The Duchess of Sussex stepped out wearing her new charity clothing collection, as she urged women to “champion each other so we aim to succeed”.
Meghan launched the range, aimed at helping Smart Works, which trains and dresses unemployed women for interviews, at a flagship London department store – and announced a leather tote bag accessory had already sold out.
The duchess said the community project reflected the work she and her husband Harry would be doing in the future, when their Sussex Royal foundation was official launched in 2020.
Meghan was attending her first official engagement since the birth of her son Archie in May, and at the end said: “I’ve got to get back to the baby – it’s feeding time.”
Speaking at John Lewis’s Oxford Street store in London, one of the project’s retail partners, Meghan laughed as she told guests she was made aware as she arrived that the tote bag had sold out, adding: “So that’s great.”
The duchess said the project would see an item from the range donated to the charity Smart Works for each one bought by a shopper.
She went on to speak about the ethos behind the initiative: “As women, it is 100% our responsibility, I think, to support and up-lift each other.
“To champion each other so we aim to succeed, to not set each other up for failure, but instead to really be there rallying round each other and say ‘I want to help you’.
“And you may not ever meet that person, but you know when you put on that blazer or that shirt, or you carry that tote or put on those trousers and that dress, that some other woman on the other side of this country is wearing that piece because you made that purchase.”
The collection includes workwear essentials from an elegant blazer and well-cut trousers by Jigsaw, to a tote bag which fits all the essentials needed for an interview from John Lewis & Partners.
A classic dress, flattering to all sizes, from Marks & Spencer, and a crisp white shirt from the womenswear designer and friend of the duchess, Misha Nonoo, complete the range.
Meghan wore the blouse and a pair of the trousers by Jigsaw to the launch. She finished off her look with a pair of butterfly earrings that belonged to Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
During the event, Meghan was reunited with a group of Smart Works clients who were chosen as promotional models for the new range.
The duchess had joined their photoshoot in August, and black and white images have been released of the encounter.
Andrea Ayivi, 21, who now has a job with the civil service after support from Smart Works, said after meeting Meghan and the other women: “It was amazing, it was great seeing the whole team. It’s a unity thing, a community at Smart Works.”
Speaking about the capsule collection, the duchess said: “This is the kind of work I’ve been doing for a really long time and to be able to do it here in my new home of the UK means quite a bit to me.
“It’s also the same vein of work my husband and I will continue doing – really strong community-based projects, and this is something we will be excited to share more about next year when we launch our foundation Sussex Royal in 2020.”
She said when she began thinking about helping Smart Works create its collection, the first person she thought about was her friend Ms Nonoo, a designer known for her own capsule wardrobe offerings.
Meghan also wanted to pick “traditional and quintessential British brands” that would resonate with Smart Works’ clients and so chose John Lewis and M&S, and was drawn to Jigsaw because of an advertising campaign it launched that celebrated Britain’s diversity.
Ms Nonoo said: “The duchess told me what she was thinking in terms of a white shirt, that she wanted it to be tailored. The whole capsule was to be tailored and made for women – different sizes and very inclusive. And based on that, I took an idea I had had for something and tweaked it, updated it to make it the Smart Set shirt.”
She added: “For me, this was important that I get involved with, no matter what, because of what we’re doing to support the clients. And when you hear the clients speak about how much this benefits their lives and how it gives them confidence – what else are we doing this for?”
Comedienne Jennifer Saunders, who is a patron of Smart Works, praised the clothes.
Half of Smart Works’ clients are from an ethnic minority, long-term unemployed and have been unsuccessful with a large number of job applications, but 64% of those who receive training and an interview outfit from the charity get a job.
Saunders said: “Give people what they need to get back into the workplace. Give them the confidence and the clothes and the coaching.
“There should be Smart Works centres everywhere otherwise people fall back into the benefits system or back into prison or whatever.
“But it helps not just the women, but it helps their families, it helps society.”
The launch was staged on the John Lewis sixth floor open-air terrace and Meghan met Smart Works volunteers, clients, and senior staff from the retailers involved.
Amelia Mendoza, a Smart Works trustee who also volunteers for the charity, said during the duchess’ private visits to the organisation they had worked together, helping to dress clients for interviews.
She added: “She was completely hands-on and got stuck in and some of the women didn’t know who she was. She had a really good eye and was wonderful to have around.”