump.

Thatcher had a great comeback – what did you say back to that?
I got the picture I wanted, so no matter how good her comeback, I’d got her. The rest is history.

When Katharine met Maggie, 1984

As a consumer and a citizen, how do you move from wearing protest clothing to making a discernible difference?
Marching, protest tees, demos and petitions are all great but they have no teeth. They achieve surprisingly little unless they are followed up with pressure on elected representatives. The only thing that changes politicians’ behaviour is something that threatens their ability to get re-elected – like writing to them telling them they’re paid to represent your views, not take decisions on your behalf – and if they don’t represent your views, and you see they don’t, you won’t be voting for them at the next election.

Is there one T-shirt cause that’s particularly close to your heart?
They’re all cries from the heart. ‘Choose love’ is pretty good; we gave it to Help Refugees, an amazing organisation that is helping refugees fleeing warfare and persecution. It’s being sold by ASOS at no profit, earning the charity Dhs50,000 a month, which is getting to refugees the next day.

Silk Save Our Seas T-shirt, Dhs1,360

What’s the one major thing fashion needs to change right now?
Apparently, fashion needs to stop using plastics in packaging, and synthetic fibres derived from crude oil such as polyester, nylon, acrylic etc., as micro-particles from washing them are getting into the sea and killing marine life at all levels According to Greenpeace, this is a major emergency.

Why is now the most relevant time to reissue your tees with Matches?
Life on Earth has never been as threatened as it is now, and it’s being threatened by human activity. It’s time to ‘Save the future’ while we have almost run out of it. The nuclear clock sits at three minutes to midnight. It’s ‘Clean up or die’ time because if we don’t address all the issues that are threatening life on Earth now, from pesticides to war – we will be wiped off the face of the Earth and take most other life forms with us.

Silk Women Against War T-shirt, Dhs1,360

Photos: Katharine Hamnett, supplied and courtesy of T-shirt: Cult - Culture - Subversion