Erin Carpenter grew up bending, turning, and leaping across a dance studio, wearing a black ballet leotard and stretchy pink tights.
Her tiny brown toes pointed and flexed inside her pink ballet slippers. Ballet culture is European-dancers donning pink tights and slippers to give the illusion of a long, white skin leg line.
Many Black women go through the tedious process of looking for hosiery to complement their skin. Mismatched nude tights can make Black legs appear ashy. Most sheer colored nylons and tights on the market are made to complement white skin. As a former New York Knicks City Dancer, Carpenter explained that she spent hours dipping and dyeing her tights in tea bag water, hoping to get them a closer match to her nude.
"There was always this reoccurring issue where we were asked to bring nude skin toned tights, panties, and bras and they didn't have anything in my color."
Erica Carpenter/Nude Barre
Conversations with her peers about the same struggle of not being able to find nude undergarments motivated her to launch Nude Barre, a pantyhose and undergarment brand for dancers and the everyday woman. It's made with melanin in mind.
While brands like The New Nudes and Nubian Skin offer brown skin, nude lingerie, Nude Barre offers the most options with 12 shades of skin tones, ranging from fair "Lycheeteni" to dark "Licorice."
Carpenter spoke with us on why she feels "nude" doesn't always include black skin, the challenges she faced leaping from professional dancer to a female founder of her own business, and why she named each shade of her Nude Barre undergarments after cocktail bar drinks.
Why do you think black skin tones are overlooked in this industry?
Most brands were making three to four skin tone options but nude was always the beige color or tan and then other colors that were browns would be just brown and that doesn't really cover everybody.
I think it's a little bit of ignorance [and] a little bit of laziness. There is more money that has to go into it. It's not as easy. I think there's a lack of education that-that nude just isn't going to work. If I put on a white button down shirt, that beige is gonna show. It's gonna look like a white bra.
When did you know it was time to transition from a professional dancer to full-time entrepreneur to launch Nude Barre?
It was pretty early on. I just started with my little dancer savings and I was doing commercials and was getting residual checks as well and just begging my parents to help me out as well. They believed in this. Every little bit of profit that has come back has been put back into the company to make it expand and grow.
Lycheeteni, Brown Sugar, and Mocha are some of the 12 Nude Barre colors. Why are they named after bar drinks?
I spent a year figuring out the dye process and if that was something I wanted to do. I wanted it to be a bar where you come hangout so we would have these fun cocktail names.
Our colors are similar to makeup foundations and there are undertones to them. I created the colors based on makeup foundations.
How did you explain to your Chinese manufacturers you needed nude tones to mimic Black skin?
Trying to explain what I was trying to do in terms of redefining nude was like a weird concept to people. They [would] send me beige - and that's not what we're trying to do here. Even still to this day, I still have to re-educate people on we're doing and what you think nude is.
I basically sent them the dyed version of what I had been playing with and give them tips and details on what I wanted to change or fix. That was a big learning experience as far as how detailed I [needed] to be in my emails and using pictures and screenshots.
Since you're based online only, how can women find and match their nude?
[Working] with a company called Nudest, you [upload] a picture [onto our website]. You then select where on your hand represents your skin the best. It will look like a make-up foundation blot. You'll answer a couple of questions about your skin. The algorithm tells you what shade you are in the Nude Barre products. The products will crop up and you can click on it and buy it or look around.
Your products range from regular tights to fishnets to seamless thongs. How far do you want to expand into nude undergarments?
I want to make every undergarment you can think of in the different nude shades. Whether it's a slip, or shape wear or knee high, girdles. That's in the pipeline. As a foundational garment, that first layer, you need to feel good in [[it] and when you put on all your other layers, you also need to feel good so you can be your best self. Nude Barre does that for women.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
For more Erin Carpenter, follow her on Instagram and check out Nude Barre.
Featured image by Nude Barre