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Ade Hassan

Founder & Director • Nubian Skin

Ade Hassan is a fashion designer and entrepreneur, who started Nubian Skin, a company with nude-toned clothing and undergarments for darker skin tones.

Photo by David Cromer Photography

Arts & Apparel                        

What I like most now is the more creative side of things: creating campaigns, new designs, and coming up with how I want to present the brand and our products. We definitely listen to our customers. The first collection was very simple, and now we produce everything in Europe, so I can be more hands on. I’ll meet with suppliers and look at different patterns and fabrics. Having all that in mind, I sketch the lingerie I want, and then begin working with product developers, fitting samples, and patents, making necessary adjustments along the way.

Ade Hassan

Ade Hassan is a fashion designer and entrepreneur aiming to bring inclusivity to the undergarment industry. Born in the United Kingdom, she and her family moved around a lot, living in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and the United States at different points throughout her life. Growing up with a Nigerian family, Ade cites her early interest in patterns and color as having been sparked by the importance of fashion in her culture. She decided she wanted to be a businesswoman like her mom at an early age—specifically, to own and manage her own business. In her undergraduate studies at Duke University, Ade focused on the workings of economies in developing countries. Later, she earned a master’s degree in economic development at the SOAS University of London. After graduation, Ade gained experience working in banking and research, and then decided to take a year off to study sewing and fashion in Paris.

I could not find skin-toned lingerie or hose that actually matched my skin, so I decided to create it

Ade Hassan

In 2011, Ade came up with the idea for her own business. She wanted to create a lingerie company with nude-toned clothing that would match darker and more diverse skin tones than those offered by traditional “nude” undergarments. Ade went back to working in finance to build up her financial resources, and two years later, in 2013, she founded Nubian Skin. The road to success for Ade and her team has not always been easy or clear—from learning about marketing campaigns in the age of social media to custom dyeing all their fabrics, they haven’t let obstacles stop them from achieving their goals. Today, the company has formed partnerships and sold its products through major companies like Asos and Nordstrom, and it has received prestigious awards such as the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), awarded to Ade by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 for services to fashion.

Ade Hassan (left) with British musician Beverley Knight (right).

Photo by Reyhaan Day

Photo by Israel Peters for Xero

The Reality Of Reaching Your Goal

Ade Hassan is the founder of Nubian Skin, a clothing company that produces nude-toned lingerie and hosiery for women of color. In this TedX Talk, Ade shares how she became inspired to create inclusive undergarments after facing difficulty finding nude-toned options that actually matched her skin tone. Since starting the company, Nubian Skin has appeared in multiple fashion magazines, supplied the wardrobes of West End and Broadway productions; and provided the underpinnings for the Beyoncé Formation Tour.

Video produced by TEDx Peckham

PErsonal History

Photo courtesy of Nubian Skin

“Just Like My Mom”

“I was born in the UK; my childhood was pretty international and we moved around a lot, partially in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and the US. When I was really little, I wanted to be a doctor or a pop star, and as I got more conscious about things, I wanted to be a businesswoman, just like my mom. Owning my own business and managing it was always in the back of my head. I was quite good at math and also the creative side of things. I always loved fashion; it’s a part of my family’s everyday life and culture. Growing up, a lot of people used tailors and local fabrics, and I loved playing around with different patterns,” Ade said.

Economics of Entrepreneurship

“Having a family background that is Nigerian, I was very interested in how the economies of developing countries worked. That led to the classes I took, and what I chose to focus on, in my studies at Duke University,” Ade said.

For her undergraduate degree, Ade studied economics and English at Duke University. After earning her master’s degree in development economics from SOAS University of London, interning as an economic researcher at the marketing firm Excentra, studying sewing and fashion in Paris, and spending a year as a marketing consultant, she decided to start a business creating skin-toned lingerie for people of color.

Photo courtesy of NU People Magazine

Project: Nubian skin

Defining the End Goal

Nubian Skin was inspired by conversations between Ade and friends who were frustrated by the lack of nude clothing and undergarments made for women of color. She spent a full year creating the colors by talking to makeup counters for women of color, comparing swatches from Pantone’s skin tone library, and testing the shades against herself and friends. “Still today no fabric manufacturers have these colors, and they had to be custom dyed,” Ade said.

“I didn’t have any background at all outside of some sewing classes. It was a matter of defining the end goal, and plotting where you are now and the steps backwards. I needed a product and a website. I needed a developer, a factory, colors, fabrics, and I worked backwards one step at a time,” Ade said.

Ade hired an expert in intimate apparel manufacturing to help her navigate the complex world of the clothing industry. With her consultant’s guidance, she started attending trade shows and having face-to-face meetings with manufacturers to learn the business.

Photo by Israel Peters for Xero

Photo by Martha Ojo Photography

We took beautiful images showing different women, comfortable in their own skin, having fun, and wearing nude lingerie that matched their different skin tones. That combination had an emotional impact on people, especially Black and Brown women who could look at it and say ‘I can see myself.’

Ade Hassan

Going Viral

“There was no marketing plan at all, but we were really fortunate because we had social media and one of our images went viral,” Ade said.

In October 2014, Ade and her team launched the Nubian Skin website and posted a promotional photoshoot to Instagram. At the time, their account had around 50 followers; four weeks later, it had over 20,000. Today they’re at 147k and counting. The company’s success has continued to grow. Besides receiving an honor from the Queen of England, Nubian Skin also created the undergarments for Beyoncé and her dancers for the singer’s 2016 Formation concert tour.

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