Long before beauty and fashion brands started to catch up to color inclusivity for all shades of melanin, Erin Carpenter launched Nude Barre, an eco-friendly line of tights, underwear and bralettes offered in 12 different shades. The company, which was founded because of Carpenter’s frustrations with finding tights in her shade while in the dance industry, led her to develop a problem-solving solution in 2009 by creating the one-stop shop for women of all races to purchase durable hosiery that matches their skin tone. 

The brand catapulted in 2018 after Serena Williams sported wearing tights at Wimbledon, and she was so much of a fan that she injected a $1.4 million investment into the business to further the brand for business success. Nude Barre has grown to include bralettes, fishnet tights, convertible opaque tights, footed opaque tights, and seamless thongs across the shades of nude from an XS to XXL. 

Despite business growth, philanthropy and inclusivity remains at the heart of the brand. This past month, Nude Barre announced a partnership with Birth Queen, a new nonprofit that provides education, resources, and training to Black mothers and birth workers to help tackle the Black maternal health crisis. 

In this interview with ESSENCE, Carpenter talks about overcoming challenges during the pandemic, what it’s like to get an investment from Serena Williams and more on her partnership with Birth Queen.

Nearly a decade ago Nude Barre filled a void in the marketplace for inclusivity in the bodywear category. How do you see the industry today?

Nude Barre was born from the frustrations and colorism I experienced as a dancer finding hosiery that matched my skin tone, which resulted in spending hours dying my tights and pancaking my shoes to meet the industry’s requirement of ‘nude’ undergarments. I became increasingly aware of a void in the marketplace invoked by a singular definition of ‘nude.’ In everything from beauty to bodywear, this limited, traditional notion left a diverse population unseen. Since launching in 2009, we’ve been energized to see an increasing number of brands follow suit, offering extended shade ranges in all types of product. There is still work to be done to tackle systemic colorism industry-wide and beyond, and we’re proud to continue driving forward change across the industry to reach the moment when ‘nude’ is no longer defined as one color.

What sets Nude Barre apart?

Nude Barre is the first, and most, shade inclusive bodywear brand on the market, offering 12 beautiful shades ranging from the slightest pink with yellow undertones, to the deepest hue of brown with hints of amber. Our bodywear is made from the highest quality materials to act and feel as comfortable as a second skin, but durable enough to adapt and stand up to all aspects of life. This versatility, paired with our extensive shade range, sets us apart and fuels us to be more than just our products. We aim to serve as a platform that celebrates inclusivity and individuality. By empowering women to embrace their true nude, we hope to instill them with the sense of belonging and inspiration that continues to drive a more inclusive future.

In 2019 the brand saw a boost from Serena Williams and her venture arm. How did this impact your business?

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I started Nude Barre with my own savings, bootstrapping the business for the first 10 years and working nights as a Barre instructor to propel our growth. It wasn’t until 2019 that I began pitching the brand to competitions and investors to take the company to the next level. Serena has been such an incredible champion of the business, allowing us to expand categories, grow our team, and ultimately drive forward our vision of a more inclusive future.

Did you face any challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, how did you overcome them?

Like many brands in the apparel industry impacted by COVID-19, Nude Barre was no different. We adapted to changes in demand as swiftly as possible, and created a new mask category early on in the year to contribute to mitigating this crisis. While activities such as the performing arts were put on pause during stay at home orders, we expanded to meet demand for undergarments and more leisure items with the launch of our newest product, The Girlshort.

How did the partnership with Birth Queen come about?

Rachel Nicks, founder of Birth Queen, was actually my Doula when I was pregnant with my daughter in 2018. Rachel and I have been friends since 2013 and met while teaching barre at the same studio. She became a good friend of mine and educated me throughout my maternal journey on the extensive hardships and challenges she and so many Black birthing people face. From the lack of access to resources, to the growing, abysmal stats of black maternal mortality in the US, I felt an intrinsic responsibility to support this cause and Rachel’s efforts to educate and catalyze systemic change. In an effort to help fund childbirth healthcare advocacy and access for Black birthing people to work with Doulas, Nude Barre committed to donating 10% of all underwear sales to Birth Queen through Women’s History Month and we are excited to continue to find ways to work with the organization. 

How can consumers and other brands get involved?

On Thursday, April 15th at 8pm ET, Rachel and I will be hosting an Instagram Live conversation with Life Doula Brandi Sellerz on Nude Barre’s page. You can also visit BirthQueen.org to learn more and see how to get involved in tackling the Black maternal health crisis in America.

What’s next for the brand?

Nude Barre is growing faster than ever before, and we’re really excited for this next chapter. Leading by our mission to redefine nude, we are continuing to break down barriers and bring authentic representation to an industry of systemic racism that has long excluded people of color. The brand will continue to pursue its long-term vision to shape a new future – which includes expanding to new audiences and categories, and creating a safe space for critical discussions by celebrating visibility, healing, and education.