(NEW YORK) — After years of hardship as a professional dancer trying to find tights that matched her skin tone, Erin Carpenter took matters into her own hands.
A little over a decade ago, the former New York Knicks dancer founded Nude Barre, a bodywear and hosiery company that sells products in 12 inclusive “nude”-toned shades.
Today, the thriving label offers bralettes, underwear, bikinis, girl shorts, camisoles, no-show socks, fishnets and opaque tights.
“I would spend hours dying my tights and ‘pancaking’ my shoes [applying pancake foundation to shoes with a sponge to mattify and change their color], and had many friends and colleagues who were doing the same to meet the industry’s requirement of nude undergarments,” Carpenter told ABC News’ Good Morning America.
“I founded Nude Barre to face colorism head on and help alleviate the emotional and physical labor of this process for all humans, dancers and non-dancers alike,” she said.
To come up with Nude Barre’s inclusive lineup of colors, Carpenter said she conducted endless surveys, compared colors to foundation shades and did lots of dye testing.
The names of each hue were created with intention as well and based on how skin tones tend to span a spectrum like the light of the day, ultimately leading to names like “7AM” and “6PM.”
The brand’s offerings are photographed on models with a wide range of diverse body types and complexions.
“Nude Barre’s mission is to fight colorism in the fashion industry and to offer authentic true representation to people of all hues,” said Carpenter. “For decades, skin tone representation has been isolated to people with lighter skin tones, and Nude Barre is here to change that.”
Today Nude Barre’s bestselling fishnets have been worn by everyone from Doja Cat and Lizzo to Laverne Cox and Serena Williams.
Williams was such a fan of the brand that she decided to invest in it. Carpenter said the company has been able to attract high-profile investors like the tennis star because they also value representation.
“Some of our investors are customers or have had personal challenges finding intimates in their shade as I did,” Carpenter said. “So they identify with the problem we solve personally and socially.”
While Nude Barre has had plenty of success, the company’s wins have not come without some challenges. Carpenter said she would sometimes meet with manufacturers that were surprised to see a young woman at the helm of a company and would get the feeling that they didn’t take her seriously.
“Funding was very hard to secure as a woman,” Carpenter said. “The statistics around female founders getting [venture capital] funding are poor, and for Black women the stats are horrible. So while I have been extremely fortunate to have amazing investors, it was not easy and took a long time to get that to happen.”
Still, her perseverance paid off: Carpenter shared that Nude Barre has since expanded its reach by landing in well-known department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
She noted that the brand has been able to continually thrive because it offers one of the widest ranges of hues within the intimates and hosiery space.
“Nude Barre is similar to athleisure for your underwear,” she said. “It’s durable enough for athletes plus comfortable and stylish for everyday fashion.”
“I hope the biggest takeaway from Nude Barre is how important representation is — that we are all different, special people and that is beautiful. We should celebrate our individuality,” she added.
“My dream is that one day nude only being represented as beige will no longer exist. Nude is individual and personal. My dream is that my brown daughters grow up to always have products that represent them, and that they do not question their beauty or feel bothered,” Carpenter said.
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