Katharine Hamnett calls for regulation to drive sustainable change

Victoria Gallagher | 17th January 2019

LONDON – Fashion icon Katharine Hamnett claims most apparel brands are unwilling to fully embrace sustainability because it will impact bottom line profits. The British designer and fashion pioneer has consequently called on legislation as a means of, “forcing the industry to change in line with consumer expectations and environmental necessity.” Hamnett has also called for legislative moves to ensure all apparel items imported into the EU are produced in line with European environmental and social standards.

In a submission to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee into the sustainability of the fashion industry, she said: “For 30 years, I have been campaigning to reform the clothing industry, socially and environmentally. I have worked with my own brand and as a consultant for large multinational brands and retailers. The conclusion I have come to, having tried to change the industry from within, is that fair pay, decent work, proper health and safety and higher environmental standards impact bottom line profits and therefore brands are mostly unwilling to change. Our only option is legislation.”

She added: “We will always need clothes. The clothing industry is one of the largest in the world and we all need our own domestic clothing industries. They create jobs, tax revenue and preserve traditional skills.

“We have lost our clothing industries which were historically big employers, to countries where people work in inhuman conditions with near starvation wages, and at the same time wreak horrendous environmental destruction with global impact, due to bad processes and non-existent or unenforced environmental laws.

“For the clothing industry to survive in the UK and EU, we need new legislation that only allows goods into our economic blocks that are made to the same labour, human rights, health and safety and environmental standards, outside as inside. This would raise the cost of outsourced goods and make domestic manufacturing (i.e. manufactured within our economic blocks) more competitive and viable.”

Hamnett claims that such a move would level the playing field between outsourced and domestically produced goods, “as it costs more if you actually have pay and treat the people who make your clothes properly and respect the environment.”

She adds: “It would improve the lives of all garment workers in the outsourced sector due to better pay, better and safer working conditions (a true living wage) and a safer and better environment.

“Simultaneously, enabling domestic manufacturing within our economic blocks would cut CO2 from the supply chain, as goods would have to travel shorter distances, generate local employment and tax revenues and preserve traditional skills.

“The only objection that people raise is: what happens to the three million mostly women, employed in Bangladesh for instance, who work in the clothing sector? The answer is – yes, there would be less jobs but they would be better paid.

“With improved human rights and environmental laws, brands would not be able to bunny-hop from country to country as they do now, because the same rules and standards would apply to everywhere if they wanted to ship into our countries.”