Welcome back to Word-Worthy Women! Do you know these designers who are remaking the lingerie world? You will in a moment!
This week, I present you with designer-businesswomen that have recently expanded “nude” lingerie. Ade Hassan of Nubian Skin, Erin Carpenter of Nude Barre, Sadia Sisay of BeingU, and Atima Lui and Nancy Madrid of Nudest have each grappled with the range of skin colors that real women inhabit. Here are their solutions.
White and black have been basic colors for women’s lingerie since the category was invented*. In the 1950s, it was difficult to find any bras that weren’t black, white, or pink. By the 1970s, bras could be found in beige and coffee tones. Women’s magazines recommended that women wear the color closest to their skin tone under blouses, but color ranges remained limited. But change is afoot: the recent fashion for “nude” underpinnings and accessories has collided with the cultural conversation about the idea of “skin” tones.
This excitement about inclusivity brought opportunity for fashion-industry developments:
The entrepreneurs profiled below each responded to the lack of products (and advertising) that reflected personal experience.
Erin Carpenter, Nude Barre: 2009 idea, 2011 Kickstarter campaign
Carpenter began her career as a dancer with Alvin Ailey dance troup and Dance Theatre of Harlem. As a professional dancer, she often needed “skin tone” bras, hose, and underpants. However, as a woman of color, she couldn’t find lingerie in colors that matched her skin. The final straw was when she was dancing for the Knicks City Dancer and these things were required parts of her uniform. In 2009, in frustration, she took her business degree and began Nude Barre, a company that produces dance staples such as opaque tights, fishnets, thongs, and footless tights.
What’s amazing about Nude Barre is the color range in which she makes these items: 12 colors in all, from Lycheetini to Mocha, in shades that range from pinker to yellower, and darker to pale. The line is basic shapes, aimed at the dance community, but this is the most ambitious skin tone range of any of these young companies.
Ade Hassan, Nubian Skin: 2014
Hassan, a Nigerian-Brit, who also studied in the U.S., began this company in 2014. After years of working as a private equity manager, she credits a birthday card from a relative for the impetus to pursue her idea. Dressing for the business environment highlighted the gap in hosiery and lingerie offerings for non-white women. Her goal has been to normalize the wide range on non-peachy-pink skin tones used in “nude” lingerie styles.Her company produces hosiery and simple lingerie dyed in four different shades, caramel, cafe au lait, cinnamon, and berry (shown in title photo).
A bit of a workoholic, Hassan took a year away from her business job to learn patternmaking and understand the garment business. Her long workdays have paid off, however. Her line has been picked up by Nordstrom’s, and sells all over the world. She was added to the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honors list for services to the British fashion industry.
Hassan recently launched a new line, the Africa Collection. This line is made in Africa, specifically to redefine the continent’s image. The line, which is now produced in Morocco, is a luxury brand, focused on high quality materials, technical expertise, and craftsmanship. The photo book for the line uses models with tatoos and scarification in homage to the customs of several African tribes.
Sadia Sisay, BeingU: 2008
Sasay immigrated from Sierra Leone to the U.K. when she was 16. She initially trained as a cancer nurse, then worked in other business-oriented jobs.
In 2008 she was shopping for a nude bra with a white friend, she was horrified that the sales clerk offered both her and her friend the same “nude” colored bra. She decided that she wanted her daughter (then 14) to grow up in a world where her skin color was accepted and catered to.
Although Sisay quit her job to start BeingU in 2008, it took her years to bring her vision to market. She had difficulty switching from the big corporate settings of her experience to the small scale and personal financial output necessary for a startup company.
Then her husband died suddenly in 2014, leaving her sole parent to their daughter. She also had to learn the intricacies of the lingerie business, of which brassiere manufacture is the most exacting piece. She kept at it despite these hardships because she felt the company was the promise she made to her daughter from the outset.
Atima Lui and Nancy Madrid, Nudest: 2016
Best friends who met at Harvard Business School, Lui and Madrid wanted to create a business that solved a problem. As the children of immigrants, the women were accustomed to mainstream culture not addressing their needs. When discussing business ideas, they chose the idea of offering basic items, such as lingerie, expanded to include women of every color. Their goal, they said, was to help all girls and women feel beautiful.
Originally named Mia Pielle, Nudest chose six shades of “nude” by analyzing 87 photographs of women from around the world taken by skin tone artist Angelica Dass, cross referencing the Pantone SkinTone Guide, and utilizing the Fitzpatrick Scale developed by Harvard dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick.
Once a woman submits a picture of her skin, their website uses an algorithm to provide customer with “curated” range of products aimed at their skin color.
They don’t produce many products (although they have added bras of their own manufacture), but pull in products from existing brands (among them, the above companies) to coordinate with six identified “nude” skin shades. Lui’s brother Nyalia Lui designed the company’s NUDEMETER algorithm.
These five entrepreneurs are only the tip of the “nude” revolutionary iceburg. Other companies and products have begun to grapple with the rainbow of human skin tones over a wide range of products. We hope that their ambition will inspire more new designers!
(Also, come talk to us in the library about lingerie production and construction! We have lots of resources to help you.)