Brief essentials: The solution to Nigeria’s untapped online lingerie and underwear marketplace

As at 2010, Nigeria’s growing online landscape was missing a lingerie and underwear destination with a variety of options, which will also educate Nigerians on their appropriate sizes.

It was also important that more women begin to see their lingerie as a fashion statement, and also have easy access to great underwear, lingerie and shapewear without breaking the bank.

Brief Essentials was that solution we were all waiting for. It was the solution to Nigeria’s untapped online lingerie and underwear marketplace.

Seun Tayo-Balogun – the CEO of Brief Essentials and Lead Consultant at Techmonks Limited (a business solutions provider leveraging technology recounts how she maximized her experience in e-commerce and digital ventures, strategy, research, media and communication, and web authoring, to change Nigeria’s online landscape.

Until January 2015, Seun was the Head, Research and Strategy at Kakawa Discount House (now FBN Merchant Bank).


How did Brief Essentials come about?

There was a time in Nigeria when many retailers focused on electronics, fashion merchandising, shoes etc, but lingerie was not given the attention it deserved. Lingerie was mostly sold in brick and mortar stores, as well as the second-hand market.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, lingerie options at this time were limited and mostly overpriced, or of questionable quality.

We’re here to change how women view themselves and restore confidence to many homes - @briefessentials Click To Tweet

Equipped with this knowledge and the determination to make a difference and meet the needs of the Nigerian market, Brief Essentials set out as an online lingerie store to cater to the needs of everyone, in addition to providing lingerie education and highlighting the importance of fit, style, and function of undergarments using digital platforms.

Brief Essentials launched in April 2011 and since then have revolutionized lingerie and underwear shopping in Nigeria’s budding online marketplace.

As an industry pioneer, Brief Essentials delivers unparalleled and top range products that fit your specific body shape and that’s right for any kind of fashion ensemble (featuring up to 50 world’s best brands, over 5000 SKUs) at the best prices you can find in Nigeria.

Brief Essentials has successfully helped other lingerie stores get started – by providing merchandise, branding, store set-up, insider training and 360 degrees consulting to new lingerie startups in Nigeria.

Aside retailing other brands, brief essentials launched it’s shapewear and active line in 2017 with a goal to continuously combine its ethos of function, fit and affordability.

What makes Brief Essentials stand out?

Brief Essentials was founded on the belief that:

  • Great lingerie should not only be affordable but accessible.
  • Brief Essentials offers lots of options for everyone. This way you won’t have to settle for what you can find, but what you truly want.
  • The fit is always more important than the fashion. Our promise is to blend fit, function, and fashion.
  • Our lingerie pieces are affordable and our quality continues to be top notch.
  • We give loads of lingerie education in addition to using our platforms to empower and inspire. We recently concluded a campaign in March 2018, with the theme #PowerWithin which focused on the need for women to pay attention to who they are. The inspiring and powerful messages from the women we featured can be found on our blog.

Tell us 5 things women need to know and understand about their undergarments and lingerie.

  • You should wash your bra more often than you think.
  • There is a lingerie piece for every shape, every need and occasion and one Bra doesn’t do all the job.
  • Hand washing is still the best way to care for your lingerie and undergarments.
  • Most bra issues are from the band when your band size is wrong, everything will be wrong. The band provides 80% of support in a bra and not the straps.
  • You would not wear a shoe that does not fit, same should apply to undergarments. Buying a bra especially is a very important purchase, we owe it to ourselves as women to find bras that fit, and to get lots of them. Finding a bra that fits, for me, is part of knowing our bodies and embracing the totality of who we are.

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Double Dees: All women need to own lingerie

double dees she leads africa

We have to admit, we’re kinda envious that Kenyan ladies get to enjoy first picks of the gorgeous lingerie from Double Dees. Double Dees is a Kenyan-based lingerie company that grew from the need to solve the problem of good underwear for busty gals.

Double Dees exclusively focuses on providing high quality, alluring and affordable intimate apparel and swimwear for ladies with large busts. We’re talking DD+ cup size. The four friends behind the company; Charity Migwi, Constance Tipis, Stella Langat, and Wanjiru Njoroge are slowly changing African women’s view of underwear.

