ATIMA LUI / FOUNDER & CEO OF NUDEST / TOPEKA KS
"IN MY HEART, IT CAME TO ME VERY CLEARLY THAT MY PURPOSE WAS TO IMPROVE THE CONFIDENCE OF DARK SKINNED WOMEN AND GIRLS."
Meet Atima. This is a woman with a stage presence that makes you want to rise to meet it. In addition to being energized and grounded, Atima graduated from Harvard Business School and started Nudest, a line of lingerie, hosiery, and footwear that uses a unique color matching software to help you find your true nude. Atima is challenging conventional beauty standards, uplifting women of all shades, and yep, she’s blooming.
So how did you get started?
Right now I am exactly one year out from graduating from Harvard Business School where I got my MBA. I'm going to my one year reunion this weekend and I cannot wait because it's going to be so much fun!
So how did I get here? I think it's interesting. To go back in time a bit, in high school I decided that I wanted to study business. I knew I liked marketing and that I might want to be an entrepreneur which led me to choose Wash U. in St. Louis because they had an entrepreneurial program where you could open a business on campus. My first try at entrepreneurship was opening a full service hair salon and I loved it. During college, I also did internships at Google and then after school, ended up working full-time for Walmart. Working there was an interesting experience because although it was a big company, I had the opportunity to be one of the few young people in the office so I was able to implement some of my ideas early on for really big brands.
That’s so exciting! What made you change course from working in big business to entrepreneurship?
I eventually headed off to Harvard Business School and I decided that I wanted something more creative with my life. I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and I wasn’t sure if a big company vibe would fulfill me. I also knew that I wanted to do something that married technology with my newfound excitement for retail. I ended up finding those things in an established company at Apple where I landed an internship and full-time offer to work with Apple Retail, marketing their new products.
"It turns out, ideas are cheap but execution is incredibly difficult."
So I got this amazing offer and something didn’t feel right timing wise. I am young, don’t have kids, and I thought to myself, “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a tinkerer. Now is the time to try.” I ended up testing an idea while in school to see if people would be interested in an online destination where they could find nude undergarments for their skin tones. I built what's called an MVP or a Minimum Viable Product in WordPress. It was a basic website that let you filter products by skin tone. Users had to make a site profile and things took off from there. It went viral! I had a Huffington Post article come out and people started requesting product and pinging the site. We had twelve hundred people requesting a user account, and I was like, “Okay, maybe I should work on this fulltime!”
Now, fast forward to, let’s say to, July 14th which is “National Nude Day”. We launched what you see now as mynudest.com. That summer, my brother had nothing big going on and since he's a computer science engineer, he built the original color matching technology for a small stake of equity. That algorithm to match your skin tone basically to anything is what you see online now.
This is great! What obstacles have you overcome over the course of starting this business?
Before I started NUDEST, I was working with classmates on a cosmetics company. I was good at it and was having fun but it didn't feel quite right. It was a luxury brand targeted at women who could afford it and I realized that I wasn't passionate about targeting that audience.
It was tough saying goodbye. I also got this scared feeling. I was in this elite program where it’s easy to feel like you might be the admissions mistake. Am I really supposed to be here right now? You start to think and read into all the ways your business could go wrong…
Why would you think that when you’re clearly more than qualified?
I mean the school was literally intended for white men. They do case studies in the classes and if you look at cases from the 1980s where they happen to have a video, everyone in the classroom looked the same. Some students would bring their parents to come attend classes who were often alumni and I'm like, “Wow! You grew up always thinking that the Ivy League was in your birthright.”
Now, it's forty percent women and about that for international students, which is great and the diversity is there, but I was also twenty-four when I first showed up and the average age was twenty-eight. I felt young and it was intimidating because you have to speak in a classroom to ninety plus people every day. It was like giving a speech every day to people who know a lot more about finance than I did, people who had just spent five years on Wall Street. I used to feel so intimidated but it turns out that everyone feels that way.
The case studies tend to have a lot of HBS graduates featured and you think of how successful and innovative they all were. It seems like they knew exactly what their purpose was and approached it head on. So after I left the cosmetics venture, I was in this point where I didn’t quite know what my next steps were.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEW ENTREPRENEURS?
"...Starting up with someone can often times be easier than starting up alone..."
Around that same time, I happened to attend my first group meditation. I was quiet and still, which I never am, and I was listening to myself. In my heart, it came to me very clearly that my purpose was to improve the confidence of dark-skinned women and girls. That's what I was supposed to do, and when I started chasing that goal, the concept of NUDEST grew beyond just catering to dark-skinned women, it became about all skin tones. The color nude doesn't match 84% of the global population, which includes pale women to dark women and everything in between.
So how will you bloom in the next year?
This question is awesome! Can I start off by saying how I have bloomed this year? Before the interview, we talked about how having a partner who is supportive is the way to go in order to be a happy, successful person. I cannot tell you how many shady and unhealthy relationships I have been in, and I know that the impetus for the Bloom Journal is about how you’ve had your own struggles in life with shitty stuff that's happened to you and how you’ve overcome it and grown. I want to say how excited I am to be in a healthy relationship. I have a boyfriend who is so supportive of what I'm doing and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow this relationship.
In my job, I get these ups and downs of entrepreneurship which are insane. I think I'm going to fail every week. I feel if I don't keep going, it's all going to fall apart. I'm looking forward to continuing to grow my relationship with my boyfriend as I continue on this journey. I’m also looking forward to taking the company to the next level. Currently, I've raised friends and family capital in order to be here. In order to take the company to the next step, I need angel investment from high net-worth individuals to go after this with me. I'm looking forward to locking in investors this year.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
A good piece of advice I have for people is if they have an idea they often times think, “This is my idea and I can't share it. I need to work on it in this corner so no one steals it.” You need go out and find experts in the industry or friends that work in the industry. It turns out, ideas are cheap but execution is incredibly difficult. So even if you share it with someone who might be working on something similar or know someone who has a similar idea, execution is the hardest part. So getting their advice so that you don't make the same mistakes is incredibly helpful.
The other thing I would say is that through these types of networking conversations, you might find people or connect with others who want to work with you. Starting up with someone can often times be easier than starting up alone.
Obviously, Bloom is about empowering women and is a feminist brand. Do you consider NUDEST to be a feminist company?
I like that Bloom is feminist! And if you go to my Instagram, it literally says in the description that I'm a proud, black feminist! The mission of our company is to redefine the standard of beauty to be inclusive of women of all skin tones. Unfortunately, I think in the US, some of our standards don’t always match women or women of color well. I want to change the standard to say, “You know what? Beauty is actually diverse!” I have so many dreams for the company, some of which I cannot speak about now, but I have long-term goals to empower young girls.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a giver of love and a giver of acceptance. I want to serve others and I realize the more that I think about my success in terms of what I can do to improve other people's lives, the happier I become. I want to be known as a leader who gave to others.