Nubian Skin on challenging ad land's ‘one-dimensional view of blackness' with TfL win


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

February 10, 2020 | 6 min read

Progressive lingerie brand, Nubian Skin has been awarded £500,000 of advertising space across London's transport network, which it says will be used to challenge advertising's "one-dimensional view of blackness".

Nubian Skin on challenging ad land's ‘one-dimensional view of blackness' with TfL win

Nubian Skin on challenging ad land's ‘one-dimensional view of blackness' with TfL win

The London-based upstart has been crowned the winner of Transport for London's (TfL) annual diversity in advertising competition, which this year asked brands to devise campaigns which addressed the “sometimes superficial” representation of the capital’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

Nubian Skin — which specialises in 'nude' undergarments for women of colour — won over the judges with its 'A Different Kind of Nude' campaign.

Developed and shot by its in-house team, the winning work (which will be the brand's biggest marketing push since it was founded in 2014) challenges assumptions surrounding the word 'nude' in the fashion industry.

'A Different Kind of Nude'

"[The idea behind the brand] is a very simple concept," Nubian Skin's founder and chief executive Ade Hassan MBE explained to The Drum.

"Nude is such an important colour in lingerie. But as a black woman, I could never find my 'nude' as it was always beige."

Hassan was certainly not alone in her frustration. When Nubian Skin presented its first product photo on Instagram, the campaign promptly went viral, confirming that she was onto something. Its first update gained Nubian Skin 1,000 followers in one week, and within a month the photo went on to garner over 35,0000 notes on Tumblr and over 20,000 Instagram followers.

Six years down the line and the brand now boasts Beyoncé as a client, with the pop star wearing the label as part of her wardrobe for her 'Formation' tour. In 2017 Hassan was awarded a MBE for services to fashion. However, despite the landmarks moves the brand has made in so short a time, Hassan said that until now, its marketing has been mostly organic.

"Because no one was doing what we were doing when we launched, we were incredibly fortunate," she divulged.

"After we started trending on social media, every major outlet wrote a story on the brand. Everybody was talking about it, either retweeting or reposting images. At that time, it was just me and an intern."

Though the team has grown since then, Hassan explained that majority of Nubian Skin's advertising and marketing is still done via social.

"As a small brand, we can't afford to do big campaigns or magazine advertising, so this opportunity with TfL is just phenomenal for us," she added.

Moving away from tokenism

Marking the second year of the competition, in October, TfL put out a brief that challenged brands and agencies to develop creative that markets their product while offering a "nuanced and authentic" portrayal of black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) people.

The brief was set by TfL and the Mayor of London after insight from Lloyds revealed that although ethnic minority representation in advertising increased from 12% to 25% between 2015 and 2018, more than 60% of ads still featured only or majority white people.

"I loved that the focus of this years competition was on ethnic minorities," commented Hussan. "When it comes to representing black people in advertising or in the media in general, it's quite tokenistic or stereotypical."

Nubian Skin on challenging ad land

To combat this bad practice, in the winning campaign, Nubian Skin asks 'what does being black mean to you?' The submission was reviewed by a panel of judges that comprised advertising and media experts from City Hall and TfL representatives, and the brand was chosen due to its bold and inclusive imagery which embraced a range of ages and body types as well as skin tones.

As the winner of this years competition, Nubian Skin will receive £500,000-worth of prominent advertising space across the TfL network, including space on the digital screens at Canary Wharf and across the JCDecaux UK digital bus shelter network.

"We want to open up the conversation, portray diversity and celebrate blackness," explained Hussan on what the brand hopes to achieve through the competition. "We want to bring a smile to people, especially black people when they see a campaign that doesn't feature a token black person - but is truly representative of us."

Nubian Skin on challenging ad land 2

Although a step in the right direction, there is still so much ground to be made to combat advertising’s "one-dimensional view of blackness".

Looking forward, Hussan believes solving this challenge is about much more than branding.

"A lot of times you end up with tokenism when you don't have anyone in the room who can actually say what it's like to be part of the BAME community," she argued, saying representation within the advertising industry needed to change at a decision-making level.

Nubian Skin's win follows on from Holland & Barrett taking the TfL prize crown last year. The brief asked brands to better reflect the diversity of women in the city. Holland & Barrett's winning idea tackled the "last taboo" that often gets sidelined in advertising - the menopause.

Created by Pablo, the ‘Me.No.Pause’ campaign profiled a diverse range of women going through the menopause and highlighted the challenges they face, including the loss of femininity, identity and self.


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