Meghan Markle is known for her commitment to sustainable and meaningful fashion — and her latest style statement is no exception. The Duchess of Sussex debuted two new glittering diamond rings at the Invictus Games in April. She also wore the rings to Queen Elizabeth’s recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations. They were on display during a playful moment with some of the younger royal family members during Trooping the Colour.
The diamond-studded pieces are from Shiffon Co., one of Meghan’s go-to jewelry brands. Dubbed the 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring, it celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which gave women the right to play sports in schools and colleges. Meghan, 40, was also spotted wearing the brand’s Duet Pinky Ring last year when she graced the cover of TIME alongside her husband Prince Harry. The adjustable ring features a tiny diamond beside a larger one to represent one woman supporting another through a “pinky promise.”
Shiffon donates half of its profits to fund female founders through its non-profit organization, The Startup Girl Foundation. The company’s diamonds and gems are also ethically sourced and follow conflict-free and socially responsible practices.
The new ring Meghan has been wearing is the brand’s latest piece. The design of the 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring is inspired by the tennis bracelet with its all-around diamond look. To add to its symbolism, 19.72% of the profits will go toward a dedicated Women in Sports investment fund that will support ventures not just in fitness, but also in mental health, wellness and recovery.
Shilpa Yarlagadda, who is based in New York City, started the fine jewelry company in 2017 in her Harvard dorm room with the mission to close the gender gap, particularly in entrepreneurship. “Through 50% of our profits, we are investing in female founders and companies that empower women,” Yarlagadda, 25, tells PEOPLE. “So far we’ve funded 11 incredible female-founded companies.”
She says that she was inspired to launch the 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring after being “educated on how much inequality there is for women in the sports field.” “Pay parity and equal pay is still a huge issue in sports,” she says. “Tennis is one of the few sports that has equal prize money for women, which is why we are calling this the 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring.” In addition to Meghan, the brand has several A-list followers, including Nicole Kidman, Michelle Obama and the Duchess of Sussex’s pal Serena Williams.
“When Meghan wore our ring, it was just such an amazing moment,” Yarlagadda says. “I’ve always been super inspired by her. I listened to her UN Women’s speech when I was in high school. I watched Suits and I was a part of an organization called One Young World — I was one of their ambassadors and she’s a counselor for them.”
“Everything she does is with intention, thought and meaning behind the impact that she could have. I know that when she’s wearing a piece of jewelry, there’s a lot of intention behind it. We both care so much about empowering women and she’s a fellow female founder with what she’s built, too,” she adds of the Archewell Foundation founder.
“I think in many ways, Meghan and so many of these incredible women that have worn our rings really inspired me to create Shiffon because when I was young, I didn’t really know what I could do,” she shares. “In high school and growing up in Silicon Valley, which is where I’m from, and especially in Palo Alto, we never saw that many female founders, that many female investors. The original pinky ring was designed to represent a pinky promise, to pay it forward, to support women.”
Yarlagadda’s company only makes a few pieces. In addition to the Duet Pinky Ring and the 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring, they also collaborated with former First Lady Michelle Obama and her When We All Vote organization on the Classic Duet Hoops, which symbolize the hoops women have had to jump through for equality and voting rights. “We don’t live in an equal world. Building this community was something that I’ve always wanted to do. That’s why The Startup Girl Foundation and the mission of how we give back existed even before I knew that I could sell a single product,” Yarlagadda says.
“Jewelry has just always been a huge part of my culture, being Indian,” she adds. “My grandmother and mother always gave me these beautiful pieces. What I really loved about fine jewelry, in particular, is it was one of the few things I saw my mom and grandma wear every single day. That really gave me the idea that this could be the best storyteller for women and a silent symbol for change.”
As for the simple design of her jewelry, she says: “I personally just like things that are very minimalistic. When all of these incredible women are wearing our rings, even though it’s so tiny and on the pinky, people notice it. While it looks so simple on the outside, there’s so much thought that goes into it. We love spirals, that’s a huge theme and inspiration for the company because we really care about spiraling women upwards.”
Looking ahead, Yarlagadda wants to continue to grow a community of women entrepreneurs. “What I really see in the next five years, especially through the foundation, is being able to fund more companies,” she says. “We’re really almost able to build an incubator, a space for all these women to collaborate and work together.”
“I love jewelry and I love the fact that something so feminine and meaningful to all of us can also be the thing to fund us,” she says. “Women have always invested in jewelry, so I wanted to have jewelry invest in women.”