I am not entirely sure where to start with this post.
I could start by describing the excitement when I finally bought hosiery in my skin tone. I could start by describing how inspiring it is seeing a woman of colour redefine the marketplace in an industry. Maybe I should begin by describing the thrill when I learnt Ade was going to share some business insights with me…. I was so chuffed.
I’ll just get right to it.
Ade Hassan, a member of the order of the British Empire, Fashion Entrepreneur of the year and UKs favourite British designer of the year award winner is the founder at Nubian Skin, a company with a carefully edited collection of Lingerie and hosiery providing the essential underwear needs of women of colour. Available at Nordstrom, House of Fraser, Bravissimo and other big brand stockists in the UK and Internationally. Nubian Skin has gone from strength to strength since it officially launched in 2014 and has received interest from celebrities like Beyonce, Thandie Newton and Beverly Knight.
On her immediate thoughts when her first photoshoot for Nubian Skin went viral – “I was shocked. I didn’t fully understand how it all worked because I wasn’t big on social media. At the time, Nubian Skin had a Tumblr and an Instagram page that had about fifty followers from random images. It was our first product photo. I didn’t think anything of putting up the image of the four girls wearing our product. I actually went on holiday directly after but my phone kept buzzing. I was shocked and amazed just to get one hundred followers. By the end of the week, we had a thousand followers. I started to feel anxious because I didn’t really understand what was happening. At the end of four weeks, we reached twenty thousand followers and the press started picking it up. Kerry Washington retweeted a post that Self Magazine had done on us and we were on DailyMail. And, all of a sudden, it was everywhere. And it was insane because we didn’t have products to sell yet. We didn’t even have a proper website up”
“My name is Ade Hassan and I’m the founder of Nubian Skin. I was born in the UK, but my family is Nigerian. I grew up all over the world, in the UK, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the US. After I finished my masters I ended up in Banking, which was something I had been interested in doing, but ultimately, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, so I guess it’s in my blood. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I’ve always had an affinity for fashion”
TSG: When you founded Nubian Skin, you were addressing a gap in the market for women of colour. How did you get past any reservations or concerns you had as to whether your idea would become successful? What sort of research did you do and what support did you have?
Ade: I did a lot of research and discovered that what I was looking for simply wasn’t available. This was a great starting point that validated my idea. After that I did a lot of testing and research amongst my friends and family. I also did a lot of research at make up counters that catered to women of colour to find out the most popular hues. Once I had that information, it was a huge process of refining these colours with the factories. I had no idea how to find a manufacturer or how to break into the industry, so I hired a consultant who introduced me to tradeshows which was incredibly helpful.
TSG: What are the key areas you focus on in your business, in other words when you review your business metrics what areas are you concentrating on first before others?
Ade: Sales are incredibly important because that’s what really makes or breaks a business. We also take a look at our social media metrics, customer data and google analytics to get an idea of who our customers are, their behaviour and location etc. Another important area of focus is cost – it’s important to repeatedly analyse what you are paying for/whether it’s necessary/where it’s possible to reduce cost, because if there is a problem, you want to fix it immediately.
TSG: During your TEDx talk on “The reality of reaching your goal” you mentioned bored, frustrated and annoyed as really good motivators when you’re trying to figure out what to do next, a lot of women can relate to this, the question is when they figure out what to solve for, what do they do next?
Ade: For me it was figuring out what my end goal was (launching my e-commerce website) and then plotting backwards to where I was and figuring out every single step that was needed to get me to my goal. Then it was a matter of putting one foot in front of another one step at a time.
TSG: You’ve talked about switching jobs when you figured out your business idea and moving into equity finance in the corporate world because you needed to save a lot of money. In a time where women aren’t getting a lot from venture capitalists, is bootstrapping the way to go and a more effective option for female entrepreneurs?
Ade: I moved from consulting into working for a private equity placement agent, which I really enjoyed and it enabled me to save a good amount. Bootstrapping worked for me, but it has its pros and cons. I do think fundraising is also a very good option, and I think it’s important for women to keep seeking finance from angels and ventures because there are so many amazing ideas out there that are deserving of finance.
TSG: Obtaining Trademarks and Copyrights are essential to protecting your brand , in your experience at what point will you advise entrepreneurs to consider this and make it a top priority above everything else they must execute to scale their business?
Ade: It’s one of the first things you should do!
TSG: On manufacturing and bringing your product to life what advise will you give entrepreneurs when sourcing manufacturers and vendors for a product?
Ade: Figure out what is going to work for you.Do you need to do a smaller production run (which will be more expensive) or are you producing large quantities (which may be cheaper)? Find a vendor or manufacturer who you have good communication with because communication is key. Finally, do your research, visit the factory to make sure it’s being produced in an ethical way.
TSG: Nubian Skin is stocked in Europe, Africa, the US and Caribbean, what challenges have you had operating in International markets and how have you overcome them?
Ade: Communication and figuring out logistics are important. Some of it is trial and error, it’s just a matter of refining your methods and figuring out what works.
TSG: Looking back on your journey as an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to women starting their business journey today?
Ade: If you’ve got an idea you’d like to bring to life, 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 4:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m. 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?
TSG: There are so many products and services out there today, the internet has made it easy for everyone to start a business, what marketing advise will you give to small business owners so they can rise above the crowd?
Ade: I would say that good imagery is key – make sure your photos stand out and are of the highest quality. There’s nothing worse than visiting a website with grainy, low-res images. I would also say it’s important to do your research, make sure your idea is valid and be prepared to work really hard!
TSG: Finally on collaborations and Partnerships, how has this helped your business and what advice can you share with budding female entrepreneurs looking to engage in partnerships that can help grow their business?
Ade: We occasionally collaborate with influencers and bloggers to create content. It’s really important that the people we work with appreciate our ethos and that the partnerships are as organic as possible. I would say that collaborations and partnerships can be a great way to widen your audience, but make sure that you also think about return on investment and whether the money you spend is going to be worthwhile.
To see more of Nubian Skin and place an order visit the Nubian Skin Website
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Dee is a mum, business transformation coach and brand strategist. She has worked with Fortune 500 businesses on executing multi million dollar projects. She teaches Startups how to effectively launch and grow their business.