What it’s really like to run a lingerie line for women of colour

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Ade Hassan is the founder and CEO of Nubian Skin, a lingerie company for women of colour. 

Hassan, 34, lives in Belsize Park with her husband. Here, she talks us through her daily diary.

My alarm goes off…

At 6.30am. It can change if I’m catching a flight – I travel once a month to places such as Los Angeles and New York, holding showrooms for customers. If I’m home, I work out then have eggs for breakfast. I wear trousers from Zara and a bright top for work.

I try to leave home at 8.30am but can get so engrossed with emailing manufacturers and stockists that it’s 11am before I do.

I’m responsible for…

Running a lingerie company for women of colour. I don’t have bra-making skills but I’ll design products and help create them with manufacturers. Nubian Skin ships worldwide; we’re stocked in House of Fraser, Fenwick of Bond Street and Asos, as well as retailers in the US, Nigeria and Caribbean.

No other brands were doing this when we started, so it’s been interesting to see a change. I don’t think we will see equality until Asian, black and mixed-race women can walk into any shop and find nudes in any tone that a white woman could.

A product rail at Nubian Skin HQ 

I got the job…

After always wanting to be
an entrepreneur. I worked in consulting. I could never find underwear in my skintone and I realised this was my business idea. I went into finance to raise money for three years, then registered the company in 2013.

It grew by word of mouth; we got a lot of press, and in 2016 Beyoncé asked us to make underwear for her Formation tour dancers. 

My typical day…

Begins by writing a to-do list that breaks my day into 30-minute increments. There are three of us on the team, so you’re in danger of being overwhelmed unless you manage your time. If we’re going to a trade show or are launching a collection, I’ll be chasing suppliers.

When we’re designing, I look at customer feedback to see what they want. I had to create our skintone samples from scratch when the company launched – suppliers didn’t have nudes for brown and black skin. I’ll go back and forth until I’m happy with
the samples, then test them on a model. This all takes around six weeks.

For lunch I have salmon or chicken from the night before. Then I organise photoshoots or meet retailers who want to stock our products. I do a comparative shop to see what else is on offer and the trends in lingerie; we’ve seen demand for larger cup sizes, and increased ours to GG. I leave between 7.30pm and 8.30pm.

My most memorable moment…

Was receiving an MBE for services to fashion. My sister opened the letter and I burst into tears. It was so unexpected and amazing. 

One of Hassan’s fashion awards 

The worst part of my job…

Is that for every wonderful thing there is something that knocks you down. It’s a constant cycle.

The best part of my job…

Is being at the forefront of a movement that was needed. Customers emailing to express their love for us is priceless.

After work…

I have dinner – something with protein, such as sea bass and roasted vegetables – and then answer international emails.
My husband and I curl up on the sofa and catch up on our days before going to bed at 11pm.

My Plan B: accessories entrepreneur

I think I’d still run a business – it’s in my blood as both my parents are entrepreneurs. Most likely it would be in fashion, such as accessories inspired by, and hopefully produced in, Nigeria. There are so many exciting things happening there – we have a very rich textiles history.

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Photography: Sarah Brimley