Tired of the Lack of Diversity in Hosiery, Tahlia Gray Created Tights For Women of Colour with Sheer Chemistry

Words: Addie Kenogbon
Friday 20 January 2023
reading time: min, words

Addie Kenogbon catches up with Tahlia Gray, entrepreneur and founder of Nottingham hosiery brand Sheer Chemistry, to hear about how her range of tights is helping to empower women of colour…


Created by entrepreneur Tahlia Gray in 2017, Sheer Chemistry was launched to fill an important gap in the hosiery market, giving women of colour the chance to get their hands on good quality skin colour tights - something which until recently hadn’t been readily available in everyday shops. It may be hard to believe in 2023, but like many other women of colour, it’s a challenge Tahlia has experienced many times over the years. And, after scouring the streets of New York for a pair of tights to match her skin tone during one chilly winter day, she set out on a mission to make a change. 

“I had just finished university and I got my first job in New York,” she says. “I was excited about being in this new city - one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world - and I expected things like make-up and tights for brown skin just to be readily available on the high street.

“So, I walked into a department store and said, ‘Can you show me where the tights for my skin tone are?’ The sales advisor looked at me puzzled, and was like, ‘Erm, we've got nude,’ and then showed me over to this wall of tights with a sea of beiges. And I was like, ‘This is ridiculous. We're in New York.’ The same thing happened to me in London and in other cities around the world too. And I thought someone really needs to do something about this.”

According to a 2021 census, 18% of those living in the UK belong to a black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group, yet the reality is that diversity is often not reflected in the common products found in regular high street stores, including make-up, plasters, shapewear and hosiery.

I want people to feel invincible when they wear our clothes

“I started Sheer Chemistry really on the premise to celebrate the diverse beauty that exists within people of colour, while really empowering us to feel confident and gorgeous in our own skin. Because I thought we are worthy of having a brand that's made with us in mind. And spending the time to make sure that the colours actually match our skin tone and are not an afterthought. I really wanted to create a brand that fairly represented us in our best light, and allowed us to be unapologetically ourselves. So that's how Sheer Chemistry was born.”

Today, as well as being available to purchase online through the Sheer Chemistry website, the brand is also stocked in 72 John Lewis and Waitrose stores nationwide - but it’s something that took years of persistence, Tahlia says. 

“It has been hard. The first conversation I had with John Lewis was in 2017, when we launched. And it went something along the lines of, ‘We've tried something like that before. It didn't work. Keep in touch.’ And then, what happened in 2020, with the murder of George Floyd, I think was a watershed moment across industries - fashion and otherwise - in terms of taking into account and representing the community that exists within our country, which is very diverse. After that event, sadly - I say sadly, because it's a shame it was a result of this event that things opened up - a lot of the retailers were more willing to have these conversations.”

Sheer Chemistry tights are available in five shades to match a range of brown skin tones, with a scientific approach to shade-matching, ensuring each pair blends seamlessly with the wearer’s skin.

“When I first decided to create Sheer Chemistry, the first thing I wanted to get right is creating shades that perfectly match all brown skin tones,” explains Tahlia. “So I thought I needed a reference point that already existed. And at the time, there were brands in the cosmetic space, like MAC and Bobbi Brown, who did make-up for darker skin tones. So I went to the cosmetic counters of these brands and collected little sample pots, and spoke to make-up artists to collect a lot of intel in terms of what the most popular shades were for different ethnicities.” 

Tahlia then got large A3 sheets of paper and colour-coded all the shades and did a survey with hundreds of women around the UK, asking them about their tights-wearing patterns as well as what make-up they were currently wearing. “I basically created this massive database of the dominant shades. Then when I did eventually find a manufacturer I sent the actual pots of make-up to them to replicate on tights. It took a lot of back and forth across eighteen months to perfect our shades, but I tested them on real women in terms of sizing and shade match and different lighting until we got to a point where I was satisfied with our five shades of brown.” The Sheer Chemistry website also provides a database which allows buyers to type in what make-up shade and brand they wear, and the site will find their perfect shade of tights. 

I started Sheer Chemistry really on the premise to celebrate the diverse beauty that exists within people of colour

Born in Sydney, Australia, to Jamaican parents, and having lived in London, New York, Brazil and now Nottingham, Tahlia is no stranger to travel, and it is her love of exploring that was the inspiration for the names of all five shades. “They are all named after cosmopolitan and desirable cities. Traditionally brown shades have been named after edible goods such as mocha, latte, caramel, chocolate. And I know a lot of people might be like, ‘It’s not that deep,’ but I feel like it diminishes the multifaceted nature of us. So, I wanted to create shade names that people would feel really excited about.

“In terms of colourism, people don’t always want to identify with the darker shades, but when you hear it’s Parisian Dream and you have a positive story about going to Paris or you’ve always wanted to go to Paris, it evokes a lot of positive connotations and memories. So I wanted to emphasise that our beauty is as much where we’re from as where we’re going, and really have something positive around our shade names. The shades are named after my five favourite cities - Havana Glow, Rio Romance, New York Soul, Nairobi Sunrise and Parisian Dream. My shade is New York soul because that’s where the story started.”

It’s been a busy five years since launch, but Tahlia believes it’s just the beginning, with plans to expand the collection with a plus-size range that will go up to size 28, a new shapewear and lingerie collection and the addition of tights for other skin tones too.

“I do get feedback from lighter skin people saying they’ve never been able to find their perfect match and I do want to expand in terms of being available for all skin tones. But the reason why I thought it was important to start off specifically focusing on brown skin tones is because it didn't exist. For the lighter shades and various other skin tones, there are already many different brands out there that they can choose from, but for black and brown people, there just isn't.”

“I want our customers to fall in love with their skin tone, to feel empowered to do whatever they desire and feel that there are no limits. I want people to feel invincible when they wear Sheer Chemistry.”


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