Fashion is often considered frivolous and a non-essential, and that makes sense when you compare it to things like healthcare, nutrition and education. So when is fashion more than just cloth on a hanger? In 2011, I came up with the idea of creating an underwear brand which focused on the colour nude. So far, so standard. However, I am a black woman, and I knew from my personal experience that I could not walk into a shop and find a nude bra. Such an incredibly basic part of most women’s wardrobe and amidst the millions of nude bras in shops sitting across the UK, and the world, I couldn’t find one, and that was because the lingerie industry had a very specific definition of nude (i.e., beige), and I didn’t fit it. So, I thought it was time to change that.
The term micro-aggression has become significantly more widespread over the past few years. The Cambridge dictionary defines it as, “a small act or remark that makes someone feel insulted o r treated badly because of their race, sex, etc., even though the insult, etc. may not have been intended, and that can combine with other similar acts or remarks over time to cause emotional harm”. Was I emotionally harmed by not being able to buy a nude bra, no, but it was incredibly frustrating. It was something every single one of my white friends could find with ease. It annoyed me that I was wearing a camisole under sheer tops, or generally having to opt for black tights in order to avoid the dreaded grey/ashen leg look if I tried to wear one of the “American Tan” options that were the closest to what might possibly be my skin tone.
To any readers who are not a person of colour, imagine if one day countless things you take for granted - plasters, nude underwear, tights, those microphones that are supposed to be invisible on stage, nude shoes, medical casts, prosthetic limbs, ballet shoes, nipple covers, footsies, the lining of lace dresses – were all of a sudden only available in dark brown and black. All of a sudden, things that you would never usually even consider become an issue. That’s life for most black and brown people. Is it a matter of life or death? No. Is it inconvenient and annoying? Absolutely. What’s more, at some point you might start to wonder, why in the world is the entire fashion industry ignoring me, or maybe you decide like quite a few women in African and Asian communities to start to bleach your skin in order to attain that ideal. After all, most of the magazines generally have women on them that have lighter features, and normal everyday items are catering to those people, so maybe it’s something wrong with your skin. When I hear things like this it breaks my heart. Or when you hear young girls say they don’t like their hair or their skin or they want to look different, we need to start looking at the small, every day occurrences that might be making time think or feel that way.
The product I created isn’t just for black women, although black women literally built my brand with their support. We have women from all ethnicities, including white women, who either simply like the colours or realise that the traditional nude wasn’t working for them, and ours suit them better. Our motto is “Empowering Women. Embracing our Colour”, and that is a really important thing for me. We live in a time where thankfully, people are becoming increasingly conscious about not having to fit into a particular box, and there is definitely a move towards inclusivity. Ultimately, it’s not about taking away from others, but it’s about letting people who may not have fit in before know there is space for them.
My skin colour, or nude, is pretty much the colour of a cinnamon stick. For others their nude might be a cream with dash of blush, or deep, dark brown with a bluish hue. Whatever it happens to be, it shouldn’t be a battle. When you wake up and decide you want a piece of underwear that is nude, it shouldn’t bring up questions of ‘why not my skin tone?’, and ‘why was it decided that I don’t deserve to have it when so many other women can?’.
I created Nubian Skin to make that difference in a very small sphere. It matters that women and men of colour have representation. It’s the reason so many people got incredibly excited over Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. People want to feel included and in something which can be fun or just mundane like underwear, it is important. It’s something you wear every day, it can be something you don’t think about, or it could be something that you obsess over, but it’s next to your skin, and if a woman decides she wants her nude, she deserves it.
Ade Hassan MBE is the founder of Nubian Skin