Fashion can make a difference: How the Duchess of Sussex used fashion to impact women’s lives

Fashion can make a difference: How the Duchess of Sussex used fashion to impact women’s lives

Photo Credits: Office of the Governor-General. Licensed under [(CC BY 4.0)]

Smart Works is most noteworthy because it builds a community of mutual support using fashion

As I am a long-time fan of The Crown, the British royal family intrigues me. When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry got married, my friends and I stayed up until 5 a.m. to watch the wedding live. As Markle took on royal life, it was exciting to see her partake in the social and cultural engagements of the royal family and take on her own projects, particularly her collaboration with the Smart Works organization.

Despite Harry and Markle — who are also known as the duke and duchess of Sussex — announcing their departure from the royal affairs of the family, they still remain involved with some of their previous work. Markle is a Royal Patron for Smart Works, an organization that helps underprivileged and vulnerable women secure employment. Smart Works provides professional clothing, interview training and other resources to give underprivileged women the confidence and means necessary to secure employment. 

In September 2019, Markle launched her clothing line with Smart Works. Markle and Smart Works collaborated with various retailers and designers to create appropriate professional wear for women entering the workforce. For every item bought in the collection, another would be donated to Smart Works, like the one-to-one model used by the company Toms. This gives women access to professional and stylish attire that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. 

Since joining the royal family, Markle has become a popular style icon. Her elegant dresses and matching fascinators are among my favorite looks. Being a fashion and lifestyle influencer is nothing new for the British royal family — they have long been seen as trendsetters. And it’s also nothing new for Markle. Before joining the royal family, Markle spent much of her time running a lifestyle blog, The Tig, which she gave up as she transitioned to her life as a royal. Now, Markle wields her new position and influence to work on various fashion endeavours, such as guest editing the September issue of British Vogue, in which she featured a multifaceted and diverse group of women in the fashion industry’s most important issue. Markle featured Smart Works in the September issue to discuss the organization’s work as well as her partnership with them.

Smart Works has an uplifting concept. Women supporting one another and finding creative ways to deal with issues of employment and confidence is inspiring. Smart Works doesn’t fix anything with magic wands — Markle makes that clear in her piece for September Vogue, stating that there is no “before and after” transformation for these women. The clothing and training simply gives women the tools to build the self-confidence needed to find success with employment. It’s a simple idea but bold and creative in practice. For women without the resources to purchase trendy and popular professional clothing, the work of organizations such as Smart Works provides a crucial means of empowerment. 

It wasn’t Markle’s involvement with Smart Works itself that caught my attention — taking on charitable projects is common for all of the royals. It was the fact that she had chosen fashion as a means to empower women. On a superficial level, having access to professional clothing is a physical manifestation and a public statement of belonging and self-assurance. But that kind of impact on an individual can be powerful and meaningful. 

There has never been a one-size-fits-all approach to boosting women’s empowerment — there are many ways to do this. But Smart Works is most noteworthy because it builds a community of mutual support using fashion.

That being said, Markle’s initiative isn’t flawless. A simple one-to-one initiative boosting consumer culture isn’t going to solve the issues and constraints that underprivileged women face on a daily basis in the job market. It’s just a small fix to the larger hurdles and obstacles that capable women deal with on a variety of fronts in the professional world. But if fashion can be used for generosity and empowerment, then I’m excited to see more of this.

Written by: Simran Kalkat — skkalkat@ucdavis.edu

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