It's been a mere 18 months since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle appeared in the Sunken Garden in Kensington Palace to announce their engagement to the world's press. In that time, she has generated a lot of debate of what it means to be part of a modern monarchy – and a lot of headlines. From wearing dark nail polish at the 2018 British Fashion Awards to speaking out on political issues, Meghan has continued to subvert expectations of what it means to be a member of the royal family.
In an establishment that attracts a lot of public interest, Meghan and Harry have chosen to keep much of their life private, especially when it comes to their family. The family have shared just four photos of their son, Archie Harrison – one of little Archie's feet cradled in Meghan's hand to mark Mother's Day, another partial photo of Harry holding his son on Father's Day and two from Archie's christening.
They have also chosen to opt out of a courtesy title for Archie. Instead of being called the Earl of Dumbarton, his father's secondary title, or Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, he will simply be known as Master Archie.
These choices were cited as reasons Meghan was named in the 2019 Vogue 25, a "line-up of the high powered and visionary women whose work is shaping Britain's future". With model Naomi Campbell, actress Olivia Colman and scientist Margherita Turco sharing the honour, Vogue wrote that Meghan "is still very much a modern princess."
"From charities to childbirth, the choices she makes reflect the way she is gently modernising the royal family.
With her patronage of Smart Works, she combines her interest in fashion with her desire to support women's careers, while the quietly revolutionary decision she and Prince Harry took to keep their child's birth private echoes the commitment to wellness she was known for prior to her new life, as well as her feminist ideals."
Whatever choices Meghan makes, people are most definitely watching. When the Sussex household split from Kensington Palace on social media, setting up @SussexRoyal, they broke a new record, reaching one million followers in a little under six hours – the previous record holder took almost twice as long to reach the same milestone. Within a fortnight, they'd amassed an impressive five million followers and these days have almost nine million liking, commenting and scrolling through their feed.
Meghan is no stranger to this level of influence – her personal Instagram had more than a million followers before she closed it – and she's using her time in the spotlight to promote causes close to her heart. Despite the royal family usually shying away from anything deemed too political, Meghan is vocal about her support for women's rights. At her first working engagement, celebrating the achievements of The Royal Foundation, she told the audience, "I hear a lot of people speaking about girls' empowerment and women's empower-ment – you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices.
"I fundamentally disagree with that because women don't need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen. Right now, with so many campaigns like #MeToo and Time's Up there's no better time to continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people supporting them."
Later, as part of her tour to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, she spoke at the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand, saying, "Women's suffrage is about feminism, but feminism is about fairness. Suffrage is not simply about the right to vote but also about what that represents. The basic and fundamental human right of being able to participate in the choices for your future and that of your community. The involvement and voice that allows you to be a part of the very world you are a part of.
"And women's suffrage is not simply about the right to vote for women, but also about what that represents. The basic and fundamental human right of all people –including members of society who have been marginalised – whether for reasons of race, gender, ethnicity, or orientation – to be able to participate in the choices for their future and their community."
Meghan again took the stage at an International Women's Day event in London, as part of a panel convened by the Queen's Commonwealth Trust. As a panellist alongside musician Annie Lennox and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Meghan spoke about why she calls herself a feminist.
"If things are wrong and there is a lack of justice, and there is an inequality, then someone needs to say something."
It was important that men were part of the feminist movement, she added.
"I hope that men are part of the conversation. My husband certainly is!"
"Your sense of self and security, your confidence, comes in knowing that a woman by your side, not behind you, is something you shouldn't be threatened about," she continued, "but as opposed to that you should feel really empowered in having that additional support."
It's likely Archie will follow in his parents' footsteps, with Meghan – seven months pregnant at the time – adding, "I'd seen this documentary on Netflix about feminism and one of the things they said during pregnancy was 'I feel the embryonic kicking of feminism'. I love that. So boy or girl, or whatever it is, we hope that that's the case with our little bump."
Most recently, Meghan became the patron of four charities – the National Theatre, the Association of Common-wealth Universities, Mayhew, and Smart Works – which further continue her goals of empowering women and young people.
"Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex will become Patron of four organisations that reflect the causes and issues with which she has long been associated including the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare," said a statement from the royal family.
Much like her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, Meghan is having a far-reaching influence on fashion – one that surpasses even the 'Kate effect'. In the lead-up to her wedding, economists predicted that Meghan would inject almost $290 million into the economy as people attempted to follow her style.
In fact, an analysis of more than 20 million searches on Lyst, a global fashion search platform, found that over a two-year period there was a 216 per cent increase in people looking for the Duchess of Sussex's style, compared to 119 per cent looking for Kate's. In one striking example, the brocade dress Meghan wore to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Prince Charles' Investiture at Buckingham Palace saw its online demand soar by 500 per cent.
Thanks to the 'Markle sparkle', Meghan was voted by Lyst as one of 2018's Ultra Influencers, ranked third after Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. It's an impressive feat, considering that she's the only one in the list without a personal social media presence. "On average," Lyst says, "if Meghan wears a designer, that brand will see a 200 per cent increase in search demand over the following week."
It's clear Meghan is using her influence to draw attention to eco-conscious and sustainable fashion houses, like Stella McCartney, Reformation and Maggie Marilyn. Little-known companies have also seen the reach of Meghan's influence. Hiut Denim – a brand that uses sustainable fabrics to make high-quality denim pieces – now has a three-month waiting list after Meghan wore a pair of their jeans.
"In the past year, Meghan has helped re-align people's vision of sustainable fashion," says Harriet Vocking, head of marketing and communications at sustainability consultant firm Eco-Age.
"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 equally as cool as a pair of Gucci shoes, but have an amazing story."
That influence has real-world effects for workers at these brands. Outland Denim works with women who have been rescued from trafficking. Since Meghan wore their jeans on the royal tour in Australia, the brand has been able to hire up to 30 more seamstresses.
And then, of course, there's the Archie effect. Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis are already influencers in their own right. The Aden + Anais muslin wrap used to swaddle newborn George in his first public appearance saw the wrap sell out, and today the brand is a $100 million global business. Master Archie is likely to follow in his cousins' footsteps, with reports that the newest royal arrival will boost the UK economy by almost $2.5 billion, thanks to increased sales of childrenswear and toys.
"Meghan and Harry are an attractive couple and their first child will naturally be of great public interest across the world," says Professor Joshua Bamfield, who led the research on the impact Baby Sussex will have.
Whether it's spurring a trend for vegan paint or starting conversations around feminism, it's clear that Meghan will be modernising the monarchy for many years to come.
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