Chantal Carter revolutionized the underwear market by attending to what should be an obvious need: creating nude undergarments that truly match different skin colours.
For her, the turning point was realizing that the market and its consumers, even people of colour like her, understood ‘nude’ as beige, not as “a state of being.” To see herself as she truly wanted to and to offer that possibility to others like her, she created Love & Nudes.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur, or what led you to want to start the company specifically?
For a long time, years and years, I knew that I wanted to do my own thing in a creative space somehow, and I worked as a wardrobe stylist. I was a freelance stylist, so I think that’s when my journey in venturing and entrepreneurship started.
But I was never completely satisfied with that because as much as I was excited to be in a creative realm when I finally found myself working as a stylist, I saw how challenging it was.
There weren’t many people that looked like me, for one. And, another thing, it wasn’t behind the scenes; it was very superficial, and that wasn’t who I was. People weren’t real, and they were unauthentic. There was a facade and just negativity in the background that I just didn’t fit into, but I still loved the creativity, the clothes.
I stepped away from that because I didn’t love the business of fashion. But everything happens for a reason. When I was working as a stylist, I saw that when women of colour or black models would come in, they never had nude undergarments,
That’s the simplest example of systemic racism. Something like that was not considered. We’ve had to wear beige BandAid – thank goodness they came up with clear at some point. So, the darker models had to end up wearing either nude or black and hoped that it wouldn’t show through.
And that in itself is stress before you get started. The darker skin models they’d always come with their own makeup foundation. Because they were afraid that the makeup artist wouldn’t have a colour that suited them.
I always had a mental note of that, and I wanted something that was nude for me too because I knew what it did. I wanted nude shoes, I wanted nude undergarments, and I could never achieve the looks that I wanted to have because there wasn’t something that matched my skin tone. That was really frustrating for me.
And how was the moment you decided to turn those mental notes into your own business?
I loved wearing lace, and I kept looking for something that matched my skin tone. But I couldn’t find anything. When I was wearing a lace top, I wanted it to look like it was my skin tone, like underneath the lace. But, of course, being covered. Or discreet. And I could never find that. It was always just beige camisoles and beige bras.
And then I decided because I got frustrated. I looked in the US – I thought it was a Canadian problem – and the same thing. And then I finally decided that I was going to paint a bra. So I bought a white bra, and I found a fabric paint that matched my skin.
I also bought a white panty, and I painted it. I physically painted them both. I had the gloves, I found a bucket in my house, and I connected the bra bound around the bucket so it was all stretched out, and I painted with a paintbrush.
I wore it, and it worked! It was hard and crusty and uncomfortable, but I didn’t care at the time. It gave me the look I wanted. And then I thought about it; I was like, “No one should have to do this.” To have something like this happen. And that’s how I decided that I would do my research and do something about it. And that’s how Love & Nudes came to be.
What kind of reactions did you have when you first came out with your business project?
They were shocked that things weren’t readily available in different skin tone colours. With white people, when something’s always available to you, it’s not in your thought process to think about it because it’s always just there for you.
I get that. And when I would interview women, young women, I asked them, “What does nude mean to you?” They would say beige to peach. It’s so ingrained that nude is defined as beige that they don’t even realize what it truly means.
Nude is a state of being. It’s naked. It can be anybody’s skin tone. But the image of the nude was always beige. Everybody assumed that’s what it was; it was really interesting to talk to people about what that was like.
And when I pitched to an investor, he told me he thought it would be too many items or too many skews for a retailer to carry because I wanted to come out with four skin tone colours. He said it would be too much, it would take up too much space, and he might have been thinking about it in a business sense, right?
But all I heard was that my skin tone was not valid. And neither are my brothers’ and sisters’. It hurt to hear that, but I was determined to keep going.
When you launched a product and made it available to consumers, what kind of feedback did you get from clients?
Oh my gosh! I had one, a review; a customer told me they were so excited to buy, and they waited 30 years to find something that went with their skin tone. And I got encouragement. “Please, keep going”. I think it brought more awareness to the forefront about it.
And questions, like what it is and how it’s defined. So there’s been a lot of appreciation and excitement for it. Honestly, I still do see some challenges because, for some people of colour, it was so not available to them previously; it’s still a foreign concept.
I was doing a woman’s show, and she was a black girl. She was on the darker side. And I showed her my deepest shade, called Espresso Empress. I said, “This would look beautiful on you; it matches your skin tone.” She stepped back and was like, “Why are you picking that colour for me?” — I was surprised by that reaction.
It was like she was taken aback that I was showing her that was her skin tone colour. She didn’t see that as her nude because she was so accustomed to a different shade for nude bras. It showed me the psychological implications of systemic racism.
Some of us can’t accept ourselves because we’re subliminally told that we’re not valid, we’re not valued, we’re not seen, and we’re not beautiful. Our body’s not accepted. So you deny yourself.
That was really sad for me. I was like, “I don’t know how to handle that in the future.” Do I just let people pick on their own? Because you see some nuances there happening, what people’s perception of their skin tone is and isn’t.
I believe it is because the images that are shown are not of us, or it’s in a negative light.
What is your definition of success? And if you were asked the same question at the start of your business, would the answer have been any different?
Before, it was more about having a lot of money and status. How much money I was going to make and what kind of things I would have access to with more money. But I realize it’s not about that.
It’s about living well. Being satisfied and content with what you’re doing every day and being aware of what you’re contributing and what you’re doing, and how you can help other people. That was always in my mind as being successful.
It’s doing what I want to do and contributing in a way that I can use my talents most effectively. But I was also really focused on financial success. It’s still really traditional measures.
For me, success is simplicity. Living a healthy lifestyle, giving back. Helping others, most of all, being satisfied with what you’re doing every day in life and not having an expectation of exactly what it needs to be looked like – because that leads to disappointment.
That’s one of the things I learned actually most recently. When Covid happened, that was another “bam!”. This is not what I expected, so am I going to get upset about it and recoil and die, or realize that there could be a deeper meaning behind that? So success is spiritual, being in touch with your spirituality, your faith, and contributing. Doing things that bring you joy and being able to use your talents to help others.
How do you find balance between your business, your personal life, and being a woman? What’s your key to staying grounded?
Honestly, I’m still navigating my way through that. I meditate daily, I know that’s helped to keep me sane. I start out my day that way. And I may do it again in the daytime when I need to access creativity.
It just keeps me calmer, and I think it makes me less judgmental, and more patient. It’s important for me to meditate daily, taking time to write down my thoughts in a journal, reading and listening to podcasts.
I struggle with mental health issues getting stuck in my head, in my old narrative, that doesn’t serve me anymore. So when I hear different perspectives and other people’s stories, I get ideas and I realize that maybe something can be different from what I’m thinking.
What do you wish women would do more of?
I wish women would depend on their instincts a little bit more and not on what other people told them that they should be. Mm-hmm. I find that I listen a lot to what my mother told me, what it should be like, what I need to be doing or how it has to be.
And I battled that from when I was young, but I still felt wrong because that’s the model she showed me. Serve selflessly, and never take care of yourself. When I want to do that now, it’s still a struggle to just take care of myself and just think about myself.
I still feel like I’m being selfish. I blocked out my intuition, so I’d want to tell women to listen to your gut, your intuition. It rarely leads you astray. And don’t follow other people, you can make your own mistakes. And it’s not really a mistake, It’s a learning process.
Listen to our full podcast interview with Chantal Carter, Founder of Love& Nudes HERE.