After years of not being able to find skin-toned underwear to suit her complexion, Ade Hassan embarked on a mission to redefine "nude" and empower women of colour in one fell swoop.
She'd been thinking about how useful a range of lingerie in shades for darker skin would be for a while, and when she became unsatisfied with her job as a management consult in 2011, she decided to turn her daydream into a business.
We talked to the 30-year-old entrepreneur about work, life and lingerie.
Why did you create Nubian Skin?
For most women when they shop for lingerie their default colour is nude, but for a woman of colour that option just doesn’t exist.
When you want to put on the perfect outfit - you’ve got this amazing dress and the most fabulous shoes - but your only option for tights is black, it completely ruins it. You’ve got this picture in your head of how you want to look but the products just aren’t available.
It’s incredibly frustrating - Nubian Skin was born out of that frustration.
It seems pretty crazy that products like Nubian Skin haven’t been in shops before...?
I think it’s a matter of perspective - the heads of most large retail brands are middle-aged, white men.
They know what sells for them and they’re never going to wake up in the morning, put on a sheer blouse and think ‘I could really do with a nude bra to match my complexion for under this.’ It’s not their fault, it’s just their reality.
What do you think about diversity in the fashion industry in general?
If you look at the average fashion magazine and you’re a woman of colour, the chances of you seeing someone who looks like you are much slimmer than if you’re not.
The fashion industry has come a long way - if you compare it to the lack of diversity in the 1960s then we have come forward leaps and bounds - but there is still a way to go and there’s always room for improvement.
Your models are gorgeous, was it easy to find them?
It was so easy! Models of colour might be underrepresented on the catwalk, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Many of our models were excited to be part of the campaign because they felt it was actually a product for them and an opportunity for many women of colour to be in the same campaign, rather than one person feeling like the token person in a larger campaign.
Tell us about your average day
Usually as soon as I wake up I look through emails on my phone. Then I’ll check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see what people have said - it’s a great way to get direct feedback from customers or potential customers.
After that, I head to the office to really get started. I'll have different priorities each day, whether that’s meetings, changing something on the website or helping to process different orders.
I might leave the office at 7, 8 or 9pm but usually I go home and carry on working.
That's a long day, how do you maintain work-life balance?
Right now I haven’t found that balance, but I think that’s how it is when you’re leading a new business - it’s all on you to make it work.
Even though I tell myself I’m not going to look at emails or Instagram after 10pm, I feel like Nubian Skin is my baby and if I notice it needs something, I have to respond. I probably need to learn to be a little bit more disciplined about it, I don’t want to burn out.
When you give yourself time off, what do you to to relax?
My guilty pleasure is going to the spa and having a manicure done.
I adore London, there’s so much to do, whether that’s going out to dinner or going to see an exhibition. I’ve lived all over the world - I was born in Yorkshire, then moved to Nigeria where my parents are from then lived in the US for a bit - so I love exploring different places.
Spending time with friends and family is really important to me.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
I receive beautiful emails from people - I got one from a university student recently who said ‘there isn’t a lot of diversity where I am, but I’m saving for my first Nubian Skin bra.'
I hope our products make people think 'my skin tone actually matters.'
There are times when I get frustrated about something at work, but then I get an email like that and it makes it worth it.
What's next for Nubian Skin?
Our next big challenge is to get Nubian Skin into shops. I’d love to see the range in Harrods, Selfridges or a department store like that. It would be great to see shops saying ‘actually this is something we should be offfering because customers are women of colour.’
You can view and purchase the entire Nubian Skin range at www.nubianskin.com.
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