With Women’s History Month underway, what better way to celebrate #blackgirlmagic than through profiles of phenomenal women who have launched entrepreneurial ventures in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle? First up is Ade Hassan, founder & CEO of Nubian Skin.
If you haven’t yet heard of Nubian Skin, it’s time to get formally acquainted! The British Brand is dedicated to creating skin-tone lingerie and hosiery for women of color. Launched in 2014, Nubian Skin has grown at tremendous speed and shows no signs of stopping yet!
Headquartered in London, Nubian Skin boasts wholesale distribution in the United States, Canada, Europe, Nigeria, and even the Middle East, which is a formidable feat for an early-stage startup. But how exactly did Ade begin? She said, “The motivation was born out of a need…going to the office, if you’re wearing a dress and you want to wear pantyhose, for black women, the default option is black. Finding pantyhose in my skin tone was so difficult and I had always wanted to start a business, specifically in fashion.”
However, not having worked in fashion before, Ade took quite an unconventional approach to getting her bearings in the industry and building her first business. Born in England, raised in Nigeria, and educated in the United States, Ade has had her fair share of global influences. She shared, “Always growing up, I had been creatively inclined, but I was also pretty academic. Growing up partially in Nigeria, fashion is such a huge thing and you can have tailors make anything you can sketch.” Despite her childhood creative yearnings, Ade studied Economics and English at Duke University in North Carolina and soon afterwards, returned to England to receive a Masters degree in Finance and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
A few stints in consulting and investment banking, Ade felt the itch to live in Paris (who hasn’t?!) and moved to France for a year “to study French and take pattern cutting classes.” When she came back to England to pursue a familiar consulting gig, she began to develop the concept for Nubian Skin.
Intrigued, I asked her how did she fund the business and her response was quite interesting: “I actually went back into finance for 3 years before launching Nubian Skin. The last year, I worked my full-time job and then part-time in the 3 months before the brand launched…after that, I quit and have been fully dedicated to Nubian Skin since.” In all, it took 3 years of saving funds from brand conception to launch. Never having accepted outside funding, she utilized her personal funds and friends/family money to get started. Her diligence, focus, and patience certainly paid off! She truly believes “the best way to see if your heart is [dedicated to your startup] is to put your money where your mouth is.”
When Nubian Skin launched, it truly went viral and part of that is because of the strong visuals and social media presence Ade personally crafted. Today, Nubian Skin has over 66,000 Instagram followers. She stated, “When I decided to launch [the brand], I slept with a notebook beside me because I would wake up in the middle of the nights with all of these ideas. I knew what I wanted [the brand] to look like…I had a very clear view. I was getting my nails done in Shoreditch [East London] and I asked [the nail salon] if they randomly did photo shoots and they did! That space was perfect.” She continued, “Getting the models was such a fun thing… we went to model agencies and said we need to see all of your models of color, and we need 4 of them, not just 1! We interviewed the models based on their looks, but also on their personalities.” Her instincts were spot-on because her branding assets have been some of the most shared this year on social media, earning her the 2015 Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in London among other accolades.
Her advice for budding fashion entrepreneurs: “1) Be really really sure about what you’re going to do because it is so much more work than you could ever imagine. You must 110% believe in [your idea]…belief in the idea is key; 2) If it is an industry you don’t have experience in, get advice from people who are experts….if you have to pay for that advice, pay for that advice. That will be the best money you’ll ever spend; and 3) Accept failure and acknowledge that you are going to make mistakes!”
Wise words indeed! The brand has since expanded into Curve hosiery, been featured in O Magazine, and has sights set on becoming readily available in more markets for women of color everywhere. My final question to Ade, what do you do with £20 on a Saturday in London? Her answer: “likely something food-related, getting a burger at Shake Shack and wanting to go out dancing!” If you want to learn more about Nubian Skin, check out their site here and Instagram account @nubianskin. We’ll be rooting for their success!
What do you think of this Breaking Into Fashion interview?