Ladies, I’m sure you’ve been there before. You head to your nearest lingerie store hoping to buy a "nude" bra that will go seamlessly under any blouse, only to find that the range of colors are… limited, to say the least. After years of dealing with this frustration, London-based entrepreneur Ade Hassan set out to redefine “nude” for women of color and launched Nubian Skin in October of 2014.
Nubian Skin provides a collection of hosiery and lingerie in a range of shades for women with darker skin tones. Since its official launch last year, the London-based company has become an instant hit around the world. We recently sat down with owner Ade Hassan for more on her background, future plans and success with Nubian Skin.
OBWS: So what inspired you to create Nubian Skin?
Ade: Well it was just my frustration. You know how it is. You've got the perfect dress, the perfect shoes, and then your option for hosiery is black or maybe someone has brown, but it's not the right shade. The same thing with bras. I worked in the corporate world for most of my career and a lot of women's shirts are sheer or pretty light and always having to wear a camisole underneath was frustrating.
OBWS: It seems like such a no-brainer since there are people of all different skin tones around the world. Why do you think it took so long for “nude” to become more universal and inclusive?
Ade: Well I think it’s a number of things. Nude sells really well and most companies have to be about their bottom line since that’s how they make money. If nude is selling so well and nobody at the level of decision-making has ever experienced the fact that the shades don't work for them, they won't be motivated to change things.
And then, there is power in numbers. The reaction that Nubian Skin has gotten has been such a blessing because it shows that there is a demand for it. And until people are saying that they want it and will buy it, others won’t realize that there is a market that needs to be catered to. So I think it’s a combination of who’s making that decision and also actually having that voice and outlet, which is why social media is so great. When people shout about it, retailers take notice.
OBWS: How did you get your start? Were you always into fashion?
Ade: So I’ve always loved fashion but I knew that I wasn’t going to be the next Alexander McQueen or John Galliano. And I knew that I wasn’t going to do clothing. I thought I would do accessories, and then when this idea kept coming to mind and I kept having the same frustration I thought “Actually, this is it. This is perfect!” I always wanted to be an entrepreneur I just didn’t quite know what it was going to be.
OBWS: Did you face any major challenges getting Nubian Skin off the ground and how did you overcome them?
Ade: Yeah, so I left the job I was doing – I tried consulting for a year but didn’t really like it and decided to go back into finance – and once I actually started working on Nubian Skin it took about 2.5 years to get it up and running. Finding a manufacturer was difficult. I started sending emails out and nobody was interested. When you say that you’re a new brand and that it’s a small collection... those are just terrible words to send to any manufacturer (laughs). So that was really frustrating. Also, the industry is very close-knit so actually gaining access and knowing who to speak to was really difficult. I found a consultant who told me that I needed to go to trade shows and meet manufacturers there. That was great advice because it opened the door for what I wanted to do.
OBWS: Can you tell us more about the color range for your lingerie and hosiery?
Ade: The whole process of getting the colors actually took over a year. I was starting from scratch. I considered lots of different department stores and went to make-up counters that actually had multiple offerings for black women or women with darker skin tones. So we ended up with four colors. We have berry which is our darkest color, and then we’ve got cinnamon which is my shade - a medium dark. And then we’ve got caramel which is a medium light and the lightest color is café ole.
OBWS: How involved are you when it comes to the designing process?
Ade: I work directly with the manufacturer to create everything. It’s a basic strapless bra and a lace bra so the silhouette is very simple. I thought it was best to start off with simple silhouettes. It wasn’t a massive feat as far as design goes. I’m pretty big on making sure that everything is right and it was just me at the beginning so it’s been all hands on deck. I sign off on every single component of the bra and shade.
OBWS: Being a small, fairly new business, I’m sure you have to be involved in a little bit of everything. What does your average day look like?
Ade: There honestly isn’t one because it changes so much (laughs). Some days I’ve got interviews like the one we’re having. Some days I’m meeting with manufacturers or trying to figure out something on the website. Other days it’s customer service. Whatever needs to be handled in the office at that time.
OBWS: How long after you started did you begin to add people on-board?
Ade: When we launched I hired my first full-time employee but all the while I worked with a consultant, manufacturers, the web team, etc. There were a lot of third parties involved since you can’t do it all on your own.
OBWS: In America, racial tensions are extremely high so there’s definitely a huge movement and need to support black businesses. What would you say is the social climate when it comes to black ownership in the UK?
Ade: It’s interesting because I’d say racial tensions are definitely not as high here. That’s something that is just incredibly unfortunate in America. I think that’s almost created a situation where the black community is louder about how they want to support each other, which is a beautiful thing to see when people are saying "support the community". There’s definitely a community here but it’s maybe not as outspoken as it is in the U.S.
OBWS: What advice would you give aspiring black entrepreneurs who are trying to break into the fashion industry?
Ade: I think it’s really important to believe in your idea. Be 100% behind it because you’re going to be putting your heart and soul into it. Certainly make sure it’s a quality product. The fashion industry is incredibly competitive so if something doesn’t look right or feel right, people will let you know pretty quickly. And then just be true to whatever your ethos is because there will be a lot of people who will say things like “oh you should do it this way/that way instead”. Take feedback but don’t lose your own goals and what’s important to you.
OBWS: I saw that your products are now available at Nordstrom as well, congratulations!
Ade: Thank you so much! That was amazing. I mean, it was funny because that was 6 months in the works. People see it happen but they don’t realize all of the work that went behind it. I met Nordstrom at a trade show in Paris. They actually came and sought out the stand and said “we have a lot of customers that we’re not currently serving. We want to serve them and this is perfect.” That was just such an amazing thing to get buyers who were enlightened and actually considered their black and hispanic customers who deserve their own nude.
So what’s next for Nubian Skin?
We are trying to expand our retailer base because so many people have been supporting the brand, and because of the colors, a lot of people actually want to try them on and see how it fits. It’s a matter of being more accessible because any person of color should be able to walk into a store and pick up a pair of tights or a bra in their color. I think that’s such a basic thing. So we’d love for the market to get to that place. I’d say the most immediate thing we’re working on is expanding our sizes. People have requested it so we’re really listening to feedback and working on that.