Meghan Markle‘s new Smart Works capsule collection shares a surprising connection to her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton.
On Thursday, the Duchess of Sussex stepped out in London for her first official post-maternity leave outing to celebrate the launch of her capsule collection. The line benefits her patronage Smart Works, a charity that helps women find employment with coaching tips and professional attire for their job interviews.
The collection features several business-inspired items sold at retailers including John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer and Jigsaw — the British shop where the Duchess of Cambridge worked when she was dating Prince William.
Kate worked as an accessories buyer for the clothing brand in 2006. She landed the job after personally contacted Belle Robinson, the brand’s founder. She reportedly spent a few days a week in their London office, where she acted just like any other employee.
“She sat in the kitchen at lunchtime and chatted with everyone from the van drivers to the account girls. She wasn’t precious,” Robinson told the Evening Standard in 2008.
“I have to say I was so impressed by her. There were days when there were TV crews at the end of the drive. We’d say: ‘Listen, do you want to go out the back way?’ And she’d say: ‘To be honest, they’re going to hound us until they’ve got the picture. So why don’t I just go, get the picture done, and then they’ll leave us alone,’” Robinson said.
Kate quit her job at Jigsaw in 2006, saying she needed “some time to herself.” She went on to work for her family’s company, Party Pieces. A few years later, on Nov. 16, 2010, Clarence House announced William and Kate’s engagement and the pair were married the following year.
In biographer Marcia Moody’s 2013 book, Kate: A Biography, the author talks about how the royal mom was also involved in some of Jigsaw’s design aspects.
“Kate co-designed a charm necklace while she was there — a fine silver chain hung with a silver bean, rose quartz crystal and pink freshwater pearl,” she wrote. “The necklaces sold for $70 each and were created with jewelry designer Claudia Bradby.”
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As patron for the Smart Works Charity, Meghan explained during her launch event on Thursday that for every item bought during the two-week online and in-store sale of her capsule collection, one will be donated to Smart Works — allowing customers to help empower and support other women and play a part in their success story.
“When I first moved to the U.K. it was incredibly important to me personally to be able to connect with people on the ground who were doing really important work. One of the places that I went to really early on was Smart Works,” Meghan said.”
“To be able to have one small project that has such big impact is something I’m really connected to,” she added. “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 U.K. 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 share more about next year when we launch our foundation, Sussex Royal, in 2020.”
The Smart Works collection includes key essentials women need as they attend interviews and enter into the workplace — including an elegant blazer and well-cut trousers from Jigsaw, a tote bag which fits all the essentials needed for an interview from John Lewis & Partners, a classic dress (for just $32!), flattering to all sizes from Marks & Spencer, and the perfect crisp white shirt for $125 from the womenswear designer who pioneered ‘the capsule wardrobe’, Misha Nonoo.
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The Duchess of Sussex arrived at her launch event wearing two of the items from the collection — designer Misha Nonoo’s white button-down shirt and slim-fit tapered black trousers from Jigsaw. She accessorized the look with a thin brown belt, matching pumps and jewelry from her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana. Meghan stunned in the dainty butterfly earrings and a gold cuff bracelet featuring diamonds and blue stones, both heirlooms previously worn by Diana.
Meghan purchased all five items of the collection herself and is expected to wear some of them on her upcoming royal tour in Africa with Prince Harry and their son Archie.
“When you walk into a Smart Works space you’re met with racks of clothing and an array of bags and shoes,” Meghan wrote in the September issue of British Vogue where she first revealed her partnership with designer friend Misha Nonoo and others to create the women’s workwear capsule collection. “Sometimes, however, it can be a potpourri of mismatched sizes and colors, not always the right stylistic choices or range of sizes.”
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“To help with this, I asked Marks & Spencer, John Lewis & Partners, Jigsaw and my friends, the designer Mischa Nonoo, if they were willing to design a capsule collection of more classic options for a workwear wardrobe,” she added. “Taking the idea further, many of the brands agreed to use the one-for-one model: for each item purchased by a customer, one is donated to the charity. Not only does this allow us to be part of each other’s story, it reminds us we are in it together.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, Nonoo said, “Creating this capsule collection alongside The Duchess of Sussex, Smart Works, John Lewis & Partners, M&S and Jigsaw, has been an incredible experience. Empowering women has always been my goal as a designer and I was thrilled our brand could support so many women’s professional pursuits in this special partnership.”