I’m starting a new series here on MMR where I take a look at the Duchess of Sussex‘s patronages and the visits she’s made on behalf of them. Meghan’s patronage of these organizations began in January of this year, but since I missed covering them, I want to take a look at them now as we wrap up the year (where did 2019 go!). The first organization I want to dive into is Smart Works.
When KP announced Meghan’s first four patronages, they said she wanted to focus on four main causes and issues: the arts, access to education, support for women, and animal welfare. Smart Works falls under the “support for women” banner.
Background on the charity
Smart Works is a UK charity that works with unemployed women in need to provide them clothing for a job interview, as well as interview training, and a small working wardrobe if their interview has been successful to get them to their first paycheck. Smart Works believes in harnessing the power of clothes to build confidence and self-belief along with practical tools required to succeed at an interview.
Smart Works started in North London, but now has seven location across the UK with a team of over 350 trained volunteers across the seven locations. When a woman comes into Smart Works – typically having been referred by job centers, work programs, prisons, care homes, homeless shelters, or mental health charities – she goes through a two hour dressing and coaching service.
During the dressing service, the woman is styled by two volunteer stylists and receives a complete outfit of clothing and accessories for the specific job interview. This outfit is free, and the woman gets to keep it. Next is the interview training with an experienced HR professional or senior manager to increase awareness of her own strengths, how to answer questions effectively, and understand what is expected in an interview. If the woman is successful at the interview, she can return for five additional pieces of clothing which she can keep; this is designed to build a small working wardrobe she can wear until she receives her first paycheck. 64% of Smart Works clients go on to get the job they are interviewing for.
Meghan’s official visits
Since becoming Patron of Smart Works on January 10, 2019, Meghan has officially visited the charity three times, but there have been several other documented visits Meghan has done that were not official (ie. did not appear in the Court Circular).
Meghan’s first visit took place on January 10, 2019, when she visited Smart Works at their Exmoor Street location. She took part in a roundtable discussion with Smart Works volunteers and clients, before taking part in a dressing session.
During the roundtable, Meghan said of Smart Works:
I think it’s, in part, the community I’m drawn to about it here, you know, that it’s not just donating your clothes and seeing where they land, but really being part of each other’s success stories as women. So that’s in the tools that you give, or the interview prep that’s happening, that every piece of it, you know, like I was saying, when you do an edit, or decide what you’re going to send over to Smart Works it’s not just hand-me-downs, it’s saying ‘okay, this is the blazer that I wore that helped me land that interview, and I want this to be the piece that helps this woman have that part of her story.’ So to know, as a woman coming in, I can imagine, that you have so many other women believing in you on all the next phases is the piece that makes it so special.My transcription of KP Twitter video
Meghan revealed that she had donated some of her own items to Smart Works, finding a clutch she donated previously.
For this visit to Smart Works, Meghan wore an Oscar de la Renta camel-colored coat over a black HATCH “Eliza Dress” ($218.00), styled with Gianvito Rossi plexi cow print pumps, Victoria Beckham box tote, and Kamai Felicity earrings ($1,085 for the pair). Meghan also carried a pair of gloves.Embed from Getty Images
Meghan’s second official visit to Smart Works took place on March 22 at their Exmoor Street location. This visit, however, was a no press event and none of the royal social media accounts posted about it.
The final official visit Meghan undertook as Patron of Smart Works was on September 12 when she launched the Smart Set capsule collection at John Lewis and Partners.
The Smart Set is a collaboration between Meghan and Smart Works and fashion brands John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw and Misha Nonoo to create work wear essentials needed for interviews and entering into the workplace: a white shirt, a blazer, trousers, a dress, and a tote. For every item bought during the sale of the collection, which Smart Works said would last for at least two weeks, one was donated to Smart Works – meaning that for every item bought by a customer, another was given to help a woman get back into the work place.
