We've all been looking forward to the launch, seeing the pieces and hearing from Meghan directly about the process. Ahead of her arrival, the Duchess released the following statement: "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. Now, one year later, I am excited to celebrate the launch of another initiative of women supporting women, and communities working together for the greater good. When you buy any item in the Smart Set Capsule Collection for Smart Works, the same item will be given to a Smart Works client, and with it, the confidence and support she needs to enter the workforce and take an important step in building a career. 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 project, eight months in the making, brought together British retailers John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw and Meghan's close friend Misha Nonoo to create wearable, classic and versatile pieces, designed to serve as ideal choices to mix and match to help Smart Works' clients sail through their interviews with confidence.
It's been quite a process and Meghan has been there every step of the way, quite literally. Omid Scobie reports it all began in January when Jo Bennett, head of womenswear at John Lewis, received a call out of the blue from Meghan. A source told Scobie: "She brought it to life immediately. After consulting with Smart Works about their needs, she contacted bosses from each of the brands directly - cold calls!"
The Duchess gave a heartfelt speech about her journey with Smart Works, the choice of brands involved, her views on charity and community, and the importance of women supporting other women. "As women, it is 100 percent our responsibility I think to support and uplift each other; to champion each other as we aim to succeed, to not set each other up for failure but instead to really be there rallying around each other and say, 'I want to help you.'" This portion particularly struck a chord with me as did Meghan's comments about how much it meant to her to launch another project in the UK. For a woman who has been senselessly vilified at every turn since she moved to London, often times by other women, her belief, dedication and commitment to her role is very special to see.
"When I first moved to the UK, it was incredibly important to me personally to be able to connect with people on the ground, doing really important work, and one of the places that I went to very early on was Smart Works." Meghan also spoke about future plans for the Sussex Foundation. "This is the kind of work that 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 that my husband and I will continue doing: really strong, community-based projects. And this is something we’ll be excited to be able to share more about next year when we launch our foundation, Sussex Royal, in 2020."
'Hi everyone. Thank you so much for being here today. It’s very exciting, and it looks beautiful, and I’m sorry if you were waiting for a bit in this sunshine though, it’s pretty nice substitute weather. So I thought it would be helpful for you to understand how we ended up here today and why this collection was so important to conceive based on the visits and what I was seeing when I was on site at Smart Works. And let’s maybe go back a little bit…when I first moved to the UK, it was incredibly important to me personally to be able to connect with people on the ground, doing really important work, and one of the places that I went to very early on was Smart Works.
Now, funny enough and purely by coincidence, it was just a year ago at the same time that I was working on a project in Grenfell, because women at a community center called Al-Manaar and that’s when we put together the Together cookbook. So though this is a year later, and obviously this is fashion, not food, at its core, these are very similar projects because they are about women empowering each other, me being able to have that opportunity to meet them, get to know them, learn from them, and then say, what can I do in some small way? How can I try to help amplify this? How can we make this even better, greater, and more impactful for the women you’re trying to help?
So on my visits to Smart Works, one of the times that I went, I realized there was a little bit of a challenge in terms of styling for the women because we have a lot of donations but not necessarily the things that women needed to have. So okay, let’s try to work with what we have and try to make the best of it. And then the next time I went, you’ll remember this, there was a rack of about 40 or 50 lilac colored blazers. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great blazer, and I’m sure for someone, it’s exactly what she wants to be wearing. But for most women, when you’re going in there and you want to have a job interview, and you want to feel your very best, and you want to feel confident, you want to be wearing the pieces of clothing that make you feel that way and not the leftovers that didn’t sell from the end of the season. 'And I kept thinking about it as I went home, and it didn’t track for me, and I said, We have to do something to change this."
And a big piece of this is trying to transform the idea of charity to community. And the way that we do that, I think, is people is when we go into our closet as a woman, and you say, "I’m going to make a donation," you don’t go through your closet and just toss in a box whatever you don’t care about anymore. That’s charity, as we know it today. Community is going through your closet and saying, "This is the blazer I wore when I nailed my first job interview and got my dream job. And I don’t need that anymore because I’m where I want to be. But if I’m able to share that blazer and be part of another woman’s success story, then that’s community." And so when I thought about it in that personal space, I said, on a bigger level, what can we do with brands? And what companies would be able to help us convene and come together to really build a collection for the women of Smart Works that could be the pieces that they need to feel confidence going into those rooms?
