“Anytime you saw nude depicted in the fashion media, it was always just beige. I was waiting for that to change.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in fashion, but I didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” says Chantal Carter, founder of Toronto-based underwear brand Love & Nudes. Growing up in Montreal – her mother worked in the apparel industry there, and Carter describes her as “Canada’s fashion mecca” – she says she devoured hours of style-focused TV shows and gleaned knowledge. in design at a young age.
But something she discovered through her avid fashion fandom, and her eventual foray into style as an adult, instilled a sense of not belonging to the world she so wanted to be a part of.
“Anytime you saw nude depicted in fashion media, it was always beige,” she says. “I was waiting for it to change – every time a new trend was introduced I wondered, would I see something that looked like me? And I have always been disappointed.
Carter became aware of this problem when she observed Black and other models of color – who were due to arrive at a photoshoot wearing “nude” underwear – appear in items that did not match their skin tone at all. . “It created stress before they even got to the shoot,” she points out, adding that in many cases the models of color always brought their own makeup because they weren’t convinced. that a makeup artist had the proper supplies to make them look their best.
The issue of the “ nude ” was not resolved by the fact that until five years ago, when a petition for inclusiveness was created by a student named Luis Torres, the definition of the word of Merriam-Webster dictionary included the description. as “having the color of a white person’s skin.”
“It was huge for me to find out,” Carter recalls. “That you can’t even trust the dictionary!” I started hunting in the market for everything – tank tops, shoes – anything that looked like me and was described as naked. And I never found anything.
Carter even took his research to the state side in an effort to essentially validate his existence as a consumer – something no one should ever have to endure. “I thought it was a Canadian problem,” she says. “So I looked in New York. I swore something would be there. There are all kinds of people living there, and it’s a fashion capital. And I did not find anything.
This was the first spark of Carter’s bulb moment. “I thought, oh my god, that’s one thing. And I realized that if I wanted this look, I had to create it myself. She bought a white bra and a pair of panties, and used fabric paint that matched her skin tone to create a ‘nude’ effect. “It was so hard and crunchy on my skin, but I didn’t care,” she says. “It gave me the look I needed and wanted.
Looking further into this void in the market, Carter says she was amazed to learn that many women of color hadn’t even realized how deeply the notion of ‘nude’ was embedded in them. themselves. “I asked them, ‘What does the nude mean to you? And they would describe fishing or tanning, ”she said. “As for the colors, it was always peachy beige because that’s how it was marketed. And this is not the complete picture. “
Pointing out that this was a glaring element of systemic racism in the general design lexicon, Carter says she deepened her determination to right this widely accepted wrong and began working on Love & Nudes in 2015. She launched the line in 2017, and it has since gained the attention of black-owned brand-focused e-commerce platform, Yard + Parish.
“There were a lot of stops and starts because I didn’t know how I was going to do it, even though I was working in fashion,” she notes. “And I didn’t tell anyone because I felt like I would be ridiculed, or that people would discourage me or steal my idea.”
That apprehension changed as Carter went through a period of personal development and says hearing something on a podcast was a catalyst for what happened next. “He said if you want to do something, you have to find help if you don’t have the answers,” she recalls. “And you have to tell people what you’re trying to do or what you want to do, so that you can get advice. It just has to be the right person.
A friend pointed out that Carter should contact another female founder of a lingerie brand who not only referred her to a fashion accelerator program, but also mentioned the caliber of manufacturing in South America. After a trip to the salon, Carter logged in to a female-owned factory that still produces its products today.
“A lot of our bra and panty makers are single moms who get paid a fair wage,” Carter says. “It really touched me as a single mom. I could feel the goodness in [the team], and I still do. I wanted to work with people who are aligned with my values and committed to making things better in the world. “
Today, Carter says she nurtures within herself the propensity to take on a mentoring role, as it has had a huge impact on the development of her own brand. “When you help other people, you learn too,” she says, adding that it’s not easy for her to present herself as a founder and business owner.
“I was asked to be on a small business panel, and they wanted me to talk about leadership and resilience,” she said of an opportunity she recently said yes to. “I wanted to laugh. Me?! Do you want me to talk about it? You don’t even know what’s going on in the background. But, I thought, I’m going to get into that and be real about my experiences and what’s going on – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I do not have all the answers, but I am giving what I know. It’s about being sure the way – as you go step by step, something emerges, whether it is someone or information that can help you. You just have to keep going.
While her product offering instills self-confidence in customers who finally feel seen by a fashion brand, Carter also aims to instill the notion of trust through learning through the Love & Nudes blog. It features women with interesting and inspiring stories that range from sports consultant Tessa Thomas to author, singer-songwriter and breast cancer survivor Pastor Patricia Russell.
Showcasing an incredible group of women in the Love & Nudes community is of the utmost importance to Carter, who points out how black and other women of color are under-represented in many facets of corporate leadership. “We have such a strong influence in pop culture, but we’re not behind the scenes of anything?” There is something wrong here, ”she said. And the idea of working to “build generational wealth,” especially within black communities, keeps Carter motivated for the future.
As she looks to that future, Carter says the COVID-19 crisis – and its uncertainty and limitations – has given her a different perspective on how she runs her brand; one that has had a largely positive effect on his mental health. “I was so go-go-go before, and this time showed me that no, you can’t control everything,” she says. “It allowed me to be perfectly imperfect and to be okay with it. I realize that I have been crippled in trying to be perfect and be everything to everyone. Now it’s like, just do the best I can. I’m grateful for this time – it’s a challenge for a lot of people, but it helped me change my mind and grow more as a person.