Five months after the birth of baby Archie, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is back at work. Thursday 12 September marked the launch of its fashion collection with the British charity Smart Works, a line of five women’s clothing that brings together four different British clothing brands.
The collection, called the Smart Set, includes a Marks & Spencer crepe shift dress for $ 32, $ 138 tote bag from John Lewis, a $ 245 blazer and $ 148 slim-fit pants from Jigsaw, and a classic white button-down for $ 125 from designer (and good friend of Markle’s) Misha Nonoo. For each purchased item, one is donated to Smart Works. Some, such as the carrying case, are already sold out, while the blazer and trouser set are not available for shipping to the US.
Meghan Markle himself wore two of the pieces, the shirt and the pants, to debut the collection on Thursday at the John Lewis store in London. There is a reason why each item seems surprisingly simple: Smart Works offers coaching and style sessions for unemployed women prior to job interviews, many of whom may not have the budget to purchase a completely new office-ready outfit to look professional to look like. (Americans are perhaps more familiar with Dress for Success, a similar organization in the United States.)
“Since moving to the UK, it has been very important for me to meet local communities and organizations that have done meaningful work and try to do what I can to help them increase their impact,” Markle said in a statement on Instagram. Below each product description is a quote from Markle: “No handout, a hand-held.”
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Last month, The Duchess of Sussex surprised Smart Works clients during the capsule collection shoot in west London…Today, The Duchess, alongside @SmartWorksCharity – in partnership with @InsideJigsaw, @JohnLewisandPartners, @MarksandSpencer and @MishaNonoo – are incredibly proud to reveal to everyone, #TheSmartSet – a five piece capsule collection that will equip the Smart Works clients with the classic wardrobe pieces to help them feel confident as they mobilise back into the work space. • “Since moving to the UK, it has been deeply important to me to meet with communities and organisations on the ground doing meaningful work and to try to do whatever I can to help them amplify their impact. It was just last September that we launched the ‘Together’ cookbook with the women of the Hubb Kitchen in Grenfell. Today, a year later, I am excited to celebrate the launch of another initiative of women supporting women, and communities working together for the greater good. Thank you to the four brands who came together in supporting Smart Works on this special project – placing purpose over profit and community over competition. In convening several companies rather than one, we’ve demonstrated how we can work collectively to empower each other – another layer to this communal success story, that I am so proud to be a part of” – The Duchess of Sussex The collection – which features a shirt, trousers, blazer, dress and tote bag – will be on sale for two weeks starting today, with the objective of selling enough units to give Smart Works the essentials they need to help dress clients for the coming year! For every item bought during the sale of the collection, one will be donated to Smart Works, this 1:1 model allows customers to directly support the Smart Works women by playing a part in their success story – how they look and more importantly, how they feel. Photo © @JennyZarins
Since becoming Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle has included her status as a hugely influential fashion icon in her royal duties, and it is clear that she will continue to do so after her maternity leave.
Although Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has followed a more traditional script in terms of her relationship to the fashion industry, she favors a handful of rather primitive British designers at public events and her performance in 2016 in British Vogue was limited to a low point – key photo shoot in the countryside – Markle has approached her royal status more as a modern lifestyle influencer.
Her first charity project as Duchess of Sussex, for example, was a cookbook with recipes from the Hubb Community Kitchen, formed by a group of women in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, in which 72 people died. Instead of the typical photo distribution in British Vogue, she instead edited this September’s issue after she casually wrote a text to the editor Edward Enninful and filled the cover with 15 “forces for change,” including women such as Laverne Cox and Jameela Jamil (there was also an empty space that looked like a mirror, so that “you see yourself as part of this collective,” she wrote.)
Meghan and her husband Prince Harry also got their own Instagram account in April, separate from @KensingtonRoyal (the official page for William and Kate), despite earlier statements by Buckingham Palace that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be grouped in the larger family social media accounts.
This is all logical for a woman who already influenced food and fashion in her previous life. Aside from her work as an actress, particularly in the TV show Suits, Markle also had a blog called The Tig, where she wrote about healthy recipes, travel tips and beauty reviews and interviewed celebrities. It is the world in which she lived and became famous before she ever met Harry.
It is also – in addition to a lot of other things – what Markle has exposed to fanatic and often cruel criticism, largely from the British press. There are the much-discussed physical meanings of Meghan’s difference: she carries messy rolls! She had no makeup makeup for her wedding! It does not always follow the ‘royal protocol’! And the undercurrent below is that she is a biracial American, a stark contrast to the history of the royal family of marrying their white, chic British counterparts. Every decision that Meghan makes as a royal is heavily reprimanded by the press; despite the fact that she was not the first royal guest to edit a magazine, her choice of doing so was called “idiot,” “shamelessly hypocritical,” and “superficially” by various columnists.
Critics also condemned the price points of Markle’s new collection, despite the fact that the whole point is to subsidize the cost of clothing items, so that Smart Works can be donated for a second.
Choosing affordable workwear for unemployed women as a cause of banner is a significant sign of Meghan’s role as a royal: the kind that can use the word “feminist” without appearing uncomfortable, who enters women in front of staff and who does not renounce from her previous life as an influencer.