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Katharine Hamnett campaigns for second referendum at Pure London

Lauretta Roberts
10 February 2019

Legendary British designer and political and environmental activist Katharine Hamnett caused a stampede for her "Second Referendum Now" t-shirts as she handed them out after her headline address at Pure London today.

Hamnett, who shot to prominence in the 1980s with her politically motivated slogan t-shirts, used her time on the stage to call out Government, policy makers, and big businesses for being complicit in the poverty of millions of farmers and workers worldwide. Her solution to the issue was to insist on the same standard for all products created outside the EU as those created inside, and she had a plan to reinvent British manufacturing.

“In the 1980s no-one knew there was anything wrong with the fashion industry. That has changed now, a lot of brands are changing, but a lot aren’t. Brands are unwilling because it puts up their costs. But consumer power is forcing the issue now," she told the audience at London Olympia.

"My overall solution is to insist on the same standards from goods outside the EU as the standards set inside the EU or they aren’t allowed in. It would create a level playing field, help clean up the environment, would mean the same health and safety and labour standards, and also make the EU more competitive,” she added.

One of the main reasons cited for voters narrowly favouring Leave in the EU referendum in 2016 was the decimation of British manufacturing, particularly in the Northern industrial heartland of England. Hamnett said that it was possible to resurrect British manufacturing but it must be done by placing technology and sustainability first.

“We can start again as a manufacturing country. We need to start from scratch but do it completely sustainably, change the old business model and unnecessary profit making. But this must come from the top, it is the responsibility of the CEOs and boards of directors to make the changes. Businesses need to be arm-wrestled by legislation, we’ve had 30 years of choice and now we need laws," she said.

It is likely that MPs will be proposing legislation for UK fashion retailers and manufacturers to clean up their acts. Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has been carrying out a wide-ranging inquiry into the sustainability of the British fashion industry since last summer, which has taken in written evidence and oral evidence from retailers, activists, journalists, manufacturers and designers.

The chair of the EAC, Mary Creagh, MP, will be speaking at Pure tomorrow (11 February) in an in-conversation session with journalists and sustainability expert Lucy Siegle. Creagh published the interim findings of the enquiry at the start of the month and later this month the full report will be published at London Fashion Week. Creagh has said she is planning to recommend legislation as a result of the inquiry's findings.

When Creagh appeared at's Fashion Futures Forum in partnership with Avery Dennison last November she said: “We try to structure the reports so that they have utility. I don’t really believe in writing documents that nobody reads. We need to work out what the government should do, what we as consumers should do, and what the brands should do.”

Pure London runs from 10-12 February at London Olympia.

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