Ade Hassan MBE., founder of Nubian Skin discusses fashion trends, colourism and entrepreneurship with The Psychology of Fashion Blog™
Shakaila: Many have referred to Nubian skin as ‘The New Nude’ do you think you’ve successfully reclaimed the word nude
Ade: I think in the industry there’s a long way to go. Traditionally if you go into a shop and you ask for something nude it will still be a certain type of nude. Even though we’re a small company, the campaign and the company has had an outsized impact on the industry because after we launched, about 6-12 months after, people starting doing different shades of nudes. They were adding mocha or maybe caramel to their collections or other companies were sprouting up, getting on that nude bandwagon. So, I definitely think we’ve had a huge impact on what ‘nude’ is seen as but I think there’s still a long way to go.
Shakaila: In numerous cultures, colourism can differentially effect a woman’s experience in education, jobs and in marriage markets, what do you think are some of the societal and psychological advantages of inclusive brands like Nubian Skin?
Ade: Well, I think it shows that no matter what colour you are its good to accept your colour as opposed to trying to fit into one mould. We know that colourism is alive and has a huge negative impact on people and that’s not just among black women, that’s Asian women – there are so many different cultures where that effects women and I think saying ‘actually, you’re perfect the way you are, you should embrace that and people should cater to your colour no matter what it is’ is a really powerful thing.
"....if somebody looks up and they see somebody who looks like them, or their mother on a billboard that’s a huge thing psychologically."
The global market for skin lightening is projected to reach $23 billion by 2020. How do you think the fashion industry can encourage people to embrace the skin that they’re in?
Ade: With skin lighteners, a lot of that is driven by trying to be a certain ideal. In a lot of countries, whether you’re in Africa or Asia, or even Latin America, you see on the billboards what the standard is right? A lot of times that is fairer skin maybe blonde hair, blue eyes, just pale and then of course when you’re seeing that as the image of beauty that effects some people psychologically as so they’re like ‘well I want to fit that standard of beauty’. If you have campaigns which are more diverse, if somebody looks up and they see somebody who looks like them, or their mother on a billboard that’s a huge thing psychologically. Even if people don’t necessarily feel like they’re inviting it, it can be subconscious.
The fashion industry and the industry at large in general just need to be a little bit more thoughtful and inclusive. Especially in markets where you have a bog-standard marketing campaign and you’re putting it in a different market. So, let’s say you’re taking this from the US and placing it in an African country maybe you think about tailoring it to them so people who see it could related to it more.
Shakaila: Have you had any personal experience with colourism?
Ade: Probably the one that comes to mind is when I was in high school in America and I remember there was a girl in my class and she, for whatever reason, always wanted to be like ‘oh you’re dark’. I was like well, I am what I am - it didn’t really bother me. I remember once there was a family picture and my friends were looking at it and she was like ‘oh you and your mum are the lightest in your family. But she said it in a way that was negative because she was always saying ‘you’re dark’. It was really bizarre and insidious. She was trying to be like ‘you’re this, you’re still dark overall’ and I was just like – you’re very strange. I had been raised not to think that way.
For me, it was really interesting to see someone try to make me feel bad because of the tone of my skin. She didn’t succeed but at the time I must have been around 15, 16 and understanding that for some people that is something that they use as a psychological weapon was a bit of an eye-opener.
"I remember in a trade show last year they were talking about trends and one of the trends were Different Skin Tones. I remember thinking that’s not a trend we don’t turn brown for the season and then turn back."
Shakaila: A Nubian Skin Campaign featuring a range of black models went viral and catapulted your brand into success. Reports suggest that in the Spring 2017 campaign there were still only a few instances of diversity. Why do you still think that is the case?
Ade: I think the campaign went really well because it was from the heart and it was saying to women of colour ‘this is for you, we’re thinking about you’. I think sometimes as is the case especially in fashion, people look at things as ‘trends’.
I remember in a trade show last year they were talking about trends and one of the trends were Different Skin Tones. I remember thinking that’s not a trend we don’t turn brown for the season and then turn back. Sometimes in fashion people are like ‘oh what’s hot right now and they think brilliant, let’s bring a bunch of black models in’ or maybe they’re like ‘oh its really cool to do an East Asian theme’. Fashion generally is very trend driven and people don’t quite grasp the difference between trend and something that’s just who people are.
Shakaila: What are some of the most challenging things about being a Black female entrepreneur?
Ade: To be 100% honest, I think it’s probably the same as any entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur with a small business means it’s all on you. It’s a lot of pressure. And the loneliness of it, you know the ins and the outs and people are like ‘wow this is great’ but you’re up to goodness-knows-what time, paying bills, trying to do these accounts. I think with being an entrepreneur because it’s like your baby you just take it to heart so much. You need to find a balance or some sort of coping mechanism to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well as your baby.
Shakaila: Describe the journey from hosiery and lingerie to Nubian Skins first footwear line.
Ade: The end of last year we thought it would be really cool to do shoes. It was something I had been thinking of for a long time but I had no idea where to start. I actually met a fellow entrepreneur and someone who was a shoe consultant and everything just slid into place. I knew exactly what shoe I wanted, we have classic heels, classic ballet flats. We had the colours already so it was just a matter of looking at a lot of leather swatches and several months later we launched the collection. It’s been really fun. We got super lucky with how everything turned out. It’s been a fun experiment, probably something that we’ll do on a limited-edition basis every year.
Shakaila: Will we see a Nubian Skin clothing collection in the future?
Ade: There is a lot of stuff that we’re working on, one of them being expanding our size range. There’s so many things that I’d love to do. It’s important for me to look at it from a strategic perspective and get the basics done first and grow at a healthy pace so – watch this space.
Shakaila: What tips would give to people entering the fashion industry without a stereotypical fashion background?
Visit Nubian Skin to see the collection in full.