Becoming the Solution
When University of Birmingham alum Tahlia Gray set about founding Sheer Chemistry, she had one goal – to “create a more diverse perception of beauty and empower women to feel comfortable and gorgeous in their own skin.’ She is doing exactly that with Sheer Chemistry – a hosiery brand specialising in tights for women of all shades of brown, enabling women of colour to find the perfect shade of “nude” to match their skin tone.
As a Black Australian-Jamaican-British woman who has lived in cosmopolitan cities such as New York, Singapore, Brazil and London – she recognized that the fashion industry was lacking an adequate representation of herself and the vibrant and multidimensional community she grew up in. With the normative definition of ‘nude’ in tights and many other product categories not being inclusive to women of colour.
Her response was to be the solution she wanted to see, so she started her own business. Now her brand is a part of a larger and global movement all over the world , redefining the term ‘nude’ to include and celebrate women of color, making the beauty and fashion industry more inclusive one product category at a time.
“Tights tend to have more emotional connotations than many would expect. It’s not just about a purchase, but about the time at school when they had to wear grey tights, and all the times at ballet when they had to wear pink tights; when they couldn’t find products like mine, and celebrating the fact that’s now possible.”- Tahlia Gray
A Royal Sized Break
A success story isn’t possible without a big break , 2018 brought a once in a lifetime opportunity for Sheer Chemistry, as Tahlia was invited to provide the Kingdom Choir with tights for their performance at Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s royal wedding, an unprecedented day in the royal family’s celebrations in its representation of black people and black culture. To be included in such an event was in Tahlia’s words, ‘a monumental moment’.
Just recently Sheer Chemistry secured a retail contract with John Lewis and it’s inclusive line of tights can now be found all over the UK. Not only in John Lewis stores but in Waitrose and partner stores across the country. Tahila has been featured on BBC radio and continues to use her platform to celebrate diversity. For her the sky’s the limit and she is not planning on resting her oars on past successes. She hopes to grow her brand’s product offering and expand into a global multi-million-dollar brand in the next five years. Trail blazing a path for other black entrepreneurs and showing them it can be done.
“I really want other entrepreneurs to be able to look at me and see that it can be done, whether building a business or just taking a step out of the conventional path. I want to be a fully-fledged businesswoman who leads by example and every day, I am learning and growing to ensure I become her.” – Tahlia Gray
This venture into creating products that allow for women of color to feel seen and included did not come without its setbacks. There were many roadblocks on her path to creating her products with a non-negotiable standard – she recalls losing the opportunity to work with the manufacturer she had originally chosen and having to revisit her drawing board and start afresh – but she counts that experience as a worthwhile lesson on sticking to your standards. She went on to find a manufacturer more suited to her business needs.
No one man is an island and Tahlia Gray, by her own admission, is no different. She is quick to credit others who have supported her along the way and the many things she had to admit she knew little about to receive support. She however, stayed committed to learning through networking and joining communities she could be challenged by. Networks such as OneTech and Your Startup, Your Story provided these opportunities. Early in her journey she received support from W Hotel, who agreed to sell her products exclusively the first six months after her launch. It is the combination of all these networks of support and collaboration that boosted her confidence and encouraged her to stay on her path.
Creation is Key
Tahlia’s story is an inspiring one that teaches us that a big goal can come to fruition with a simple idea. We do not have to go to the mountaintop or the heights of influence to effect change, we can start small and start now. By addressing the problems in front of us and utilising the skills inside of us. We ought to all become ‘creators’ she says, and tell the stories we wish we were told through whatever we create. We can also be encouraged that although treading the unconventional path and seeking to create space for others may come with its hardships, the other side will always be a better and more inclusive world.
“Start with what you have exactly where you are. Don’t think you have to know each single step before you start – just put one foot ahead of the other and you will find that all the dots do eventually connect.”