For years, women of color have struggled with the fashion and beauty industry’s lack of diversity in makeup, lingerie, and hosiery. I have always bemoaned shopping for makeup because name brand’s version of “dark” was too light for my complexion. Nowhere is this more evident than shopping for “nude.” Unfortunately, my shopping excursion left me feeling like the Buzzfeed video of black women trying on “nude” makeup, lingerie, and hosiery. Frustrated, exasperated, and annoyed best describe my experience.
Enter Ade Hassan, the entrepreneur and wonder woman behind Nubian Skin. “Nubian Skin launched with a carefully edited collection of lingerie and hosiery to provide the essential underwear needs of women of colour.” Not only do they offer a variety of skin tones, but this is sexy and feminine. After reading my article, Revisiting My Roots – Happy Nappy, I had a chance to speak to Ms. Hassan.
Mr. Refined: First, thank you for taking time to speak with me. I must say that I am enamored by your product. I love your motto: “Empowering Women. Embracing our Colour.” What was your inspiration?
Ade Hassan (AH): Thank you for the mention in your article. We’re a startup so our marketing budget is word of mouth. My inspiration was the general frustration of looking for nude pantyhose and defaulting to black because nude was not in my shade.
Mr. Refined: Do you have a background in fashion or business?
AH: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and have it be fashion related. I double majored in Economics and English. Naturally, with an Economics background I went into banking.
Mr. Refined: How did you get started?
AH: I left banking and was working as a consultant. It was 2011 and I was not particularly happy in the job. That is when I had the idea for Nubian Skin. I texted a friend and said, “I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up!” I knew that I would need to save a considerable amount of money to fund the business, so I went back to finance. However, working in the finance industry is incredibly demanding, and it’s nice making a good amount of money, so that was a bit of a distraction. When you’re buying designer shoes and going on fun holidays, it’s hard not to lose focus.
I couldn’t shake the idea even if I had wanted to. My mother was instrumental in making sure I kept my eye on the prize! She is my biggest cheerleader and helped me get back on track. She was in it for the pantyhose and never missed an opportunity to remind me that she needed them in her colour! In the summer of 2012, I spent about a month in New York and stayed with a good friend of mine. I had not told many people about the idea, but she went to Harvard Business School and I wanted to float some things by her. She thought the idea was brilliant. The following year, for my birthday, she sent me a card that said, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve always imagined.” The next day, I registered the company and trademark.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t quite as glamorous as it looks. Right now it definitely doesn’t pay like working in finance. It’s a sacrifice and was a big adjustment – I’ve had to get rid of my handbag habit.
Mr. Refined: The women in your photos are various shades of brown. I especially love the photo shoot with the models in curlers in salon chairs. It’s reminds me of Annie Lee’s art, but with a modern take – sexy and fabulous. I immediately identified with the models.
AH: The idea came to me while I was at the Cheeky Parlour nail salon. The person doing my nails mentioned that they also did makeup and hair. I needed a makeup artist and hair stylist for the photo-shoot. I asked if they did photo-shoots. The inspiration took off from there. I did not want images that were hyper-sexualized. I wanted them to be identifiable, as you said, “That could be me.” I wanted to celebrate women of color. If you watch the behind the scenes video, you will see that each of the models have such great personalities. They were inspired by what we were doing and that shows.
Mr. Refined: I love the descriptions of the skin tone varieties. They make me smile and feel beautiful. Can you explain that process?
AH: During the creative stage, I had to keep a notebook on my bedside table as so many thoughts and inspiration came to me at night. Silly little things like the well-known phrase “the darker the berry the sweeter the juice” kept repeating, so I decided that Berry had to be the name of my darkest shade. The tones took a year to develop. There was no precedent. First, I went to makeup counters to match the tone. The swatches came back wrong. We needed to make sure the red, yellow, and blue undertones came through to show the differences in tones. There was a lot of tweaking.
Mr. Refined: How can readers support Nubian Skin?
AH: Simply talking about it with friends and on social media helps get the name out. Retailers operate on a “bottom-line.” If there is a demand, then they will supply it. So the next step is telling retailers, “We want this brand.” Request it.
We just ask that consumers be patient with us. We’re a startup and new company. We’re working on bigger cup sizes for the bras. We are constantly listening to customer feedback to improve the brand.
Mr. Refined: I know you ship globally. However, where can US readers find your product or request their favorite department store stock your product?
AH: We are currently in 15 Nordstrom stores in the US. Based on consumer demand, they will expand our brand to more stores. We need consumers to use their buying power and voices to let retailers know there is demand for our product.
Mr. Refined: I am super excited. I am planning a special trip home to Chicago to get my “grown and sexy” lingerie. It makes me love myself and take pride in my black is beautiful. I will probably do it as a girls’ night out and a separate event with my teenage nieces. I want them to love the skin they are in. Your product makes me want to sing James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” I finally have hosiery and lingerie that looks like me!
AH: I love the idea of mothers taking daughters or this as a girls’ night event. However, you may not need to take a trip home to purchase our product. In the upcoming weeks, our brand will be featured at Bra*Tenders, located in Midtown Manhattan. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for details on the date, time, and location.
To find out more about Nubian Skin, visit them at participating Nordstrom stores and on their social media: