Finding the perfect foundation shade is hard, but finding the perfect shade of tights is even harder, but Tahlia Gray is working to change that. As founder of Sheer Chemistry tights, the tights made to suit all shades of brown, Gray hopes to empower dark-skinned people around the world, to feel seen and represented. Gray chats with Qweens about why redefining what nude means to include the diverse shades of women of colour is important and how she hopes that Sheer Chemistry will show the world that nude is not synonymous with beige, and all women should feel beautiful, especially in their tights.
What inspired you to start Sheer Chemistry?
Shortly after graduating from university, I got my first “real” job, working in New York in the corporate world. As you can imagine, I was excited about living in a new city but just as excited about getting my hands on products I always wanted but couldn’t get in London. Tights that actually matched my skin tone was one of them, but the crazy thing was, I couldn’t find any that didn’t make my legs look pale and make me feel super self-conscious. Frustrated by the lack of products available for women of colour, I decided to do something about it and created Sheer Chemistry.
How would you describe your brand?
An empowering hosiery brand, offering a range of tights in five luscious shades to match all brown skin tones and driven by a mission to create a more diverse perception of beauty. We’re a brand that understands you, celebrates you and is here for you.
Why did you want to start with tights?
Tights seemed like a natural place to start as it was a product that I wanted to wear every day, but the range of shades just didn’t exist. Being in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I was honestly shocked that women of colour simply weren’t being catered for. I thought it was, therefore, my responsibility as a black woman to create a product that celebrated the diverse beauty of women of colour and empowered us to feel confident and gorgeous in our own skin.
How did you come up with the name Sheer Chemistry?
The name Sheer Chemistry actually came to me in my sleep, and I remember having that “aha” moment and waking up frantically to write it down. Before this, however, I knew I wanted two words: the first being synonymous with the material of tights “sheer” and the second to represent the matching process, “chemistry.” But more than that I wanted to convey the relationship that you have with your friend, your sister or even your mum.
Why do you think it’s important to change the definition of the shade ‘nude’ in the beauty and fashion industries?
Nude has traditionally meant a ‘pale pinkish-beige colour,’ which of course fails to acknowledge the majority of the world who are not white. Redefining nude and our definition of beauty, which also plays into this, is important to reflect our diversity. I believe that we are all worthy of being represented and having access to products that are made with us in mind. No woman should ever feel as if her beauty isn’t valid.
What do you hope your tights are doing for dark skin women?
I hope that by wearing Sheer Chemistry tights, we empower women to feel confident and gorgeous in their own skin. Because, I believe that our beauty comes from the places we’ve been, but more importantly where we’re going. We have named our shades after cosmopolitan and desirable cities: Havana Glow, Rio Romance, New York Soul, Nairobi Sunrise and Parisian Dream. Sadly, colourism is still prevalent in our community, and so it was essential to associate our shades with things (outside of edible foods) that women have a positive association to and can get excited about.
Why do you think it’s so important to have representation in the fashion industry, not only from the models but the products sold?
Diversity is a beautiful thing. Of course, it’s great to see people of colour on the runway and in high-end campaigns, but it’s also important for that same representation to exist among designers who get to present their work on these great platforms, and in the creative teams who contribute to producing these images. Until we get to a point where we are represented in front of and behind the camera, there is still a lot of work to be done!
Do you see yourself expanding your brand to include other clothing options that are more inclusive?
Yes, definitely! But all in good time. We are really keen to offer a greater range of inclusive products, that isn’t limited to just tights.
Aside from your tights being diverse in shades, what else sets them apart from other tights on the market?
Sheer Chemistry is the first hosiery brand aimed at women of colour to offer a full dynamic range of tights that are tailor-made to suit every occasion: Radiance - Gloss Tights for the party; Ambition - Matt Tights for the office; and Confidence - Control tights to lift and shape your curves. All products come in five luscious shades, made to blend in so you can stand out!
How do you stay motivated as an entrepreneur?
Remembering why I started is what keeps me motivated. Knowing that I am helping to change the way that women see themselves and their skin tone inspires me to keep going. People don’t often think that tights are an emotional purchase, but often when I meet women at pop-up events, they recount their childhood and the struggles that they’ve had finding the right shade their whole life. The joy that people express when they can find their perfect match is invaluable, as in that moment and while wearing our products they feel seen, they feel celebrated, and their beauty affirmed.
Did you always want to be a designer and own a clothing brand?
If you told me that I would have a fashion brand when I was at school, I would have probably laughed. I went to university to study International Business because I knew I would one day run my own business, but at the time I had no idea what field that would be in. Tights just happened to be the product that I personally needed, and the mission is something I’m very passionate about, so as a very social and ambitious person, I knew I could connect all the other dots necessary to make it happen.
What is something you know now you wished you knew when you first launched Sheer Chemistry?
There’s so much I’m still learning every day! I think knowing and understanding the importance of cash flow is key. As they say, cash is king, and without it, it’s hard to survive, and it’s even harder to grow.
Why do you think it took so long for there to be tights suitable for brown and dark skin to be on the market?
Many of the mainstream hosiery brands are owned and managed by middle-aged white men who still believe nude is beige and have not had to think about skin tones that exist outside of this spectrum. Even to this day, I have to convince retailers that there is a demand for products specifically for women of colour. The beautiful thing is that, with the rise of entrepreneurship which is being facilitated by social media, we are now creating our own brands and products and able to reach our end consumer.
The message here is that we can’t wait on the mainstream to see us and validate us. We have power and therefore must do it for ourselves, which in itself is an empowering act.
What made you decided you were the person to change that?
My background is in Human Resources, specifically Learning and Development, so one of my passions has always been helping women reach their potential in the workplace. Growing up I was taught to believe that nothing and nowhere is out of my reach and now, having lived in four cities across four different continents I have become really aware of how “blackness” is perceived throughout the world. I was consistently disappointed with the lack of representation women of colour received throughout fashion and beauty, particularly in Brazil and in the US where there are such large populations. This has given me a unique perspective, which has enabled me to develop Sheer Chemistry as an empowering brand that illustrates women as multifaceted beings who have stories to tell, who have travelled the world, lived in nice places and whose beauty is more than skin deep.
Apart from making excellent products, it’s important that through the brand I am able to create a more diverse perception of beauty.
What’s next for Sheer Chemistry?
Next stop is getting into retail as we really want to be accessible to women all around the UK, then…it’s World domination!. We also have a few new products that we are currently working on that we can’t wait to share.
If you were stranded on a desert island what are three things you would need to have with you?
I’m a simple girl and actually, think I would enjoy being alone on a desert island (although not for too long!). I would take a fishing rod because a girl has got to eat! Some matches, as I would absolutely hate being cold at night, and lastly a good book!
What is one piece of advice you would give other black fashion entrepreneurs?
The one piece of advice I would give is to START! There is never going to be a perfect time, you will never have enough money, and you will never know it all. But what you can do it start small, and make use of what you have right now.
If you know who the next Qween of the Week should be send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, we look forward to hearing from you!