This is sort of how we thought of the Smart Works capsule collection. The first designer that I thought of immediately was a really good friend of mine, Misha Nonoo, who has spent a lot of time with her brand’s ethos development helping women’s empowerment but also specifically capsule wardrobes. We have key pieces and we can mix and match and really maximize what you have, we all know that, in your closet, right? You have certain pieces that you can take from four items of clothing and suddenly you have 10 outfits. So that was really important.
Separately I thought, if this is going to be classics and essentials, what are traditional and quintessential British brands that I’ve become introduced to once I moved here that for me resonated, and I knew would resonate with a Smart Works customer and that seemed obvious to do M&S and John Lewis, which I’ve worn quite a bit in the past year or two since I’ve been here. And they thankfully said yes as well, as did Misha. And the last company that I wanted to have be a part of this project [was Jigsaw].
So thank you so much for that. As we’ve seen this evolve, I think what’s been really amazing is to know that these women will now be equipped in a project that will just be a couple weeks but will give us enough units to be able to have the women at Smart Works have these key essentials for a year. And that in and of itself, to be able to have one small project that has such big impact is something I’m really connected to.
This is the kind of work that 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 that my husband and I will continue to doing: really strong, community-based projects. And this is something we’ll be excited to be able to share more about next year when we launch our foundation, Sussex Royal, in 2020.
So I think at the end of the day, I just want to thank all of you for being able to be here, be a part of this success story for these women. I think it’s really key in this day and age that we remember that it’s not just about the people that you know that you’re supporting. It’s about the people that you don’t know, that you may never know, you may never meet. As women, it is 100 percent our responsibility I think to support and uplift each other; to champion each other as we aim to succeed, to not set each other up for failure but instead to really be there rallying around each other and say, "I want to help you."
And you may not ever meet that person, but you’ll know when you put on that blazer or that shirt or you carry that tote or you put on those trousers or that dress, that some other woman on the other side of this country is wearing that piece because you made that purchase. And that’s why the one-for-one model, I found, was so incredibly important and that’s why I’m really touched that everyone agreed to do this business model in that way.
One quick thing that I found out as we were in the car on the way over here was that the tote’s already sold out online. [laughs] So that’s great. And my hope is for any of the brands, if you have that level of success you’re seeing really early on, to hopefully amplify what you’ve been able to already be so generous in doing with your contribution and extend it for just a little bit more so that everyone can play a part in this shared success story. So thank you all so much, I really appreciate it.'
Meghan listened to a panel discussion and met Smart Works clients and representatives from the brands involved, as well as those from the British fashion industry.
More from the Mail:
"Smart Works trustee Tiffanie Darke told the audience that Smart Works has now helped 15,000 clients across eight centres staffed by 350 volunteers. Speaking of their 'exceptional' royal visitor who went on to become patron, she said: 'She rolled up her sleeves, she asked questions and she got stuck in. She dressed, she coached, she contributed...and then she really leant in.'
A behind-the-scenes look at the event.
Meghan with her close friend Misha Nonoo today.
Speaking to the Telegraph about the launch, the designer said: "When I said to her this is what I'm thinking and sent her the outline, she said 'great, love it'. She was very very trusting. She is the consummate professional and it was extraordinarily easy to collaborate on this project."
The Telegraph reports:
'The Duchess smiled and clapped as she heard how Smart Works had changed the lives of Kate and Zara. After greeting old friends from the charity, the Duchess then took a short tour around three stations set up to demonstrate how it worked.
At the first, the “wardrobe experience”, she heard how everyone at the launched “loved” the collection. “It’s everyone coming together,” the Duchess replied. “Putting purpose before profit, right? I hope everyone enjoys it. And we’ve got beautiful weather today too.”
At the second, manned by Smart Works interview coaches, she shared her own lifecoaching tips from the private sessions she has undertaken with clients at the charity. “When they get nervous and laugh, you can say ‘yes, be yourself’,” she said. “Reminding them that they are enough exactly the way they are. “That they don’t need to put on a performance, just be themselves. “What’s the phrase? Be yourself: everyone else is taken.”
