How The 'Meghan Markle Effect' Has Transformed Canadian Fashion
When Meghan wears Canadian, the rest of the world does too.
We all remember the camel coat Meghan Markle wore to Christmas at Sandringham estate for the first time, on the arm of her new fiancé, Prince Harry. It was a fashion moment the world had been waiting for — Meghan’s first holiday church service with the Queen (no pressure!) — and it belonged to Canadian luxury brand Sentaler. Meghan’s choice to wear Sentaler’s Alpaca Wrap Coat for the occasion gave Bojana Sentaler, the brand’s president and creative director, “butterflies” like a kid on Christmas morning — literally on Christmas morning. Sentaler recalls that day she had a “permanent smile on [her] face.”
Fast forward to a little over a year later. Meghan Markle’s unprecedented impact on the fashion industry now has its own moniker and the “The Meghan Markle Effect” has struck Canada again, giving Sentaler those familiar stomach-flipping feelings and an even wider smile. Last week, in a full-circle fashion moment, Meghan — now married and pregnant, what difference a year makes — wore the same Sentaler coat she did on Christmas Day 2017 for her first royal engagement of 2019, this time in a bold red.
“It is truly incredible for me as a designer as well as for my team that the Duchess is the first to appear in a piece from my new upcoming collection!” Sentaler gushed via email. “We couldn't be happier. The bright red colour looked beautiful on her. She was glowing!”
Butterflies and exclamation points are just a couple of the symptoms of the Meghan Markle Effect. There’s also an onslaught of international orders, a spike in Google searches, and global brand recognition — things most Canadian designers only dream of. The Canadian labels that have felt the Meghan sparkle (thanks in large part to the influence of Meghan’s part-time stylist/full-time best friend, Canadian Jessica Mulroney) include Sentaler, Aritzia, Smythe, SOIA & KYO, NONIE, Judith & Charles, Mackage, Greta Constantine, Erdem, and more. So, what’s it really like when The Duchess of Sussex rocks your designs? And how much does a Canadian brand’s international awareness increase after she does?
Royal expert and senior communications executive of popular style search platform Lyst, Yasmine Bachir, says Meghan is responsible for the growing international interest in the Canadian fashion industry. “Meghan has opted for the lesser-known brands and that's really made these designers catapult into the fashion industry, and her effect on these emerging brands hasn't been short term,” says Bachir. “We are still seeing Meghan have a lasting effect on searches for brands she worn months ago and many of these brands have been Canadian.”
Meghan completed last week’s headline-grabbing maternity ensemble with a bright purple dress from Babaton by Aritzia. She’s been wearing the brand since she lived and worked in Toronto while filming Suits. Lyst has seen interest in Aritzia increase by a whopping 79% in the past six months. Google Trends Data shows that in the hours after Meghan and her six-month-old baby bump stepped out in the Babaton dress, searches for Aritzia skyrocketed. The dress sold out online within minutes.
LINE The Label, which is responsible for the now-iconic white wrap coat Meghan wore to announce her engagement, saw searches for the calf-length trench, renamed “The Meghan,” rise by 320% in the following two weeks after she wore it. John Muscat, co-founder and president of LINE, tells me that while the demand for “The Meghan” is high, he has no intention of meeting that demand.
“Within one day, we received orders of about 5,000 for that coat. I was looking at the whole situation, and I decided that I didn't want to make 5,000,” he says with a sigh. “I didn't want every socialite in [Toronto] wearing it. Can you imagine every woman in Forest Hill wearing a white wrap coat? It's not the right vibe. No one would think that's cute.”
While Muscat is hoping to keep his product exclusive and “special,” other Canadian brands are scrambling to keep up with the demand.
Take Nina Kharey, of Calgary-based NONIE, for example. Meghan's support has not only boosted her company’s sales but it’s also changed her life. That’s not an exaggeration. A 5am wake-up call on a fateful day in July set the 35-year-old mom of two on a path that would lead to her first showing at New York Fashion Week (where she was turning people away at the door) and an accelerated expansion of her brand.
“It was overnight. It definitely overwhelming,” Kharey tells me over the phone from Calgary. “I went from being pretty well known in Canada, to starting to get known in New York too. All of a sudden, it was international, with emails constantly coming in at weird hours. We had to grow right away. We had to bring on more seamstresses at the factory in Vancouver. I feel like I got my MBA in two months.”
Kharey says she owes Meghan for her newly acquired business acumen and the 10 seamstresses she hired have the Duchess to thank for their jobs.
When Meghan wore sustainable brand Outland Denim, an Australian company that also has operations in Canada, SEVEN times during her recent Australian tour, Canadian online sales rose “well over 600% overnight," according to Mike Purkis, the brand’s Canadian representative and co-owner. He says Outland Denim doubled its business in Canada, which resulted in the creation of 46 jobs for seamstresses in Cambodia (one of the company’s objectives is to provide a living wage for its Cambodian employees).
“Nothing can equate to the power of Meghan Markle wearing your product,” says Purkis.
Like everything else the royals do, Meghan’s style isn’t just pretty — it’s strategy. In other words, it’s a good look for the Duchess to wear sustainable brands like Outland and support Canadian designers. If she knows that just by wearing a piece of clothing, she’s going to create jobs and change lives, it makes sense that she’s choosing to champion designers from a country she once called home.
And that’s good news for the Canadian fashion industry as a whole, not just one designer.
“She’s letting the world know that there are some really great Canadian designers,” says Bojana Sentaler. “Whether she wears Sentaler or whether she wears another Canadian brand, in the end, she's supporting our country and our fashion industry, so we all win from it.”