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Nubian Skin Revisited: The State of Nude Lingerie Today

Nubian Skin Lingerie

Photo Courtesy of Nubian Skin. Photographer: Julia Underwood Photography.

After decades of ignorance, ambivalence, and outright hostility on the topic of nude underwear for darker skintones, the lingerie industry has recently undergone a complete (and completely unexpected) upheaval. Suddenly, brands that have never considered producing for or marketing to women of color are reconsidering their strategy and questioning conventional (read: conservative) knowledge. What's at stake? The possibility of being ignored by a rapidly growing --- and increasingly vocal --- segment of the lingerie market that wants options... and has trillions of dollars in purchasing power.

One brand can take the lion's share of credit for this transformation, and that's the British lingerie label Nubian Skin. Nubian Skin's meteoric rise from fringe fashion upstart to lauded industry darling is a modern-day Cinderella story. Never before has a new lingerie label risen so far, so fast. With barely a year under their belt, Nubian Skin has already started ripples the intimate apparel industry will feel for generations.

To call Nubian Skin's success "unprecedented" is not an overstatement. They've had the kind of year most lingerie brands can only dream of. After a veritable avalanche of press in September 2014 from The Daily Mail, The Independent, Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan UK, Allure, Fast Company, and The Telegraph (among others), Nubian Skin officially launched for business in October 2014. Even looking back a year later, I'm still astonished at how quickly the media embraced Nubian Skin and their mission. Not only is it rare for any fashion brand to get that much publicity without some serious PR spending (think back to Victoria's Secret flying journalists to London last year), the press was almost universally positive. Perhaps more importantly, this represented the beginning of the end for the tired industry rhetoric that women of color aren't interested in lingerie and that images featuring women of color aren't marketable.

Nubian Skin Bras

Photo Courtesy of Nubian Skin

In the months following their launch (practically the next day in industry terms), two major retailers, ASOS and Nordstrom, began stocking the brand, as did several smaller boutiques, including Bluestockings and Busted. In case you aren't familiar with the typical launch-to-stockist timeline, I can confirm this is highly unusual. Most retailers won't seriously look at a brand until it's been around for a minimum of two years (or four trade show seasons). To get picked up so quickly by so many retailers means Ade Hassan, the founder of Nubian Skin, had major interest and serious orders immediately after launch. That is incredible, and, once again, striking proof that this product was long overdue and in high demand.

Since then, Nubian Skin's star has continued to rise. Oprah Magazine, Elle, MTV, Mashable, NY Mag, and the LA Times have all featured the brand (though, interestingly, publications such as Vogue, WWD, The NY Times have not). In addition, celebrities like Thandie Newton and Kerry Washington have retweeted, shared, and otherwise supported the label. This is a company that is quite literally smashing barriers, and has almost single-handedly rewritten an industry narrative that's existed for generations.

Nubian Skin Lingerie holiday

Me when I first saw these bras in Nordstrom. Photo Courtesy of Nubian Skin.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't draw attention to some of the legitimate issues Nubian Skin has had since their debut, most of which center around fit and sizing. While Nubian Skin's size range is not small, especially for a self-funded indie, it does exclude a significant portion of their target demographic. The reason for this is simply that no brand can launch with --- or even make --- every size. The typical lingerie brand has to specialize in core, small bust, full bust, or plus sizes for manufacturing and stockist reasons, and for a new brand especially, getting to market and taking advantage of a limited window of opportunity can be more important than making sure everything is perfect. However, Nubian Skin has said from the very beginning that they plan to extend their size range, and as of May 2015, they've added A cups as well as 38 and 40 bands with plans to offer more.

Besides this, Nubian Skin also has some issues around their fit and pattern grading. While you can see how the bras fit from my mini-Instagram reviews below (unfortunately, it doesn't appear that I can both embed and center Instagram posts), what I'm most concerned about right now is the fit of the panties. Bras are finicky creatures and it takes time to get them right; for any brand to have impeccable fit immediately in a new style is rare. With that in mind, I found the knickers to be cut quite small, and I worry about the effect that could have on brand expansion, especially stateside. Even people who are currently unable to buy a bra might still buy a panty just to invest in or support the line. But at the moment, the panties wouldn't fit beyond a US 6 or 8. Despite all these concerns, however, the hosiery fits amazingly and looks gorgeous on the leg. I highly recommend giving it a try, especially as the weather grows colder in the Northern Hemisphere.