Asking whether they supported one another, even after getting jobs, 28-year-old paralegal Selam Mengitsu told her they had a shared WhatsApp group and invited her to join them. In a response Selam described as “very diplomatic”, the Duchess told them she had only just joined the messaging service and might “pop in” with a waving hand emoji.'
The collection will be available for two weeks, and the aim is to provide enough staples within that time frame for Smart Works clients for a year.
For every item bought during the sale of the collection, one will be donated - allowing customers to help empower and support other women and play a part in their success story.
Created in September 2013, Smart Works exists to help unemployed women regain the confidence they need to succeed at job interviews, return to employment and transform their lives. Half of Smart Works clients are from an ethnic minority, long-term unemployed and have been unsuccessful with a large number of job applications.
Thanks to the charity’s support, 64 per cent go on to get a job following their visit to Smart Works. As well as providing complete outfits of high quality clothes for job interviews, beneficiaries have access to one-to-one interview training and the opportunity to join Smart Works Network, meeting every month to further their professional and personal development.
It was important to Meghan for Smart Works clients to model the collection.
Andrea, Kate and Zara all landed their jobs through the organisation and were on hand to showcase the capsule collection, with photographs taken by Jenny Zarins.
Smart Works shared the stories of three ladies beginning with Andrea. "Andrea was referred to Smart Works ahead of multiple interviews. She had been unemployed for nearly 6 months and had applied to 10 jobs. After her appointment, Andrea said 'for somebody who comes from a care leavers background, you don’t hear people compliment you every day and actually trying to help you. At my Smart Work appointment, I felt like a celebrity.' Andrea was successful at her interview and is working as an Admin Apprentice. She said that 'the best thing about Smart Works is the people. It has given me a lot of confidence and I feel that every time I put on my coat, blazer or shoes on – that is the feeling I carry around with me every time I wear them.' When wearing the collection, Andrea said 'the dress made me feel stylish and professional'. Andrea was successful at her interview and is working as an Admin Apprentice. She said that “the best thing about Smart Works is the people. It’s given me a lot of confidence and I feel that every time I put on my coat, or blazer or shoes on – that’s the feeling I carry around with me every time I wear them.'"
Prior to her appointment at Smart Works, Zara had been out of work for almost a year and had applied to nearly 20 jobs whilst dealing with difficult personal circumstances. Zara was successful at her interview and got the job she currently holds as a Work Coach. Zara is a great ambassador of the Smart Works service when working with her customers at the Job Centre. Zara said that her appointment at Smart Works was a "calm and positive experience".
Kate was referred to Smart Works ahead of her interview for an office manager role. She had been unemployed for almost a year and had applied to over 100 jobs during this time. Before her interview, Kate felt that she had 'lost herself and lacked confidence'. Following her appointment, Kate got the job and is loving her new role. 'Smart Works reminded me of all the great qualities I have and why I am a great candidate” Kate said, and that her appointment 'restored my confidence and reminded me that I can do it. At Smart Works, you’ll experience people who are passionate about helping you not only to look your best, but to be the best you. It is an experience you won’t forget.' Whilst wearing the collection, Kate said 'my outfit made me feel like a boss – powerful and strong. It made me feel amazing and reminded me how far I have come and the future I have in front of me'.
For Meghan, the heart of this project has always been about women supporting other women.
More from Harper's Bazaar:
"Since former Vogue editor Juliet Hughes-Hallett founded the organization six years ago, Smart Works has helped 15,000 women re-enter the workforce. “We have dressed and trained every woman as if she was the only one and made each and every client feel exceptional,” Hughes-Hallett tells BAZAAR.com in a statement. “The Smart Set capsule collection will make a significant difference in our ability to dress our clients in the high-quality clothes and accessories they need, giving them the opportunity to regain their confidence, look fabulous, and get the job.”
It was important for the campaign visual to reflect the diversity of the unemployed women whose lives are transformed by the organization. Just over half of Smart Works’ clients are from an ethnic minority background and have experienced long-term unemployment, even after a large number of job applications."