Meghan gave a speech at the launch of the collection, saying:
Hi everyone, thank you so much for being here today, very exciting and it looks beautiful and I’m sorry if you were waiting for a bit in the sunshine. So I thought it would probably be helpful for you to understand how we ended up here today and why the collection was so important to conceive based on the visits and what I was seeing when I was on site at Smart Works.
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, funnily enough and purely by coincidence it was just a year ago at the same time that I was working on a project in Grenfell with these women at a community centre called Al Manaar and that’s where 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 who are empowering each other, me being able to have the 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 you amplify this, how can we make this even better, greater, and more impactful for the women that you’re trying to help?
So on my visits to Smart Works, one of the times that I went I realised there was a little bit of a challenge in terms of styling for the women because we had 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 make the best of it. And then the next time I went there was a rack of about 40 or 50 lilac coloured 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 as people. It’s 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 can be the pieces that they need to feel confident 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 ethos developing women’s empowerment but also specifically a capsule wardrobe. So you have key pieces that you can mix-and-match and really maximise 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 became introduced to once I moved here, that for me resonated and I knew would resonate with a Smart Works customer? And that seems 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, and truth be told that was because I’d seen a campaign they had done a year before which was really highlighting the diversity of the UK and the immigrant culture and how that was a part of the fabric of the nation. And when I saw that I was so touched by it and I said anyone who is seeing the world that way and seeing the community that way is someone that I think would be a great partner to have on this project. So they all said yes and that was a great start. And 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 of weeks but will give us enough units to be able to have the woman at Smart Works have these key essentials for a year. And that in and of itself, to be able to have one small project to have such big impact, is something that I’m really connected to.
This is the kind of work that I have been doing for a really long time and to be able to do it here in my new home in 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 that 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 the success story for these women. I think it’s really key in this day and age that we remember It’s not just about the people that you know 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 one hundred 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 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 1:1 model, I found, was so incredibly important and that’s why I’m really touched 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 here was that the tote had already sold out online. So that’s great. So my hope is that for any of the brands, if you do you have that level of success that you are 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 the shared success story. So thank you all so much and I really appreciate it. Thank you.royal.uk
For this event, Meghan of course wore pieces from the Smart Set: the Misha Nonoo shirt, and Jigsaw trousers. She accessorized with a Ralph Lauren belt and Manolo Blahnik pumps. She also wore butterfly earrings and a bracelet which used to belong to Diana, Princess of Wales.Embed from Getty Images
Meghan’s unofficial visits
Meghan included Smart Works in her Vogue UK September issue guest-edit, where she wrote an article discussing Smart Works and the Smart Set. She wrote, in part:
There is often a misunderstanding about Smart Works being a makeover, a fashion show of “before and after”, where a woman is magically transformed into something better than she was before. But to label it as such would not only be inaccurate, it would be missing the point. This is not a fairy tale. In fact, if it’s a cultural reference you’re after, forget Cinderella – this is the story of Wonder Woman, ready to take on the world in her metaphorical and literal cape.Vogue UK
There were several photos released in the Vogue spread as well as in the run up to the Smart Set launch which included at least three different visits Meghan made to the charity which were not previously documented.
Either the above photo where Meghan is wearing a black cape, or the below photo where Meghan is wearing a dress, could be the March 22 visit as both were clearly before the birth of Archie, but it is impossible to know for sure. They also could be entirely separate visits from the March 22 one.
In addition to the two visits above, Sussex Royal also released information about another unofficial visit in August where Meghan visited Smart Works during the Smart Set photoshoot.
Smart Works was Meghan’s first patronage visit after announcing her patronages, and she worked with and for them to do the Smart Set collection, so it’s obvious that Meghan is fond of this charity. I will be interested to see what Meghan does with this charity patronage going forward; they have several locations across the UK so perhaps Meghan will visit other locations as well.
So far, Meghan has made three official visits to the charity, and at least 2-3 additional visits which we are aware of. I have all of Meghan’s official visits to Smart Works listed on my Smart Works Patronage page, which I will continue to update going forward.