@nordstrom has @nubianskin!!!! I stopped by the flagship @nordstromsea store to see if might be on the floor (as opposed to just online), and the t-shirt bra, thong, and brief are all available to try. If you live near a #Nordstrom, I would say it's definitely worth stopping by to see these in person. Without getting into anything related to fit for the moment, I just want to say how exciting it is to walk into a store and see a shade of nude in a darker skintone. It's something so many people can take for granted, but if you have dark skin, you know how special this is. Now, for fit notes. After trying two different styles in this brand, I would say it runs very small. I'm a size 8/10 US in dresses, and the XL brief is too small for me. I think I may do better with the short, but I don't know. The cups of the bra as well run very small, and are a bit hard (for me) to fit. I tried a 34C (shown here), but was quadboobing and also spilling out of the outer edge. I tried a 34D next, but still had some spillage near the armpit. I tried a 34DD after that, and was enclosed within the wire but had extra space at the bottom of the cups. I don't think of myself as very hard to fit, and I know lingerie can take a few iterations to get right, so I'm interested to see if #NubianSkin plans to alter their patterns at all. So my recommendation would be to go up a couple of sizes. But for now, you can see what this looks like on a non-model body. Any thoughts? If you've had a chance to try this, what did you think?

A photo posted by Cora Harrington (@thelingerieaddict) on

While I want nothing more than for Nubian Skin to be the next major lingerie brand with stockists all over the world and features in every magazine, their greatest legacy may be how they've caused the entire lingerie industry to rethink how they market to women of color. For Nubian Skin to shoot their entire line on women of color, including a dark-skinned black woman, was revolutionary.

I know it may seem obvious, but bra and panty brands making darker nudes rarely (if ever) shoot them on darker skin. It's a very safe approach to marketing. Make the product you know people of color need, but don't potentially alienate anyone else by actually showing it on people of color. Yet in one fell swoop, brands that have "made do" with these half-hearted diversity attempts suddenly appear feeble and out of date. It's no longer enough for a brand to say their product is for women of color without also having the imagery to back it up. And Nubian Skin's viral success proves that when you use women of color in your marketing, women of color will buy, support, and promote your products.


Photo courtesy of Nubian Skin from their original campaign. This image was retweeted hundreds of times from my own Twitter account and many others.

herroom diversity

A recent lingerie campaign from HerRoom. This photo illustrates typical lingerie marketing.

Despite all their success, Nubian Skin's riskiest days are still ahead of them. The eyes of the industry --- both established brands and young startups --- have observed Nubian Skin's rise to the top and now want a piece of the metaphorical pie. In recent months, two new crowdfunding campaigns, Nudz and Buff You, have both met their target goals and will soon be producing lingerie in a wide range of nudes. Unlike Nubian Skin, neither line focuses explicitly on black women, which may be a response to complaints Nubian Skin has received for not using models of other ethnicities in their campaign.

Nudz Lingerie

Nudz Lingerie

Buff You Intimates

Buff You Intimates

Other, larger lingerie brands have also begun to dip their toe into offering a range of nudes for different complexions. Natori now has a Caramel shade in their classic Feathers line, which, which, while deeper than their Cafe color, is still not a dark nude. Curvy Kate has dropped the word "nude" from their bra colors, and renamed their skintone shades to Biscotti, Gold, Mocha, and Blush, respectively, with plans to add a Latte color soon.

Curvy Kate Daily Boost in Mocha

Curvy Kate Daily Boost in Mocha

In order to maintain their forward momentum, Nubian Skin will have to continue to innovate and be vigilant about building brand awareness. Companies like Natori and Curvy Kate have more resources, more factories, and more stockists than newer labels like Nubian Skin; they also have a longer fit history and a vast archive of bra and panty silhouettes to draw from. Nubian Skin's strength will be in their target customer identifying with and requesting their products directly, even if other brands offer similar items. However, the benefit to consumers is an extraordinary and as-yet-unheard-of level of choice.

For me, this is a very exciting time in lingerie history. Nubian Skin has met a need millions of women have had for decades. They are the Fashion Fair, the BlackUp Cosmetics, the Essence Magazine of the lingerie industry. To have succeeded so incredibly in such a short period of time is deeply validating to everyone who has ever asked, "Where's my nude?" I'm excited about their future and the changes they're bringing to the lingerie industry. To quote Victor Hugo, it's "an idea whose time has come."

I certainly haven't unpacked everything there is to say about Nubian Skin or the future of nude lingerie, so what do you have to say? Do you have any thoughts on the brands featured here? What do you think of the changes that are happening in the industry? And if you've had the chance to try their products, what are your impressions?

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.