Take a look at the collection on the rails at Smart Works.
Now, let's take at the collection and where the pieces can be purchased. We'll start with the £19.50 Crepe Shift Dress from Marks & Spencer.
The stylish piece is described: "This versatile, Smart Set Dress will quickly become a staple in your autumn wardrobe – and it's a perfect choice all year round too. Cut from crepe that handily doesn't require ironing, the shift shape flatters your figure with its clean and simple lines. Buy this dress in blue or black and we’ll donate one to Smart Works, a charity that empowers and supports women to build their confidence for job success." It comes in black and rich blue in sizes 6-24 and regular and petite. The dress is $32.50 on the US website.
The $125 Smart Set Shirt by Misha Nonoo is described as "a white collared button-up shirt with a semi-slim fit and Misha Nonoo branded buttons".
The £199 Paris Seam Detail Jacket is available at Jigsaw.The elegant black blazer is described as: "Tailored for a feminine fit and made in a high-quality Italian stretch gabardine, this piece is complemented with a signature lining, satin details and kissing buttons at the cuff. Includes beautiful seam detailing and vents for comfort and ease." For those outside the UK, John Lewis is carrying the blazer and matching trousers (please note only the black pieces are involved in The Smart Set).
And the matching sleek tapered trousers in a rich wool blend retail for £120 at Jigsaw.
A stylish tote bag is an essential item in any working wardrobe. As someone with an enviable collection, I knew Meghan would want a bag which was both functional and chic. That brief has most definitely been fulfilled with the tan £109 Leather Smart Set Tote Bag. (Note: it's currently sold out, however, more stock is expected soon, so keep an eye out if interested).
The bag is described as: "Made from subtly grained and soft-to-touch leather, this tote bag is a lightweight, versatile and practical, weekday accessory for the modern woman. The generously sized bag has an open-top design with plenty of room to fit whatever you need to get you through the working day. There is a large slip pocket on the exterior of the bag, while inside, the fully lined interior benefits from two phone-sized slip pockets, one card slot and a zipped pocket so that you can keep your valuables organised and to hand. With two shoulder straps as well a detachable and adjustable crossbody strap, the bag is easy to carry in whatever way suits you best." Below, the piece in black.
Before leaving, the Duchess said: "I've got to get back to the baby, it's feed time."
'A royal source tells HELLO! that aides had offered to prepare notes for her speech, but she didn’t have any to hand when she spoke. At the end of her talk, Meghan admitted she had learned the John Lewis tote bag had already sold out while she was on her way to the launch in the car, urging brands to generously restock “so that everyone can play a part in this shared success story”. Friends of the Duchess told HELLO! that she came across on the podium “exactly how she always is in life - kind, eloquent and compassionate."
Meghan’s close friend and former director of communications for Burberry, Isabel May, and her former assistant private secretary Amy Pickerill were also present. HELLO! revealed in March this year that Amy had handed in her notice because she was planning a move overseas. She helped the Sussexes with the birth of baby Archie and supported the couple as they settled into their new home Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor.'
On Sussex Royal Instagram stories, the song for the day was 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton.
Sussex Royal IG story Working 9-5 what a way to make a living💵💵💵 I'm so in love with #Sussexroyal IG😍😍🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/ENI8krj1CA— Baby Sussex Aunty💙 (@meghanxharry) September 12, 2019
Very fittingly, the Duchess wore the Misha Nonoo shirt and Jigsaw black tapered trousers from the collection. It was revealed today, Meghan has purchased all of the pieces and will wear others during the upcoming South Africa tour. She added her own stamp to the look with tan accessories and statement jewellery.
The Duchess wore a Ralph Lauren tan nappa leather skinny belt.
And Manolo Blahnik pointed toe pumps in cognac.
For jewellery, Meghan wore familiar pieces in the form of Diana's gold bracelet with a blue stone and her jewel encrusted butterfly earrings.
Both pieces were a gift from Harry; Meghan debuted them during the tour last October.
Meghan completed the look with her Pippa Small Oshna bangle, Shaun Leane bracelet and Zofia Day open diamond cuff.
We close with this quote from the Duchess which beautifully sums up another amazing project by the royal.