Fashion Rule Breakers: This Brand Wants You To Rethink What It Means To Be Nude

"Sometimes it’s hard to value the importance of representation when you are used to being represented."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

Recently, people have been spreading hashtags like #NudeForAll, #TrueNude, and #BanishBeige all over social media with one mission: to create a movement that encourages the fashion industry to be more inclusive of people of color. As a color, "nude" is supposed to match the dresser's skin tone. Yet, most of the nude colored clothing on the market is beige. 

Some fashion retailers have joined the movement and developed lines that are meant for a variety of skin tones. Luxury shoe retailer Christian Louboutin has expanded its nude palette to include seven different shades designed for women of all colors. The lingerie brand Naja started their "Nude For All" campaign and offer bras and underwear in seven skin tone shades.  

Now, FleshTone.net hopes to bring all the brands joining the movement together in one place. The site is a new online shopping and review resource created for people of color so they can find all the best products available for their skin tones. 

Through their efforts to create a more inclusive fashion and beauty destination for all, those behind FleshTone are fashion rule breakers.

Tayo Ade, founder of FleshTone, hopes people will use the site as a resource to learn more about the movement in the process. 

"To me, it is about saying that we cannot pretend anymore that representation doesn't really matter when it really does. It's about saying that people of color are not 'other' on the outside looking in," she told A Plus. "We are right in there."

Ade was inspired to create FleshTone because of her experience as a dancer. Her instructors would ask students to wear skin tone tights and shoes to their dance rehearsals and performances. 

"When I wasn't able to find fishnet tights in my skin color on short notice for a performance, I chose to pull out," she said. "I looked high and low on the Internet and around dance stores for the best value and quality dance wear that catered to my skin tone. So I thought to myself, 'why not have everything — including reviews — in one place'?" 

Not being able to find products labeled as "nude" to match your skin tone is terrible, but there's an even more important underlying issue here.

"By conflating 'nude' with 'beige' companies are signaling to their existing or potential customers who are people of color that they are not part of the conversation. They are saying, inadvertently or otherwise, that people of color are not part of their 'value exchange.' I think that is really limiting from a commercial perspective as it closes off potential markets," Ade said.

"From a social perspective, a beige nude as the standard infers that other skin tones are outside of what is normal."

Not only can the fashion industry better serve their customers by offering more inclusive products, but they can also make a huge impact on the way people see themselves and each other. Sure, a single fashion retailer offering more shades of nude isn't going to ease all the racial tension in this country, but together, the industry and media can help to shape these global conversations and make a difference. 

"Representation in those images and stories matters. I don't want my children growing up thinking that they are an afterthought in society," Ade said. "Fashion, beauty and media really do set trends, and in conjunction with the arts, they change perceptions and create conversations."

"I think it’s important for these globalized mediums to reflect the diversity of the world they operate in."

Courtesy of FleshTone.net
Courtesy of FleshTone.net

While FleshTone focuses in on fashion and beauty, it's an all-encompassing space to talk about representation in daily life. For example, the site has a section dedicated to kids where they can find books with characters that look like them and dolls in a variety of skin tones and hair textures.

Ade hopes that FleshTone will help to contribute to conversations about diversity and will teach people about the representation issue. 

"I hope that others learn that there is value in realizing for ourselves and our children that there is no one 'normal', 'neutral' or 'nude.' Sometimes it's hard to value the importance of representation when you are used to being represented. I hope people learn to see things from different perspectives. It's not about whether beige actually perfectly matches anyone's skin tone. It's about breaking down the assumption that it approximates the skin tone of only those who matter." 

The good news is that the #NudeForAll campaign is spreading and brands are starting to catch up with the diversity gap in the market. Some brands, such as Nubian Skin, were created for the sole purpose of addressing the gap in nude shades for people of color. More and more brands are looking to diversify their products by targeting people of different skin tones, sizes, genders, and even religions

"I think because of the connectedness of the world, people are looking to explore different markets, or in some cases, tap into what has been under their nose this entire time," Ade said. "People are looking for a competitive edge and to get their brands 'trending,' Many marketing execs seem to have been caught on the back foot, and now they are racing to find new opportunities to diversify within their existing product offerings."

"There are some concerns that the movement I am working in, is only a 'trend', and once over, everyone can go back to their comfortable normal. I think the industry could do better by ditching the idea that diversity is a buzz word or a 'special feature' when it is a fact of life," Ade said. "FleshTone.net has literally only scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the flesh tone products that are, and could be, out there. We are looking forward to watching it all unfold."