The first #SheHive London event took place this August, with inspiring talks from some of the most interesting speakers in the city. One of them was Ade Hassan, founder of Nubian Skin.
From starting her career in banking to running one of the most popular new lingerie brands for women of colour, Ade’s journey is just beginning. At #SheHiveLondon, she talked about making the shift from corporate life to entrepreneurship, going viral and having her products worn on Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour. Not bad for a brand that’s only a few years old, huh?
1. Even if you’re not in your dream job, there’s still so much you can learn…
Ade started her career in banking and management consultancy. While she enjoyed it at the beginning, her mind was always filled with new business ideas. As she started to pursue her Nubian Skin dream, it got more and more difficult to concentrate at work but she soldiered on.
Looking back, starting her career in the corporate world taught her lessons that remain relevant as a founder: professionalism and the ability to work hard no matter what.
When you’re building a global brand, challenges and mistakes are part of the territory; so being able to keep your cool, avoid burning bridges and perseverance pay off.
2. But eventually you have to put your money where your mouth is
Making the move from employee to entrepreneur isn’t an easy one and for a long time, Ade bounced between the ‘should I’ and ‘shouldn’t I’ question: can I really exchange the comfort of a safe corporate job for the stormy waters running my own business?
It wasn’t an easy question to answer, until a friend reminded her that putting your dreams on hold only leads to regret. And that’s what helped her leap into the unknown and pursue the Nubian Skin vision. So far, it seems to be paying off.
No risk, no reward
3. Invest in yourself
Although Ade was a fashion-enthusiast, she had no formal work experience or education in the industry. In order to fill that knowledge gap, she made what she describes as one of the best investments so far: hiring a lingerie consultant.
The consultant gave her a crash course in the industry, complete with best practices and things to avoid along the way. She also advised her to attend a trade show which would gave her exposure to potential buyers and stockists.
But remember; always be smart and protect your brand through confidentiality agreements. Imitation might be the best form of flattery but it’s also the best way to kill your business before it ever gets off the ground.
4. Never compromise on your vision
When Ade started, creating lingerie for women of colour wasn’t exactly the most tried and tested thing in the world. There’s was no rulebook on which shades worked best, so Ade had to get creative.
She took trips to beauty counters to understand which brown hues were the most popular, and spent hours improving samples from manufacturers by staining them with teabags to get the shade just right.
She didn’t take the first outcome as the final one. She tried again and again until the final product met her standards.
5. Get social
Unless you’ve been living on Mars, you have probably heard about the ‘power of social media’. But what does that really mean? After Ade finished her very first photoshoot, she posted one of the pictures on Twitter and went on holiday (#jetlife).
Within a few days her phone was blowing up, the picture had gone viral and the Nubian Skin fanclub began. When asked whether her social media strategy has changed since then, Ade said not so much, the strategy remains the same: produce high-quality, exciting and relatable content.
When you do this the support comes rolling in and in the case of Nubian Skin, it caught the attention of Queen Bey. Yes, you read right, BEYONCÉ. Nubian Skin was worn on the Formation World Tour.
THAT’S the power of social media right there.
6. Playing in the big leagues ain’t easy
Not only did Nubian Skin go viral with customers, but it has also ended up on the radar of major retailers like ASOS and Nordstrom. It’s easy to get excited by those household names and think it’s all fun and games… but it ain’t.
Whether you’re a startup business or not, large retailers have strict rules on how much you can produce but the money isn’t always immediate.
This can be tough on startups who don’t have loads of cash to make large stock; so you have to think creatively about what you can offer and negotiate where possible.
7. Make sure all bases are covered, and get help where it really matters
Speaking of money, the mula, those dollars, all businesses need to keep themselves cash flow positive (i.e. have spare cash for major purchases and emergencies).
Ade knew that she couldn’t do it all, so she hired a friend as her CFO, someone to sort out her accounts and help her avoid bankruptcy. Admitting that you don’t know it all isn’t always easy, but it is the first step to success: once you’ve identified your strengths and your weaknesses you can take steps to make sure that you’ve got it covered.
8. Don’t underestimate yourself
While investing in the essentials is important, doing as much as you can by yourself will also help you save those precious coins. By moving distribution and packing in-house (i.e. doing it within the company, instead of hiring another company to do it), Ade was able to save, save, save.
We tend to underestimate how much we can do, but if we challenge ourselves a bit and take responsibility we’d be surprised by just how much we can achieve.
Also, think about what other sources there may be that can help you out. For example in the UK, organisations like UKFT (UK Fashion & Textiles Association) and UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) provide all sorts of advice and financial support.
While its not always the same on the continent, there are so many accelerators around to help all you #MotherlandMoguls on the continent.
9. Make sure you have the right support system around you
The entrepreneur road is an exciting, but Lord knows it can be rough, even for the strongest of us.
Ade’s circle of family and friends helped her to stay the course during the most challenging times. Having positive, honest and encouraging voices that talk sense into you will help you to keep perspective.
10. Keep the copycats away by sticking to your guns
As we said, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but it can also kill a startup. When the large retailers saw the waves that Nubian Skin was making, they rushed to release their own ‘mocha’-toned lingerie products.
And yes, they have bigger teams and more money, but what Ade has found is that establishing a strong ethos and sense of identity in your brand is what will help you beat the competition, no matter how big they are.
Being a black-owned business helps too, and Nubian Skin has gained strong support from the black community worldwide.