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British Startup’s Open Skin Tone Database to Boost Nude-Color Inclusivity

A lack of nude-colored options is a reality that consumers with darker skin have been facing for decades. Now a British startup, Heist, says it has an answer: an open-source database that can accurately predict the variety of skin colors in a given region, eliminating or reducing sourcing difficulties for brands and giving forgotten consumers more options.

Heist came to this conclusion as a result of a research initiative it dubbed “The Nude Project.” The project combined the skin tones of more than 100,000 women, collected over the course of two years, and identified approximately 1,000 unique skin tones across the human population. Heist engineers then were able to classify those to a relatively accurate degree into seven different categories using a method known as Euclidean clustering.

Performed correctly, this process created a data-driven method to ensure that the company’s nude shades were as inclusive as they were precise.

“Our insight was that unless there existed a data-driven breakdown of a statistically viable cross-section of the female population in any given country, the fashion industry would be incapable of providing nude shades that matched their customer’s skin tones,” Toby Darbyshire, CEO and founder of Heist, said in a statement. “A lack of clarity around how many nude shades are required to cover an appropriate number of skin tones meant that this decision became commercial (i.e. a matter of working capital constraints) rather than customer-driven (i.e. a matter of how many shades were required to serve their customer base).”

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Darbyshire explained that this led to a contraction in nude options for those that didn’t fall into what fashion brands decided were the most “commercially viable” skin tones. The Nude Project, however, worked to define and quantify the shades needed to actually serve the full population of skin tones, leading to more options and inclusivity for those who had been left out in the past.

“For us, it’s more about how we create a model that allows us to build for our consumers,” Fiona Fairhurst, Heist’s VP of innovation, added. “We exist to provide true representation in underwear for all women.”

Heist’s first action was to create a line of seven tights, The Nude, that would serve as an example for the project’s capabilities in the field of intimates. In short order, the brand said the collection became one of its best-sellers.

However, Darbyshire explained that Heist’s project won’t stop at just making a collection of tights—instead, the brand is now offering the data to the fashion world at large as an open-source database that other brands can use to create products that accurately represent their audience.

“This is just the beginning,” Darbyshire predicted. “The Nude Project is set up in such a way that brands expanding into other countries, or with a global footprint, can use the model to easily collate and analyze data to determine how their nude palette should be adapted in any given market.”