Nubian Skin's Ade Hassan talks nude lingerie for all skin tones

Ade Hassan started her Nubian Skin line because 'mainstream brands were not catering to us'

Lingerie shopping can pose many challenges. Not the least of these is dealing with items that come in the shade called "nude."

Go shopping for lingerie that renders itself invisible under a sheer blouse, stockings to show off your natural hue or shoes that seamlessly elongate your legs and one thing becomes clear, fast: Everybody's "nude" is different. Even Crayola, which changed the name of its "flesh" crayon to "peach" back in 1962, figured that out — long before the word "diversity" was in heavy rotation.

Ade Hassan, a 30-year-old British former private-equity senior associate, is on a quest to redefine nude in fashion. Her company Nubian Skin launched in October, offering lingerie and hosiery in a range of skin tones from Café au Lait to Berry. The resulting buzz — on social media, in magazines, even among Hollywood elite — has astounded her.

What is your own experience with so-called "nude" lingerie and clothing?

It's been incredibly frustrating, hence me starting Nubian Skin. As a woman with a darker skin tone, you see things on the catwalk, or you just have a white T-shirt or a sheer blouse you want to wear, and it was basically impossible to find something that lets you pull off that look. A lot of times people think fashion is quite trivial but it's a way people express themselves. And so not being able to have something as simple as wearing hosiery that's my skin color can be incredibly frustrating.

Was there a tipping point? It's a big decision to be part of the solution by starting your own company.

I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I love fashion. I remember the day pretty clearly … I was getting increasingly frustrated about not being able to find hosiery and I thought, "Actually, hang on a minute, this is what I need to do. I know if I have this problem, countless other women have the exact same problem" … mainstream brands were not catering to us.

Many ethnicities can have darker skin. Do your products suit all deeper skin tones?

Absolutely. We've got people ordering with Latin American and Asian backgrounds. Actually, the other day I got an email from a woman and it said I've got blond hair and blue eyes and I'm a sun worshiper. She couldn't find hosiery dark enough for a nude look so she ordered our colors and said she'll be ordering more.

How did you decide on the product colors?

It took us about a year to finalize those colors. I started by going to makeup counters. I found as many brands as I could that had a decent offering for women of color. I went around with a Pantone [color] swatch and basically asked them, "What are your four most popular colors?" and matched the recurring colors to Pantone's. I sent that off to the factory, got the first samples back and they were terrible. So, I was like, "Right, that's not going to work." At one point I literally took pots of foundation to the manufacturers to replicate.

It was a process in saying, "OK, I actually need a little bit more yellow in that, more red in that," and having so many of my incredibly patient friends try things on over and over and over again. You're never going to match everybody's skin tone exactly but you can find something that disappears under sheer clothing and is a beautiful, complementary color.

Is the big challenge marketing letting women know Nubian Skin is there?

Yes. It was such a blessing the amount of press attention we received prior to launch … I put up some images on the Instagram page and people just loved it. The different communities of color, whether it's the black community, the Asian community, the Latino community, they blogged, tweeted, reposted and it just went viral. It was unbelievable, and I think that's what made a lot of other publications realize we were around. So, I'm just so grateful to every single person who basically got us on the map just by spreading the word on social media.

Even actresses Thandie Newton and Kerry Washington tweeted about your company, yes?

Oh my God. It was unreal. There'd been an article in Self magazine and I go on Twitter and I'm looking down the Twitter feed, and Kerry Washington had retweeted the article and said "Awesome." I freaked out, and our Instagram followers just exploded. Then Thandie Newton [tweeted about us], and Beverley Knight. It's been amazing.

What is your largest market?

I love the U.S. It's currently our largest market. Right now we're only selling online [nubianskin.com]. Our biggest state in the U.S. is California, followed by New York. It's just amazing to me to see the support we're getting from the U.S.

On a different note, why do thigh-highs sometimes not stay up?

I have been in that situation.... A lot of things affect that. Moisturizer affects the [adhesive] stickiness. Get the right size. Also, if you put them in a washing machine and dryer at high heat instead of hand-washing them you're asking for trouble.

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