at home: Artists in Conversation | Katharine Hamnett

Katharine Hamnett CBE, fashion designer, in conversation with Christine Checinska, Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum

at home: Artists in Conversation

Join us for lively and inspiring conversations with some of today’s notable artists. at home: Artists in Conversation brings together curators and artists to discuss various artistic practices and insights into their work.

About Katharine Hamnett

Born in 1947, Hamnett is an English fashion designer best known for her political slogan T-shirts as well as her outspoken advocacy for sustainable and ethical business practices. She graduated from Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design in 1970 and launched the Katharine Hamnet London clothing label in 1979. In 1989 she was the first person to blow the whistle on the malpractices of the textile and fashion industries. Hamnett lobbied directly on issues such as the use of pesticides and the plight of cotton farmers, and she pressured her licensees to reduce the impact of her collections, eventually shuttering production and turning her efforts to political activism.  

In 1983, Hamnett released the first of her now-iconic oversized T-shirts emblazoned with large block letter slogans. George Michael of the English pop duo Wham! wore her CHOOSE LIFE T-shirt in a music video, and other fans of her label at the time included Boy George, Princess Diana, Liz Taylor, Madonna, and Mick Jagger. In 1984, Hamnett received the first British Fashion Council’s British Fashion Designer of the Year award. In 2011, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to the fashion industry. Her work is in many collections, including the Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hamnett’s initial slogan campaign, CHOOSE LIFE, was inspired by the central tenet of Buddhism to do no harm, live a meaningful life, and change the world for the better. It was soon followed by others including EDUCATION NOT MISSILES, WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW, PEACE, SAVE THE WORLD, and NO WAR (which helped inspire the formation of the STOP THE WAR Coalition in 2001). Decades later, these slogans remain strikingly resonant and relevant. Following the relaunch of the Katharine Hamnett London label in 2017, many of her classic slogan T-shirts were reissued alongside new designs—all produced ethically, sustainably, and often in collaboration with nonprofit charities. Hamnett donated her CHOOSE LOVE slogan to the grassroots humanitarian organization Help Refugees, with the campaign proceeds raising more than $60 million to provide frontline support to refugees around the world. The Center is proud to partner with Hamnett on a limited-edition reissue of the EDUCATION NOT MISSILES T-shirt, now available in our Museum Shop!

This program is presented through the generosity of the Terry F. Green 1969 Fund for British Art and Culture.

Top image
Katharine Hamnett, photo by Michael Dunlea

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