Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Ade Hassan, creator and CEO of Nubian Skin. With a love for all things fashion, this start-up boss realized that women of color were not being represented in the lingerie industry. Without a range of colors to match darker skin tones, most mainstream lingerie defeats the purpose of being flesh- or nude-colored and is instead unflattering and impersonal. Since it’s creation, not only has Nubian Skin set out to be game-changing, but Hassan has made it a mission to keep the line affordable and accessible as well. We reached out to get some insight and hear this CEO’s steps to greatness.

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Photo: NubianSkin

Blavity: Can you go a little into your background? Where are you from? 

Ade Hassan: I’m Nigerian-British. My family moved around quite a bit when I was younger, so I grew up in the U.K., Nigeria, and the U.S.

B: What did you do before you founded Nubian Skin?

AH: My work background is pretty corporate. Before starting Nubian Skin, I worked mainly in finance.

B: How did your friends/family members react when you told them you wanted to create a lingerie line for women of color?

AH: They were all incredibly supportive. Particularly my family. I didn’t tell an awful lot of people, so those who did know were close friends and family. Given I had several degrees under my belt and a solid professional background, my parents felt comfortable that I’d land on my feet regardless.  They’re both entrepreneurs, so they weren’t too surprised I wanted to start my own business.  My mother made it a point to remind me that my disposable income was about to take a nosedive!

B: When people think of lingerie it’s usually very expensive. Your line is so affordable! Was affordability something you struggled to maintain while creating this line?

AH: I felt very strongly that the line of basics should be affordable.  Every woman should be able to have a nude bra.  It was a tricky one because as a start-up, our costs are high, we don’t have the bargaining power of a big brand. It’s a balance of assuring quality and being sustainable, so it’s difficult, but it’s working so far.

Photo: Nubian Skin

B: You’ve mentioned being inspired by  Eunice W. Johnson and super-model Iman, who created Fashion Fair and Iman cosmetics. Who do you hope to inspire through Nubian Skin? What other industries would you like to see women and people of color fairly represented in?

AH: In an ideal world, every industry would have a good representation of women and all ethnicities, so we have work to do. That being said, I believe in general important conversations are taking place and progress is being made. It can be incredibly empowering to see someone who looks like you represented in a field you’re interested in.

B: What sparked your decision to start Nubian Skin?

AH: Nubian Skin came as an ‘a-ha’ moment.  I was working in a management consulting job, which I wasn’t particularly enjoying when it came to me. The push to really kick the gears into motion came when a close friend, who I told about the idea, sent me a card saying “It’s time to start living the life you’ve always imagined.”

B: What were your biggest setbacks in getting the line started?

AH: One of the biggest setbacks, at first, was finding a 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.

B: Would you have done anything differently?

AH: There are 101 things we could do differently in hindsight, but the most productive thing is to just take them as lessons learned and see how to make the business better and stronger.

B: How do you balance your responsibilities both socially and as a business owner with other obligations in the real world?

AH: 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. 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.

B: If fashion and lingerie are your first loves, what’s your second?

AH: My first love is my family and loved ones! If I wasn’t running Nubian Skin, I’d be on a plane right this second to Villefranche in the South of France to do an immersive French course – Actually I’d probably wait till May when the weather is warmer.  It’s one of the things I didn’t get to do before starting the business.

B: How do you manage a work-life balance?

AH: I don’t.  Sadly, that’s the truth.  It’s better than it was when I first launched the company, but I haven’t achieved a perfect balance yet. I am happy, though, and I don’t think any of the important aspects of my life have suffered too much. The day I go on holiday and really switch off from thinking about work, I’ll let you know.

B: Nubian Skin is now in major retailers such as Nordstrom and ASOS, talk about the types of conversations around opening the door for nude hosiery and lingerie that will cater to women of color. How have your distributors influenced the growth of your business?

AH: Our stockists have been great and incredibly supportive! It’s reassuring when a big brand approaches you and says, our customers need this, we want to bring it in. For a small brand like ours, it’s meant the world. It has helped get the Nubian Skin name out there and get it into the hands of more people.

B: What about media coverage?

AH: When we started, we didn’t have a marketing budget or a marketing plan. People picked up on our social media and it went viral. That led to the mainstream media picking it up. It was a media storm that we couldn’t have imagined or quite frankly have afforded, so we’re so incredibly grateful to everyone who helped spread the word.

B: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in expanding their reach?

AH: I would definitely 100 percent use social media – it’s an incredibly powerful tool and can really help you engage with your customers as well as getting the word out about your business.

B: What motto do you live by?

AH: I really try to treat others the way I would like to be treated.

B: What advice do you have for up-and-coming creators, innovative thinkers and aspiring business owners?

AH: Firstly, 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 2 a.m. or 24 a.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, but it will be 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?

B: What are your goals for the rest of the year?

AH: Our main focus right now is getting the bigger cup sizes ready. We know that it’s needed and we’re really excited about launching them — hopefully by summer!

B: Who are you trying to collaborate with?

AH: We work with so many amazing people, photographers, models, artists, it’s an ongoing process.

To keep up with the amazing work Ade is doing and to support her mission, visit the Nubian Skin website. Also, check out this great behind the scenes video of a previous interview for Ade.

Make sure you take advantage of the bra and panty Valentine’s Day sale which ends February 14th!

Photo:Nubian Skin

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