The story of a t-shirt

Katharine Hamnett and Margaret Thatcher, 1984. Associated Press.

Katharine Hamnett and Margaret Thatcher, 1984. Associated Press.

In 1984, British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett wore an oversized  t-shirt to Downing Street to meet Margaret Thatcher. The t-shirt had ‘58% DON’T WANT PERSHING’ emblazoned in huge black letters across it, and was in protest against the proliferation of cruise and pershing missiles across Europe and the UK. The photo, right, was the most widely used image that year, and remains an iconic example of the way in which fashion can be harnessed for political ends.

Fawcett’s ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt carries on the tradition, and our members, in all of their beautiful guises, wear the message across their chest – reclaiming the f-word from those who have tried to stigmatise it.

Last year we were approached by ELLE, the world’s biggest selling fashion magazine, asking if they could help coordinate a redesign of our iconic t-shirts as part of their December Feminism issue. After much discussion it was decided that we would approach the high street chain Whistles, headed up by Jane Shepherdson (the woman who turned Topshop and Whistles around, and is herself a proud feminist). Whistles jumped at the chance to be involved, and the ELLE x Whistles for Fawcett collaboration was born.

The partnership took us out of our comfort zone. Fashion and feminism aren’t the most straight forward of bed fellows, and here at Fawcett we had long conversations about the risks of working with a women’s magazine, with the narrow beauty ideals and aspirational lifestyle that they present. After much hard thought we came to the conclusion that while we understand and agree with many of the valid criticisms that certain feminists will have of what fashion magazines reflect and perpetuate, it was an opportunity that we, as a small campaigning organisation, wanted to grasp.

Thanks to ELLE and Whistles, women and men who have never heard of Fawcett will learn about the issues we campaign on, and 100% of the profits from the t-shirts, sweatshirts, clutch bags and mobile phone covers (which have all been ethically produced in factories that pay decent wages) will go straight back to Fawcett. We know the range will be unaffordable for many of our supporters, and for lots of the women affected by the issues that we campaign on – those who are hit hardest by the economic downturn, trapped in low paid work and those relying on benefits to survive – but the money raised by the sales will mean we can continue to do the work that we’re known for: leading the campaign for women’s rights and equality in the UK.

Beyoncé at MTV's VMAs

Beyoncé at the VMAs

There are always going to be discussions about what feminism means and what it should be. We’re not going to dictate who and what is feminist – but we certainly want to be involved with the debate. In the last year feminism has taken centre stage in mainstream culture in a way that we’ve not seen since the 70’s: Beyoncé declared herself a feminist in huge sparkling lights at the MTV Video Music Awards, Karl Lagerfeld staged mock feminist protests for his Chanel closing show at Paris fashion week, and the whole word still seems to talking be about Emma Watson’s speech on feminism at the UN, where she ‘formally invited’ men to get involved with the fight for equality.

The collaboration with ELLE and Whistles gives Fawcett the opportunity, still fighting 150 years since our founder’s successful parliamentary campaign for the women’s vote, to get in on some of the limelight, and to keep the issues that really matter to us on the agenda more broadly. Not to mention the fact that we LOVE the new design – and we hope you will too:

The full range will be available on-line and in-store from Whistles on 30 October, with a limited preview collection available on 20 October.

The full range will be available on-line and in-store from Whistles on 30 October, with a limited preview collection available now through


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