Sometimes, inspiration comes from unexpected places, and simple ideas can have a tremendous impact. For Ade Hassan, a young British businesswoman with a financial background in private equity, a single stroke of inspiration in 2011 led her to launch her own lingerie and hosiery company in 2014 called Nubian Skin.
The company produces ‘nude’ undergarments for women of color.
“The concept was really born out of my own frustration,” says Hassan. “As a woman of color, it wasn’t possible for me to find my own ‘nude,’ and I knew there were countless other women out there who had the same problem.”
More than just a good idea
Hassan knew she had a good idea, but she also knew that a successful business requires much more than just a good idea.
“I needed some time to really work on saving startup capital and fleshing out the idea,” she says. “Once I started going, it took me a further year and a half to get the product ready to launch. It’s one thing to have an idea in your head, and quite another to actually execute.”
For Hassan, that time was spent creating custom colors, finding manufacturers, shooting product, creating the infrastructure to run an e-commerce business and learning about the lingerie industry. Hassan also took the time to properly educate herself about every aspect of running an e-commerce business.
But then something amazing happened. Images from Nubian Skin’s initial campaign photo shoot were posted on Instagram and quickly went viral. Within four weeks, the brand had over 20,000 followers. Then, actress Kerry Washington tweeted about the product.
The buzz quickly caught the attention of major retailers and soon, Hassan was signing deals with the British online retailer Asos and department store Nordstrom.
“Asos had seen our initial campaign image go viral, so they reached out to us before we’d launched, which was incredible,” Hassan says. “We met Nordstrom at a trade show. When I started the business, I hadn’t thought much about wholesale as I thought we would only be e-commerce focused. It meant I had to learn about how to operate in wholesale pretty quickly.”
Finding her feet
Hassan is no stranger to hard work. As the daughter of two business entrepreneurs, she was raised in Britain and Nigeria, speaking both English and Yoruba. She studied English and economics at Duke University and earned a master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. When she decided to take a year off from her career in the private-equity business to take sewing and pattern cutting classes, her parents were supportive. They knew all about the perils of entrepreneurship.
For women and minorities in business, there are always obstacles to overcome, but Hassan was inspired by some sage advice. “My mother, who is an entrepreneur herself, asked me: ‘What do you want? Because you can walk away at any point, so you need to make a decision.’ That really brought it home to me that, ultimately, we decide how far we want to go, and thinking about that drives me every day.”