The Meghan Markle Effect: Has She Really Changed The Fashion Industry?

Daisy Murray, Katie O'Malley
Photo credit: Getty Images

From ELLE

A bride holds hands with her husband, hours after saying 'I do'. Camera bulbs flash. Onlookers cheer. The newlywed, dressed in a dazzling white dress, smiles and waves to well-wishers, before sliding into a sports car to be whisked away to her wedding reception.

Pn 19 May 2018, Meghan's life changed forever, and so did the fashion industry. The royal wedding resulted in internationally ground-breaking sales, websites crashing within minutes, and high street brands frantically beginning to manufacture copy-cat dress designs with impossibly tight turn arounds.

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The royal wedding wasn't just a wedding - it was one of the most important unofficial fashion shows of the century.

Since announcing her engagement in November 2017, the Duchess of Sussex has made her love for fashion - its artistry and influence - perfectly clear. In the lead up to her wedding, economists at Brand Finance forecasted that Meghan would inject £150 million into the British economy as consumers attempted to copy her style.

Over the last two years, she's worn - and recycled - clothes from a variety of designer labels (Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Roland Mouret), and high street shops (Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw, J.Crew), alike. At times, she's put lesser-known labels on the map and, at others, championed companies with a focus on sustainable and ethical fashion.

So, just what are the implications of the 'Meghan effect' on the fashion industry? And what does her status as a fashion icon mean for our buying habits? We find out.

Sales and website traffic

It's hard to put into words just how influential Meghan's fashion choices are to the world. So, let's put it into numbers instead.

According to global fashion search platform Lyst 'Year In Fashion 2019', the Duchess was the most powerful dresser this and her outfits sparked, on average, a 216 per cent increase in searches for similar pieces.

After she wore five different shirt dresses on the royal tour of South Africa in September, searches for the category grew 45 per cent over a month. Her Club Monaco dress sold out in less than 24 hours, following a 570 per cent spike in searches, and the royal's J Crew skirt saw a 102 per cent increase in searches for the brand.

As for last year, searches for 'halter neck dresses' were up 40 per cent following the royal wedding, while the term 'halter neck tops' increased 21 per cent week on week.

'This was also the first time we ever saw such huge demand for the halterneck,' Yasmine Bachir, Lyst's Senior Communications Executive and royal expert, exclusively tells ELLE UK.

For Givenchy's creative director Claire Waight Keller - who designed the bride's wedding dress - searches for the brand increased 61 per cent the following week.



As for British designer Stella McCartney, who designed the second bridal look for the wedding reception at Frogmore House, searches for her dresses increased 3,000 per cent the day after (though this would have also been boosted by Amal Clooney wearing Stella at the nuptials).

But it wasn't just the wedding that boosted search, traffic, and sales.



In August last year, Meghan stepped out in London for a charity performance of Hamilton in a black tuxedo dress by Judith and Charles, which resulted in a 800 per cent increase in the UK for the style. Similarly, her recent white sleeveless Maggie Marilyn tuxedo dress worn during her royal tour of New Zealand resulted in a 74 per cent surge in searches for the brand.

'Royal influence on search and sales will continue to be a prominent force affecting our fashion choices,' says Bachir. 'We're still seeing Diana's lasting legacy as a trend setter, with current designers using her as design inspiration.'

For several lesser-known labels, Meghan's decision to wear - or carry - their designs has completely transformed their businesses. Hiut denim had a three-month waiting list after Markle wore a pair of their jeans in Cardiff in January. The white coat from the Canadian fashion brand Line The Label she wore to announce her engagement sold out within minutes.


'We’re not a huge company and it’s the end of the season so we don’t stock a lot of these coats,' Line The Label's co-founder and president, John Muscat, told WWD. 'They are all handmade.'

Days after Meghan announced her engagement, Meghan made her first official engagement to Nottingham. Her accessory? A midi tote bag from Scottish-based luxury label, Strathberry, to complement her double-breasted Mackage look.

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'I was in a meeting in the office and received a message from one of my colleagues,' Strathberry co-founder and owner, Leanne Hundelby, tells ELLE UK. 'Soon afterwards, the phones started ringing constantly and they've never stopped.'

Immediately after the appearance, sales increased up to 300 per cent for the brand with visit numbers to the website 'up tenfold' against their daily average. So, it comes as no surprise that after several more engagements carrying a Strathberry this year, the brand have opened their first ever bricks and mortar boutique in London's Burlington Arcade.

Ethical and sustainable fashion


During the royal's visit to Dubbo, New South Wales last year, Meghan wore a pair of skinny black jeans from sustainable brand Outland Denim.

Her decision not only sent the company's sales into a frenzy (its website traffic increased 3,000 per cent), but resulted in the employment of up to 30 new seamstresses in the brand's Cambodian manufacturing operations.

'Meghan's subtle yet steadfast adoption of our brand has had ramifications far beyond sales spikes and media attention,' Outland Denim's communications director, Erica Bartle, tells ELLE UK.

Previous female employees of Outland Denim are known to have been able to put a roof over their families' heads, plant rice fields, and buy relatives out of servitude. 'The impact of employing just one young woman in a position of vulnerability can be phenomenal,' continues Bartle.

'As someone who has been outspoken and women's empowerment, the Duchess had clearly done her homework about Outland Denim.'

