From Frustration into Profit: Former Dancer Talks Journey to Launch Eco-Friendly Undergarments

(Image: Nude Barre)

Ladies, how many times have you searched for nude undergarments or lipstick colors only to find the nude product didn’t match the color of your skin tone? For most people, the solution to this problem is beyond their control. For game changers, however, such as New York-based founder of Nude Barre, Erin Carpenter, the solution lies within–identify a problem and redefine the way people think about a product or service in a particular market.

“During my first photo shoot as a Knicks City Dancer in 2007, I was often required to wear flesh toned dance tights, fishnets, and a strapless/convertible bra undergarments as part of my uniform,” Carpenter says. “During the shoot, all the dancers were complaining about how their tights, by the leading dance brands, did not match their skin color and looked crazy. I would spend hour’s dying/spray painting tights and shoes to match my skin tone.”

In true entrepreneurial fashion—during a moment of frustration—Carpenter founded Nude Barre, a specialty line of eco-riendly undergarments made in 16 shades of nude to match all skin tones.

Six years later, several celebrities have been “caught in the nude.”  From talk show host Wendy Williams who serves as a product ambassador to members of Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise and members of The New York Knicks’ Dancers.

As much as Nude Barre is a product that fulfills a need, it’s also a tool for women’s empowerment. “It’s a bold statement of validation to all women: you are beautiful in your own skin.” caught up with Carpenter, to learn more about how she redefined the term “nude” to make it more inclusive for all women. What are some of the challenges you faced transitioning from a career as a professional dancer and model to CEO of Nude Barre?

Carpenter: My challenged centered on how to build a sustainable enterprise; I knew what I wanted to create and why, but I did not know how to create it. I did not have a fashion design background. I did not have large sums of money in my savings to use for start up capital, nor did I have a business partner to share the time consuming responsibility of R&D.

However, my dad encouraged me to have faith and be patient with the process of learning–powerful words of wisdom that helped ease the challenges of transition.

What steps did you take to learn about the industry and bridge any gaps in learning?

I joined incubators to learn about my industry. New York City has a lot of small business programs to help start-ups. I found mentors to guide me and asked tons of questions.

What sacrifices did you make to pursue your business?

There were many sleepless nights as a young entrepreneur. How am I going to pay my bills? Can I afford to live in New York City? Will I be successful? Not to mention that there were many lifestyle sacrifices I had to make, especially in cuisine choices–less going out to restaurants and more home cooking and top ramen (what some refer to as “the small business diet.”).

One of the toughest sacrifices I made was the decision to stop dancing professionally. The castings, auditions, rehearsals, and performances were too time consuming and Nude Barre was my priority.

Describe an obstacle that tested your will succeed?

With a product-based business you rely on suppliers (and in my case international suppliers) and others to move things along in an efficient manner. More than once, I have had an international delivery of inventory that was weeks late, which impacted my ability to fulfill a large order.

There is significant reputational and financial risk associated with such delays. I am such a planner so it was difficult for me to accept when things did not come together properly. In this specific case, I developed stronger inventory management systems to help mitigate against such delays and explored other production options as well. I felt I was developing into a smarter entrepreneur and that itself provided motivation to continue to follow my dream.

My family and mentors reminded me that the challenges were a necessary part of my learning process.

What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for someone who wants to take their idea and turn into a business?

Just start! Write a business plan. You will always think of a million reasons why you should wait until next year or five years from now. Being an entrepreneur is hard but it is all about creative problem solving. Even if you plan to the “T” something may not work out the way you intended; that is okay. Figuring out how to maneuver through the hiccups is how you survive as an entrepreneur and a lot of that is through creativity and flexibility. Expect that things will change as you evolve.

Kandia Johnson (@kandiajohnson) is a communications strategist, writer, and world traveler. She is dedicated to empowering audiences to tap into their hidden potential to achieve success. Driven by a passion to help people and organizations turn vision into reality, Johnson creates content that educates, engages, and inspires.