“Give a woman the right tights in her shade and she’ll conquer the world!” We’re pretty sure that Tahlia Gray, founder of new tights brand, Sheer Chemistry, made that phrase up herself, but we get what she means.
When a woman feels confident and empowered, she can probably achieve anything she sets her mind to. We recently interviewed Tahlia to find out more about Sheer Chemistry and the powerful message of inclusivity that her brand champions.
What’s your heritage?
I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia but am of Jamaican heritage. I moved to London with my family at the age of 15, but since then, I have also lived in Brazil and New York. I guess you can say I’m a citizen of the world!
Tell us a bit about your career and educational background?
I always wanted to work in a multinational organisation and one day run my own company, which is why I chose to study International Business at the University of Birmingham. This also combined my love for travel, with its compulsory year abroad. At the time, I loved South American culture so I thought what better place to go than Brazil! And although I started my career as a Marketing intern, soon after graduating, I then drifted into the world of Graduate Development and Recruitment (within HR). I landed my first “real job” in New York, working in an investment bank; an industry I continued to work in back home in the UK. It was this experience that made me passionate about helping young people (particularly women) achieve their potential in the workplace.
Why the hosiery business? What was your lightbulb moment?
One of the things that excited me about living in New York was having access to products that I always wanted but could never find in London, and brown, sheer tights that actually matched my skin-tone was one of them!
Being one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, I imagined finding these tights would be easy, but every time I went searching for them in department stores, I only found shades of beige – all “nude”, but never my nude. Disappointed and frustrated by the lack of shades available for women of colour I thought “someone really needs to do something about this!” not yet to know that “someone” would be me.
Not seeing myself represented in these stores really made me question mainstream beauty standards, and why none of these brands had taken the time to create a product for me. As an affirmation to myself, and other women of colour who’ve experienced the same struggle, I decided to create a hosiery brand dedicated to celebrating and validating the diverse beauty of women of all shades of brown; one which empowers women to feel confident and gorgeous in their own skin.
And so, Sheer Chemistry was born. Inspired by my travels and driven by a mission to create a more diverse perception of beauty, we now offer a range of tights in five shades of brown that are made to blend in so you can stand out!
What’s your view on having more than one brand championing tights for darker skin tones?
While there have been several other brands cropping up over the past few years, this still remains an underserved market where there is plenty of room for Sheer Chemistry and others to flourish.
I am very passionate about bringing greater diversity to the hosiery market and providing women of all shades of brown with much needed choice.
My dream is that one day (in the near future) all skin-tone products – be they cosmetics, hosiery, lingerie or even bandages – are made in multiple shades of brown (not just one!), and this becomes the global norm. Sheer Chemistry can’t do this alone, so the more brands that join us in championing products for darker skin tones, the better – because our brown skin and our diverse beauty is here to stay!
Describe the challenges you had starting up?
The biggest challenge in the beginning was finding a manufacturer. Initially I battled with knowing where to start and who to trust, but I found that networking at business and fashion-related events really helped open doors within the industry. Funnily enough, our first manufacturer was introduced to me by a friend of a friend of a woman I met at a panel event, which really shows the power of networking!
The next hurdle to jump was developing and perfecting our five shades, which is something I honestly thought would take no more than three months. Eighteen months later however, we had our final shades that I was happy with, but to get there required continuous tweaking, testing and feedback amongst women of our target market. Although it did take much longer than expected, the result is that we are now confident that our tights do what we promise, which is to perfectly match all brown skin tones.
What support have you had?
I have been lucky to have the support of Virgin Startup who have provided me with funding as well as mentoring throughout the early stages of the business.
Day to day, I work with a small but mighty team of brilliantly diverse women of colour who help me with the running of Sheer Chemistry, from marketing, through to PR, finance and operations.
What’s been your favourite part of the journey so far?
My favourite part of the journey has definitely been seeing the reaction of women to our products. During our first few months over summer, we exhibited at AFROPUNK London and Africa Fashion Week where we often heard women squeal in excitement “OMG tights for black girls!” which is the kind of positive response we could only hope for.
Helping women to find their perfect match and the visible joy on their face that follows is for me, very special. As, in that moment, they feel visible, valued and celebrated, which is exactly what we strive for. It’s these moments that remind me that it’s not just about tights, it’s about empowering women to love themselves and their skin tones that much more!
How important is the imagery to showing inclusivity of the range?
In terms of inclusivity, we have made a point to represent a range of ethnicities in our brand campaign to illustrate just how diverse “women of all shades of brown” are. From Asian and mixed-raced, to black women, but which also includes others, such as those from the Middle-East and Latin America.
Through our marketing campaign, I want to create images that I always wanted to see in magazines and mainstream media but never saw. Ones that portray women of colour not just in terms of their physical diversity, of which different shades are of course important, but I also wanted to show these women as 3-dimensional characters. Women who like to travel, have great jobs, live in great places, who are cultured and intellectual, but also have a softer, more vulnerable side. Through our five shades and their stories, each of which highlight a different facet of the Sheer Chemistry woman, I hope we’ve achieved this.
What’s next for Sheer Chemistry?
One of my favourite sayings is, “Give a woman the right tights in her shade and she’ll conquer the world!” With that being said, once we establish ourselves in the UK, our plan is for world domination!
We’re currently working hard to get our products in shops and department stores so that we are accessible for all.
Where can people buy the tights?
Our full range is available online at www.sheerchemistry.com and we also have an amazing collaboration with W London Hotel, who are selling our tights until the end of the year from their AWAY Spa on the 6th Floor.