What does the word ‘nude’ mean to you?
Growing up as a black woman in Australia, for intimates brand SHADIE BY EA founder Esther Adeyinka, the label ‘nude’ or ‘blush’ on fair-skinned products felt like a dig - a reminder that even though she called Australia home, she was near-invisible to the brands that dressed its residents.
Sure, those ‘nude’ bras, underwear and tights would match the skin tone of plenty of other Australian women, but it was so far from her own skin colour.
It came into clear focus when Adeyinka was studying at university in 2018 and had been invited to travel overseas for a university competition. She needed to dress “like a lawyer on Suits”, and that meant finding stockings that matched her skin tone.
“I really wanted to look the part, so I’m going to get a pair of skin-toned stockings,” the 25-year-old told Yahoo Finance.
“I walked to Woolworths, because you can buy them there for $8, but there was only beige and tan - not my tan. I looked online and I wanted it quite quickly, so I was looking within Australia.”
She couldn’t find anything, even after changing the search terms to ‘dark skin-toned’ stockings.
“I walked into Myer and couldn’t find anything. I went to all of the places where you would normally find them.”
But she couldn’t find them, in the same way she’d always struggled to find a strapless bra that matched her skin, or sockettes that weren’t glaringly white against her feet.
It triggered a shift in mindset, with Adeyinka always on the hunt for skin-toned stockings whenever she went shopping.
At 3:00am, a few weeks later, Adeyinka decided she would take control and launch a company.
“If no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it,” she thought.
It led to the launch of skin-toned intimates company SHADIE BY EA in 2018.
Today, Adeyinka is part of a growing group of young, black, female entrepreneurs changing the Australian fashion and beauty industry.
Filling a need
Adeyinka never owned products that matched her skin tone until she began producing her own intimates.
She’s baffled that it’s taken this long for companies to cater to different skin tones - it doesn’t just make sense socially, but financially.
“Economically it makes sense to talk about these things,” she said.
“There’s so much money to be made if you include people from different backgrounds. I was dumbfounded - I was thinking, ‘Why has nobody done this? There’s so many people who will literally throw money at you if you give them what they want’.”
Zarah Garbrah, founder of curl and textured hair education platform , has found that many stylists and members of the industry lack a proper knowledge of different curl types, although it is improving.
The 24-year-old launched her business in 2015 as a means to accelerate the change, and provide a community for people of colour and Black people with textured hair.
Since then, it’s taken off. Embrace Your Frizzique has launched collaborations with Converse, hosted events like Fro’z N Beatz, which featured Black, female DJs and live art, and has been followed on Instagram by Beyonce’s stylist, Vernon Francois.
Melbourne-based Garbrah has had an “interesting journey” with her hair.
“In the beginning, as much as I was giving out advice and experimenting with products and allowing people to see what those products were doing on my hair, it was also a matter of me learning about my hair and my identity,” she said.
“I think because I was experimenting with the products so much, I became almost like a guinea pig in a sense. I was experimenting and forming a relationship with my hair that I felt wasn’t too healthy because I was looking at almost a disconnect.”
She had to remember that she was bigger than her hair, and that her hair didn’t define her - even though it was the core feature of the business and community she was building.
The risks and rewards of having a business tied closely to a personal identity is something both Garbrah and Adeyinka are conscious of.
Adeyinka said she’d had to learn that criticism of SHADIE isn’t criticism of her.
And Garbrah had learnt to install boundaries to ensure the weight of building a community didn’t overwhelm her.
“When you’re creating a space that is for the community, it is quite easy to forget yourself in that process,” she said.
“You really have to take time to look after yourself and your mental health and make sure you’re OK through the process, because as much as you’re doing it for other people, and creating spaces for other people, you’re also part of that people.
“It’s important you take time to do self-care.”
Pushing for change
Adeyinka’s goal is to become the number one intimates brand in the Asia-Pacific region for skin-toned items.
Ideally, SHADIE would expand to include shapewear, swimwear, strapping tape, pointe shoes for ballet dancers and tights - although finding a sustainable alternative to nylon is proving a challenge.
However, her other goal is to drive change.
“When you go through that experience [of not having products designed for you], no one is overtly telling you that you’re other, or that you’re not important - but that’s the message that’s passed across,” Adeyinka said.
“That’s the biggest motivator for me in creating a brand like this, so that people can grow up in a world where they’re not seen as ‘other’.
“It’s those little tiny things that can be really important.”
Fundamentally, Garbrah believes that diversity drives creativity and new ways of thinking.
“A lot of businesses are bringing out their new diversity processes and procedures, and I think people need to remember that it’s more than just words - they need to take action and implement physical changes,” she said.
“When we’re looking at Afro hair and curly hair education, we look at salons and stylists and we ask the question, ‘Why don’t they offer these services?’
“But we have to look at it from an institutional level - Afro hairdressing is still not offered in the curriculum.”
It comes down to involving people with lived experience in creating the new curriculums, and building change from the very roots.
“Do the work. That’s it - do the work,” Garbrah said.
Advice for other entrepreneurs
Both Garbrah and Adeyinka participated in the Instagram Academy, which selected 25 young female entrepreneurs for mentoring opportunities and educational series on how to use Instagram to grow their business.
Garbrah’s biggest advice is to take risks.
“You’d rather go to sleep knowing that you’ve tried, rather than not knowing at all,” she said.
“In the beginning, for me it was always that feeling of, ‘I’m not sure if I should do it, or if I can do it.’ But at the end of the day, you never know unless you try.”
Adeyinka’s advice is different - she believes the most important thing she can do now is to look for champions.
“One of the really good lessons I learnt [from the Academy] was … that there are three types of champions in your life,” Adeyinka said.
“There’s your coaches, your mentors and your sponsors. Look out for people to create a really good support network of people who will coach you through certain elements.
“There are so many people that are willing to help you. All you have to do is put your hand up.”
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