Women of darker skin tones have struggled to find undergarments to match their skin colour and have always been looking for the company that would understand and provide for their needs. The wait is finally over: Ade Hassan, 30-year-old former Equity senior associate created an online buzz when she launched Nubian Skin in 2014, a lingerie brand that puts an end to the never ending frustration.
Women from brown to dark skins can finally rock that (daring) sheer blouse, or wear perfectly matched tights to show off their legs. If Ade’s ever-growing followers on Instagram and Facebook are proof of the hit, Emmy nominated actress Kerry Washington also showed her appreciation when retweeting about NUBIAN SKIN. Ade Hassan is changing the industry of lingerie, and ELLE is at the front row of this revolution.
Why did you decide you create Nubian?
I created Nubian Skin because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in shops! I wanted nude lingerie and hosiery – but it simply wasn’t available. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who felt the same way – so I decided to create it.
What inspired the name of the brand?
I wanted something which really spoke to the history and significance of dark skin, so I chose Nubian. I had originally thought of Nubian Nude, but that can be very tricky when it comes to internet searches, ‘skin’ just worked.
Did you have any background in retail or fashion when you started?
My career prior to Nubian Skin was actually very finance focused, although I did take a year break from work several years ago when I took sewing and pattern cutting classes
What does it take to create your own business?
It takes a vision, and then it takes a lot of hard work – more than I ever could have imagined – to make that vision a reality. It also helps to have support around you.
Did you have any doubts or fear before starting?
Everybody has doubts when they are starting something new, but I was incredibly excited about the idea. I actually told less than a handful of people what I was doing, so there wasn’t really the opportunity for naysayers to get a word in.
Can you describe the process of creating Nubian?
It took me much longer than I had expected. It took two years from the concept to creating the company, and another year and a half till I actually launched. The first two years were brainstorming and planning and finding the perfect shades was also a lengthy process – that alone took about a year from start to finish. At the start I visited counters in London and New York that had significant offerings for women of colour such as Fashion Fair, MAC, Nars, Lancôme and Blackup to find out which of their colours were most popular amongst women with darker skin.
Based on all my findings, I then selected my skintone pantone colours, but this was just the first stage. Matching a skin tone pantone to a fabric pantone and making sure to compare the colours under a light box was a very good exercise. By autumn that year we had an initial set of colour samples, but they weren’t quite right, and there was a significant amount of back and forth with the factory and dyeing houses. We didn’t actually manage to pin down colours we were satisfied with until May or June 2014, and then the task became matching up samples of each dyed component of a bra (each type of fabric holds dye differently), so they were all uniform.
We finalised the colour of the bras by summer, but the tights were a different matter entirely. You can’t simply replicate the colour of a solid fabric to a sheer fabric, so the tights required significantly more time. Two of the colours we got down pretty quickly, but two have taken a bit more effort. It even involved me boiling some of the colours I wasn’t satisfied with in massive pots of tea and coffee at various strengths to get the perfect colour…we got there in the end.
One of the biggest obstacles was finding a good quality manufacturer. As a new and small business, a lot of manufacturers simply didn’t respond to queries, and others were looking for incredibly high volumes, so it was tricky. Once you actually secure a manufacturer, it’s always a battle to manage expectations. When I first decided on a manufacturer, I thought I’d be able to start selling in a few months, and we actually launched one year later than I had expected.
What is your biggest achievement so far with Nubian?
I’d say that the biggest achievement is getting this out there, and to have major retailers pick it up shows how important it is to cater to under-served customers. More recently, it’s been absolutely amazing to have Beyoncé and her dancers wearing Nubian Skin during the Formation Tour.
What are your goals for the future with the brand?
Our current focus is getting the bigger cup sizes ready, which we’re really excited about and hope to launch this summer. After that we have a few exciting ideas in the pipeline – so watch this space!
Biggest mistake so far and what lesson did you learn from it?
I make mistakes every day, I think that’s just part of the process. One of my big lessons learned it not to be afraid of trying to do things yourself. Our first year, there were certain things we paid for, but I learned that we could do it ourselves and save money.
Challenges of being an entrepreneur?
A lot of my time is spent working, it’s something that is constantly on your mind, so I’m always up checking e-mails or thinking of new ideas. The challenge is that it’s difficult to balance everything, and I think that’s the same for all entrepreneurs and busy people in general. I have my priorities, and I make sure to try and make time for them.
I don’t have a daily mantra per se, but I do say a prayer of gratitude daily because I’m living my dream.
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you’ve got an idea you’d like to bring to life, It’s really important to research your idea to make sure that whatever it is, it’s valid. Make sure you really believe in the idea especially if you’re working in another job. If you’re up at 4:00a.m. or 2:00a.m. working on this, then you want to believe in it. You also need to be willing to work really hard. Everybody who is going to start something anticipates that it’s going to be difficult, and that it’s going to be hard, but it will be so much more difficult and so much harder than you can prepare yourself for. And also – have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?
Give us three truths that you learned in life so far (business and life in general):
I can handle a lot and find solutions to problems that I would have thought insurmountable. Having a great support base is invaluable. Gratitude is key.