It may seem bold to proclaim that clothes can change lives but, in this instance, it’s true. Chances are you’ve heard about the Smart Works charity, at least in passing. Earlier this year, Smart Works announced Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, as its royal patron, and has dominated headlines ever since thanks to HRH’s various official engagements on behalf of the charity, as well as her involvement in its capsule clothing collection, The Smart Set. If this, however, is the extent of your Smart Works knowledge, we suggest you read on. For its a charity that’s truly helping women across the UK who are just like you.
What Is Smart Works?
Smart Works is a charity that was founded in 2013 and aims to provides free clothing and interview training to unemployed women in need. These women may be from deprived backgrounds, have been out of work caring for an in-need loved one, or perhaps didn’t return to work for an extended period after having a child. Women are referred to Smart Works by agencies like JobCentre Plus. Initially, before an interview, they’ll be invited to Smart Works where a team of staff and volunteers will ensure they’re suitably outfitted in clothing appropriate for the job they’re applying for. Pre-interview, they’ll also be coached on how to make the best impression possible. Should they be offered the role which they interviewed for (which, in Smart Works cases, seems to be more often than not), they will then receive a full capsule wardrobe to help them start their role.
Where Is Smart Works?
Smart Works may have put down its roots in London but, since its conception in 2013, it’s grown to have centres in Reading, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, and Edinburgh, too.
Who donates the clothing to Smart Works?
The garments—everything from suits and dresses to shoes and laptop bags—are donated by individuals like you or me, as well as brands like Marks and Spencer, Hobbs, Whistles, Burberry, Joseph and so much more.
Who runs Smart Works?
The charity was co-founded by Lady Juliet Hughes-Hallett, who holds the position as the charity’s Chair. Her career began at Vogue and saw her run her own business, too. With a desire to help women in need of employment but who are all too often overlooked for roles, Juliet co-founded Smart Works. Kate Stephens is CEO of the charity, while Smart Works’ patrons and ambassadors also include womenswear designer and political advocate Samantha Cameron, actress and comedian Jennifer Saunders, fashion designer Betty Jackson CBE, journalist and broadcaster, Emma Barnett and accomplished businesswoman, Jane Shepherdson CBE. The centres across the country are run by teams of volunteers, who dedicate large amounts of their time to preparing women for their interviews in the form of dressing and coaching.
What’s Meghan Markle’s involvement with Smart Works?
The Duchess of Sussex became the Smart Works’ royal patron in January 2019 and has certainly devoted a great deal of time and effort into the charity thus far. She has done everything, from assisting in styling some of the women helped by the charity. She also spearheaded Smart Works’ charity clothing capsule, the Smart Set—an edit of seven pieces, featuring everything from dresses to bags, which were sold in Jigsaw, John Lewis & Partners, Marks and Spencer, and Misha Nonoo respectively.
Speaking of the collection, Meghan said, “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. 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." Remarkably, some of the pieces are still in stock…
You can help in a variety of ways—some choose to donate clothes, those who are able can pledge money, while others might opt to hold their own fundraising initiatives on Smart Works’ behalf. If you happen to be in London on 19 November 2019, you can also attend the Big Stella x Smart Works fashion sale at Somerset House. Tickets cost from £20 and you can expect pieces from the likes of Rixo, Whistles, Me + Em, Lily & Lionel and Vestiaire Collective. 100% of the sales made will go directly back into the Smart Works charity and will go towards enabling them to take their service to even more women who need it across the UK. If, however, you’d like to donate your time to Smart Works, you should inquire about their volunteer positions, which are required across the county.
Opening Image: Philip Panting courtesy of Smart Works; Getty