The Australian label Veja also felt the Meghan effect. During the Invictus Games in Australia last year, she chose to wear a pair of their V-10 trainers.

The brand is is certified fair-trade (each cotton farmer who works for the brand holding an organic farming certificate), and known for its transparency. It's also loved by the likes of Emma Watson and Marion Cotillard.

Harriet Vocking, head of marketing and communications at specialist sustainability constancy EcoAge, says Meghan's focus on putting ethical and sustainable brands on the map has unparalleled influence on changing buying and manufacturing habits.

'In the past year, Meghan has helped re-align people’s vision of sustainable fashion,' she explains.

'Previously, the term "sustainable fashion" didn’t come with the best reputation. Now, when you see Meghan wearing something like the Veja trainers, which are made with wild rubber from the Amazon, you suddenly realise they’re not only as equally cool as a pair of Gucci shoes, but have an amazing story.'

Net-A-Porter’s Global Buying Director, Elizabeth Von Der Goltz agrees, telling ELLE UK: 'It’s an incredibly important topic in the industry that everyone must address, so it’s great to see a prominent figure like Meghan championing this movement.'

Impact on business

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Duchess of Sussex was named as one of Lyst’s ‘Ultra-Influencers’ of 2018.

Her name might may appear alongside the likes of beauty mogul Kylie Jenner, but the Duchess is the only one without a social media platform, and who isn't paid to promote a brand (or with her own to push).

Kim Kardashian has already told the world she gets paid in the region of $1 million per Instagram post, proving the pulling power just one nod of approval from the reality star can have for a brand.

But just how powerful is Markle’s influence over consumer behaviour?

'On average, if Meghan wears a designer, that brand will see a 200 per cent increase in search demand over the following week,' explains Lyst.

Take Castaner espadrilles, for example. After Meghan wore a pair during her Australia and New Zealand tour, sales rose instantly by 442 per cent.

Net-A-Porter, who stock a plethora of clothes from the former-actress’ chosen designers, have seen a distinct uptick in sales of her favourite brands. In the week after the Duchess donned Givenchy for her much-anticipated first wedding gown, sales were up over 300 per cent for the French fashion house, and dresses accounted for the majority of sales.

In the months since, the Duchess continued to champion the brand in her wardrobe, and, in turn, bolstered the brand's relationship with Net-A-Porter, who have backed the label with an even bigger buy this season.

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Comparing 2018 in its entirety to 2017, brands she has repeatedly championed have all seen huge spikes in search on Vestiaire; Givenchy with a total of 371 percent, Aquazzura with 181 per cent, Stella McCartney boasting a 200 percent increase, and Emilia Wickstead with a respectable 57 per cent.


But it’s not just big businesses that reap the rewards of Meghan’s influence.

After Meghan wore a pair of Hiut jeans in January last year, it totally rejuvenated the company. A small Welsh denim brand, it had previously been forced to cut 400 jobs and move its factory to Morocco.

Now? Well, it's taken then an entire year to catch up with back-orders.

'And we have [had] to move factory to one that is three times bigger,' David Hieatt, Hiut co-founder, told us.

'She is one of the most influential women in the world, we are just humbled she decided to help us. And she is doing the same for lots of brands and causes. Kudos to her.'

And Meghan is essentially putting people back in work, too.

'The plan is to get 400 people their jobs back,' explains Hieatt. 'To create an incredible company that looks after its people, shows them they can fly and to get our town thriving again.'

Even without an Instagram account, she's still clearly an 'Ultra-Influencer'.

The future of our fashion

It’s safe to say that where Meghan goes, the fashion-conscious follows. In practical terms, this means we need only look to her current wardrobe to gain insight into the future of our own.

When it comes to which new brands Net-A-Porter should buy from, Goltz describes Meghan's fashion choices as invaluable, comparing her influence on the same level as established fashion houses and multi-billion dollar social media platforms.

'We take inspiration from everywhere, whether it’s the runway, influential people such as Meghan, or even Instagram,' she says. For smaller lesser-known labels she chooses to wear, it's likely they'll be a shoe-in for the fashion platform and, as a result, our wardrobes.

Photo credit: ELLE UK

‘Meghan has made a huge impact on the way women dress,’ trend forecaster Kelly Harrington explains. ‘I think her classic pieces and elegant choices have made many women rethink their wardrobes and go back to dressed up and timeless looks.’

Last year, ELLE UK’s very own fashion features editor, Sara McAlpine, and acting fashion director, Cat Callender, noted that ‘Subversive Conservative’, seen at Burberry, Prada, and Marc Jacobs, was one of the SS19 runway’s greatest trends.

‘Everything is not quite what it seems with spring’s new bourgeoisie mood,’ they explained, detailing the trend is typified by, ‘subverting the tropes of conservative dressing.’

Known for her simplicity, Meghan's silhouette and colour choices have a similar nod of conservative rebellion.

Whether it's her love of halter neck cuts or propensity for ‘dressed-up styles’, we should expect to see these looks - think 'pencil skirts and skirt suit sets’ - reflected on the high street and in our wardrobes.

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'Simple, classic and timeless style have become more desirable not only for ease and effort but for a more sustainable circular fashion economy - women now require a set of easy wardrobe pieces,' says Harrington.

After years of Gucci-typified 'more-is-more' dressing, it appears the California-native might finally be swaying us towards more pared-back, considered ensembles.

The Meghan effect, quite clearly, knows no bounds.



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