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This is the incredibly moving impact of Duchess Meghan's ethical jewellery choices

"After years of trying, she's just blown the doors open."

Emily Nash

When the Duchess of Sussex made a surprise appearance on stage at the British Fashion Awards last December, she stole the show in a black Givenchy gown with a set of gold bangles and stud earrings from the Turquoise Mountain collection from Pippa Small, one of her favourite jewellers and a brand renowned for its ethical collections. And in an exclusive interview with HELLO!, Pippa has told us about how the Duchess' support is making a difference around the world.

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Meghan wearing Pippa Small at the British Fashion Awards in December 2018

The pieces were made in war-ravaged Afghanistan, a world away from the glitzy event, and Meghan’s move had an immediate and huge effect on the people creating them in Kabul. "It was absolutely incredible; it was suddenly like: 'We need more of this,'" Pippa tells us. "It had such a direct impact on the workshop. They were absolutely thrilled. It couldn’t have been more rewarding."

Star sparkle

Pippa's emphasis on fair trade and sustainable employment has won her other high-profile fans including Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Eva Longoria and Thandie Newton. The Duchess of Cambridge chose a pair of her Large Kite earrings to wear when she visited Canada's Great Bear Rainforest in 2016.

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While Pippa has collaborated with many top names including Tom Ford at Gucci, Nicole Farhi and Phoebe Philo's Chloé, awareness of the designer's work has risen to the next level thanks to Meghan opting to wear her handcrafted creations for Princess Eugenie's wedding last October, the ladies' singles final at Wimbledon and the South Pacific royal tour, among other high-profile occasions.

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Wearing the 'Gold Peepal Leaf Earrings' during a visit to Fiji

"Ethical jewellery has become a conversation and I think the Duchess wearing it over the last year, without having to say anything, has brought that subject to a public who weren't aware," Pippa says. "It has opened that conversation up. It's incredible. After years of trying, she's just blown the doors open. The impact on the workshop has been fantastic."

Pippa employs craftspeople trained by the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which was established by the Prince of Wales in 2006 to promote traditional crafts in Afghanistan. For more than a decade she has been travelling to Kabul to meet the artisans who make the striking gold pieces for her Pippa Small Turquoise Mountain line. "You weren’t allowed to wear or make jewellery under the Taliban so it was a pretty dead industry," she tells us. "Now they have a job, they’re well paid, they're safe."

Helping Kabul's women

It is also a means of empowering the women of Kabul, who can face threats for going to work. "When the women started working in the workshop, they had a separate space and they were shy and kept away," says Pippa. "Now you go and the women are bossing the men around.

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Wearing statement rings from Pippa Small at Princess Eugenie's royal wedding

"They’re so ambitious. They're very vocal and very clear about what they want. It has really empowered them. People want to look after their families, to fall in love, have children, to have a job just like everywhere else," Pippa continues. "It inspires me to keep going because they are people I care about. And they love the fact their jewellery is being worn."

Ensuring a secure income for the artisans is a big responsibility, which makes Meghan's support all the more valuable. "That’s why the Duchess wearing a piece made such a huge difference," Pippa says. "You can get the design or the price wrong or you don’t have a successful season and that impacts on the artisans really quickly. So with something like this, it's given them the kind of growth that they really needed."

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Although Pippa often takes her seven-year-old twins Mac and Madeleine with her on her travels, she has not taken them to Kabul. "We've had instances where the workshop has been bombed three or four times and people have been shot outside. But it's a partnership. It feels like part of the deal is: you show up. 

"They can't leave," she adds. "I can go and come home to a safe place and they can't." Pippa now works with Turquoise Mountain in Myanmar and Jordan, while her jewellery is also made in Jaipur, India and in Bolivia, via a fair-trade-certified goldmine.

A sense of heritage

Canada-born Pippa grew up in Wiltshire and started working in human rights after completing a masters in medical anthropology. She has worked with the Batwa people of Rwanda and lived deep in the rainforest with the nomadic Penan people in Borneo.

Her second career as a jeweller began after she was captivated by the gold adornments worn by the Kuna people in Panama. An ambassador for the human rights charity Survival International, she was awarded an MBE in 2013 for her jewellery and charity work. This autumn sees her back in Jordan with Turquoise Mountain, as they start to train refugees from Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen to help them find work beyond the camps. She believes the project will also allow the children to get a sense of their heritage.

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Meghan wore Pippa Small's 'Colette' necklace in Tonga

"You’re going to have a generation of young people who've grown up in camps who have no idea," she says. "It seems mad, but something like jewellery is a part of that. It's also the act of creating – you focus, you concentrate, you lose yourself. 

"Jewellery lives on. It has this sense of infinity and immortality in it. It's an optimistic thing to do."