Meghan Markle stepped out for her first public event of the New Year on Thursday to visit one of her new patronages.
The Duchess of Sussex, 37, visited Smart Works, which helps vulnerable and longterm unemployed women regain the skills and confidence to get into work. It is one of the four patronages that Meghan will champion throughout her public life.
Meghan, who is expecting her first child in the spring, wore a maternity dress (her first on a public outing!) — the Eliza Dress by Hatch. The $218 black midi-length dress features a subtle ribbed crew neckline detail and is made of stretch cotton viscose knit.
The New York-based maternity brand has also been worn by Rachel Weisz, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Reese Witherspoon. Soon after Meghan’s pregnancy was announced in October, Hatch founder Ariane Goldman joked to the Hollywood Reporter: “Do you know anyone who knows Meghan Markle?”
The other patronages that were announced on Thursday are the National Theatre, The Association of Commonwealth Universities and the animal welfare charity Mayhew. They are all national and grassroot organizations “that are part of the fabric of the U.K,” the palace said.
At Smart Works, beneficiaries can be provided with complete outfits of high quality clothes for job interviews, have access to one-to-one interview training and the opportunity to join Smart Works Network, furthering their professional and personal development.
The palace revealed that Meghan has been involved with several other projects in this sector, including a project she participated in during her time at Northwestern University that provided prom dresses for young women in underprivileged areas. It reflects her “longstanding track record of working in the space of women’s empowerment both in her local community as well as abroad,” the palace said.
The Duchess arrived at the Smart Works office in London on Thursday morning. Meghan spoke with staff members and met women who have benefited from the charity’s support and can share their experience in finding employment. She then helped find outfits for women attending their second dressing and sat in on interview coaching and preparation.
And it emerged during her visit that she has been there several times — and even gave some women coaching before a job interview. Meghan first secretly visited Smart Works last March before the royal wedding, and has been back five times since to help in choosing clothes and coaching for women who have job interviews.
Chairwoman Juliet Hughes-Hallett told reporters, “She’s been to see us privately a number of times and was very hands-on, not just with the clothes but with the interviews.
“She has fantastic empathy and has been helping to coach some of our clients. She’s a natural and has already made a big difference.”
Half of the charity’s clients are from an ethnic minority, longterm unemployed and have been unsuccessful with a large number of job applications. But Smart Works finds that 60 percent go on to get a job with their help.
To date, Smart Works has helped over 11,000 women and aims to dress 3,500 women this year across their two London offices, and additional bases in key cities across the U.K. — Edinburgh, Manchester, Reading, Birmingham and Newcastle.