Today I'm so excited to bring you an interview with my colleague and former Duke classmate, Ade Hassan. She is the founder of Nubian Skin, a nude lingerie line for women of color.
Let's jump right in.
Pollard Financial Coaching: First of all Ade, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your educational background? Anything that you think would be useful to know about your life before founding Nubian Skin.
Ade Hassan: I was born in the UK, and have grown up in a few different places including Nigeria, England and the U.S. I went to university at Duke, later returning to the UK to complete my masters at SOAS. Prior to Nubian Skin, I was actually working in the finance industry, mainly in private equity. Prior to going full time on NS, it was a tough balancing act. The work I was doing is client-focussed, so the hours are demanding, but when you’re incredibly excited about something, waking up early and going to bed late doesn’t seem like such a chore.
PFC: I think the concept of a lingerie/hosiery brand for women of color is brilliant. How did you come up with the idea? Was it born out of necessity – that is to say, did you want some “nude” lingerie for yourself and couldn’t find any?
AH: Thank you! Nubian Skin was essentially born out of frustration. I wanted a product that I couldn’t find in shops, so I decided to create it. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who felt the same way. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I’ve always wanted my business to be fashion related. I had several ideas in the past and a few that I looked into moving forward with, but ultimately when this idea came into my head, it truly stuck. I realised it was something I needed and was so essential, that it had to be something other women of colour would want. The thing that really gave me the push I needed was receiving a card from my friend which said “It’s time to start living the life you have always imagined,” so I decided to do just that.
PFC: Once you came up with the idea, what was your very next step that you took?
AH: It took me two years from the concept to creating the company, and another year and a half till I actually launched. The first two years were brainstorming and planning.
PFC: How did you come up with the name Nubian Skin?
AH: I wanted something which really spoke to the history and significance of dark skin, so I chose Nubian. I had originally thought of Nubian Nude, but that can be very tricky when it comes to internet searches, ‘Skin’ just worked.
PFC: Where did you come up with the startup capital to begin Nubian Skin? Was it personal savings or did you have investors?
AH: The company was self-funded. All friends and family.
PFC: Do you have a background in fashion? Sewing?
AH: My career prior to Nubian Skin has been very finance focused, although I did take a year break from work several years ago when I took sewing and pattern cutting classes.
PFC: Who created the first prototype of the lingerie that you sell? Did you put it together yourself?
AH: The designs are quite basic, so design-wise it’s not too complicated. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, so I worked directly with the manufacturer to create the design, colours and look that I wanted.
PFC: You’re very young to be the CEO of a company that has an international footprint/presence. Did you face any hurdles in terms of getting your product in stores being so young?
AH: I haven’t faced issues being young, but more with being a young company. The biggest hurdle to overcome at the start was finding a good quality manufacturer, and as a new and small business, a lot of manufacturers simply didn’t respond to queries, and others were looking for incredibly high volumes, so it was tricky.
PFC: Did you or do you have any mentors who helped point you in the right direction when you were just starting out? If so, how often do you speak to them?
AH: My parents are both entrepreneurs and they have such a wealth of experience. I speak to them almost every day. Getting good advice is incredibly important especially if you're new to an industry, so I found a great consultant at the start, and continue to consult with her regularly.
PFC: What’s a typical workday like for you? In the beginning stages of forming a company, is there any work-life balance or is it all
AH: There is no typical day. Usually as soon as I wake up I look through emails on my phone. Then I’ll check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see what people have said - it’s a great way to get direct feedback from customers or potential customers.
After that, I head to the office to really get started. I'll have different priorities each day, whether that’s meetings, changing something on the website, logistics, finance, coming up with new ideas, visiting a manufacturer or helping to process different orders.
PFC: What role does social media play in your company?
AH: Social media has been amazing for us, and it's how we got the word out. It really allows us to get a feel for our customers, what they want and what they love. It also gives Nubian Skin the chance to showcase its personality, communicate and gather feedback which is incredibly valuable.
PFC: What do you consider your biggest achievement in the company? What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made within the company?
AH: I’d say that the biggest achievement getting this out there, and to have major retailer pick it up shows how important it is to cater to under-served customers. I haven't made any detrimental mistakes, and hopefully I won't. I learn so much each day.
PFC: What CEO or person in general inspires you to do what you do?
AH: My family. They are wonderful. My mother is an incredible woman, and my father cannot do enough for his family. They are both entrepreneurs, and they’ve set a great example for me.
PFC: When you were in college, did you ever think that you would be spearheading an international lingerie company?
AH: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Lingerie was never a thought though.
PFC: What are three major things that you’ve learned as a result of running your own business?
AH: 1) I can handle a lot more stress than I thought.
2) It is incredibly important to have a great support base.
3) You have to be grateful.
PFC: What advice would you give to those who are interested in starting their own company?
AH: Firstly, it’s really important to research your idea to make sure that whatever it is, it’s valid. Make sure you really believe in the idea especially if you’re working in another job. If you’re up at 2 am or 4 am working on this, then you want to believe in it. You also need to be willing to work really hard. Everybody who is going to start something anticipates that it’s going to be difficult, and that it’s going to be hard, but it will be so much more difficult and so much harder than you can prepare yourself for. And also – have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will?
PFC: What are the downsides of being an entrepreneur? The perks?
AH: One downside is the element of risk! The biggest perk is that you’re working on something you love!
PFC: Why’d you decide to headquarter the company in England as opposed to the United States? How big is the market for lingerie for women of color in England and Europe?
AH: I decided to headquarter in London because this is where I live. The market for lingerie for women of colour is big here, but the US is definitely key.
PFC: Are you looking to eventually open up stores in the United States?
AH: We'll have to see how it goes, but it would be amazing.
PFC: Your collection was recently picked up by Nordstrom’s in America and was made available in stores in Portugal. What was the process of forging those business relationships like?
AH: It takes a lot of perseverance, particularly when you’re a new company!
Tradeshows have been good for us because it's a chance to meet all sorts of buyers.
PFC: Your four signature colors are “Berry”, “Cinnamon”, “Caramel”, and “Café Au Lait”. Do you have plans to come out with any other hues? Can you look at a woman and automatically tell what “flavor” would best suit her?
AH:We don’t currently have any plans to come out with any hues – although we would look into it if the demand was there, but for now these four colours work really well. I do tend to have a good idea of which “flavor” would suit each woman best – after all I did spend a year coming up with the colours!
PFC: Thanks so much again, Ade, and best of luck to you and your company!