Here, they debunk myths about underwear (did you know the initial reason behind thongs and G-strings?) and working with more than one co-founder. We’re now sold on why we shouldn’t be wearing mismatched underwear.

We have to ask, what does the statement on your website ‘Hiyo size yako hatubebi’ or ‘Hiyo size yako hakunanga’ mean?

This is Swahili for “We don’t carry that in your size”; a statement always made by bra vendors when you ask them for a bra that is DD+ cup size.

What four things do African women get wrong when it comes to underwear?

1. Out of sight, out of mind!

Our conservative African culture greatly influences African women’s view of underwear.

At a young age, African girls are made to deprioritize underwear as just a piece of clothing that must remain concealed.

Most carry this perspective into adulthood where the term “lingerie” becomes yet another abstract concept.

2. Does it work?

Many African ladies wear underwear out of necessity. Their primary concern is that the panty conceals while the bra supports.

This is unlike Western ladies who wear underwear as fashionable, statement pieces.

3. Classy vs. trashy war!

Many African ladies are torn between the “classy vs. trashy war” when shopping for underwear. This emanated from misconceptions about specific types of underwear.

For example, thongs and G-strings are regarded by most, as trashy underwear. While in essence, they were designed to help give women wearing light-fabric garments a seamless look.

4. The cost-benefit analysis!

Why invest in a piece of clothing that is concealed 85% of the time? This is a universal problem. Many ladies are unable to think beyond the financial aspect when shopping for underwear.

They fail to recognize the psychological benefits of wearing high-quality, alluring underwear.

double dees set

Let’s talk about #BraTales. Why did you start this?

#BraTales is a platform we created for ladies with DD+ cup size to share their personal bra-shopping experiences.

These stories capture humorous to heart-wrenching bra-shopping experiences that every busty lady can relate to.

What are your favourite kinds of lingerie? What kind of lingerie should every woman have regardless of size?

Do we really have to decide? We think every woman needs to own all of them. However, if we really had to choose, we would confine ourselves to these five basic styles: chemise (slip), babydoll, corset/bustier, garters, and matching bra-panty.

Although, similar in appearance, chemises and babydolls differ in functionality. A chemise can be worn under regular clothing or as a nightwear whereas a babydoll serves a more sexy/flirtatious function.

A corset (bustier) cinches one’s waist while garters hold up one’s thigh-high stockings. None of these competes with the regular old matching bra and panty set.

We think Marylin Monroe’s popular phrase should have been, “Give a lady sexy lingerie, and she will rule the world.”

A real lady knows not to leave the house wearing mismatched underwear ☺.

There are four of you, how do you effectively manage your business? Any tips on working with more than one co-founder?

We learnt earlier on that having and remaining true to a common goal was pertinent to managing our business effectively. We capitalize on each individual’s strengths, as these compensate for our unique weaknesses.

Charity handles the company’s finances, Constance sales and marketing, Stella external affairs, while Ciru handles design and production.

We have three tips;

  1. Respect is pivotal to acknowledging each person’s opinions, especially when these opinions contradict one’s own.
  2. Democracy in voting on any decision affecting the overall standing of the company.
  3. Demarcation of roles; splitting responsibilities ensures that each founder remains accountable for a specific function of the organization.

double dees 1

Tell us about your Bra’nch. What was the process of starting that and how well was it received?

We held our first Bra’nch on the 6th of August, 2016, as a way of showing appreciation to our repeat and new clients.

We plan to make it a Double Dee’s tradition by hosting one every alternate month, as it was a hit with our clientele. Each Bra’nch will have a different twist, so be on the look out for us on October 1.

Can you give us a sneak peek into your first exclusive collection? What can Kenyan ladies expect?

“The Founder’s Collection” will feature pieces that reflect each founder’s personal style.

Charity’s style embodies her work hard, play hard attitude, whereas Constance’s style reflects her flirty-adventurous persona.

On the other hand, Stella’s style is playful yet elegant while Ciru’s style is more demure and functional.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.


Lingerie, going viral and Beyoncé: 10 tips for building a global brand

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

ade hassan nubian skin shehive london
The bosslady herself, Ade Hassan

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.

Beyonce performs during the Formation World Tour at Marlins Park on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images)

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.