The diversity and inclusion commitment behind Adore Beauty's Global Shades initiative

Head of strategy and campaign for online beauty retailer details the cultural and operational transformation required to back up the new Global Shades initiative

The faces of Adore Beauty's Global Shades initiative (from left): Lil Ahenkan, Malaan Aljang and Maria Thattil
The faces of Adore Beauty's Global Shades initiative (from left): Lil Ahenkan, Malaan Aljang and Maria Thattil

Shining a light on diversity issues existing across the beauty industry is vital if the sector is to truly find a solution where all consumers feel included, says Adore Beauty’s strategy and campaign leader.

The Australian online beauty retailer has just kicked off its Global Shades initiative, a step forward in a long-term diversity and inclusion effort transforming the company inside and out. The initiative takes its cues from work Adore Beauty has been doing over the past four years to address gaps in its product portfolio, specifically around the lack of suitable make-up tones and colours for people of colour.

As part of the Global Shades initiative, Adore Beauty has published an ‘open letter to all Australians’, highlighting the lack of available beauty product options for people of colour and encouraging everyone to work together to kickstart change. The Global Shades site also features an epetition consumers can sign, plus video-based stories from Australians of different backgrounds who have directly experienced the challenges of finding products suited to their skin tones. Adore has also recruited Miss Universe Australia 2020, Maria Thattil, as its Global Shades campaign ambassador.

Adore Beauty head of strategy and campaign, Shanthi Murugan, told CMO the starting point for the initiative was her direct experience of struggling to find a shade for her own skin tone.

“I wrote to our founder [Kate Morris] in 2017 to express my concerns as a person of colour and that we were not catered to with these products. This began the move towards opening up our shades range,” she said.

Today, Adore Beauty is working towards ranging more than 2600 different shades from 350 complexion products. At the same time, Murugan said the industry is taking steps to correct the issues. However, there’s still a lot more to be done.

“You need to understand the problem before working towards a solution, and that has meant listening to me and other people of colour with lived experiences of colour ranging,” she said. “Our first step was looking at the shades we had available and from there, getting all globally available shades.”

Shanthi MuruganCredit: Adore Beauty
Shanthi Murugan


As Murugan explained, an initial challenge was the bias suppliers had around the Australian market and what local consumers looked like.

“Each market is given access to shades thought suitable to the population, and this often excludes darker shades. We realised Australian shades were skewed to anglo-centric colouring, and people of colour were excluded from that picture,” she said. “We needed to educate the rest of the world to gain a more accurate picture of what Australians look like.”

Turning on the Global Shades site was about illustrating this lack of representation. The site sits both separately and as a sub-section within the main Adore Beauty site.

“When you see visually that there are no darker shades, it’s a very strong visual to illustrate that lack of representation,” Murugan said. “We have been in meetings with suppliers, talking through that story, plus nurturing and educating from a consumer perspective.”  

Another useful tool has been an algorithm and widget sitting across multiple beauty retail sites, including Adore Beauty’s, allowing a consumer to colour-match their foundation to find the perfect match digitally. As Murugan pointed out, this tool has enabled consumers to feel more confident about their purchase decisions. But it’s also a good indicator of brands supporting this movement, and a way of highlighting the extent of demand to suppliers.

“We have the data which shows us where there are holes in the Australian market being fulfilled by overseas suppliers, and which brands are fulfilling these needs,” Murugan said.

“In recruiting brands and suppliers, we knew they were looking for demand. We reviewed internally and thought if industry needed to see this demand, then let’s show them. It’s about how can we really push this by ensuring Australians can be part of this important global journey, make it a very public journey and our intentions.”  

Commercially, Murugan said the diversity and inclusion approach also stacks up. “Retail companies in Australia are working so hard to acquire new customers. It’s the strangest thing – here are people begging for the privilege of spending their money to buy your products. It’s not rocket science,” she said.   

“This is an opportunity to create a new customer base of loyal customers, while servicing diversity, inclusion and expanding your market. It’s about turning a commercial challenge into a commercial opportunity.”  

Company culture

Such an external push couldn’t come without significant cultural change internally, and Murugan said Adore Beauty’s attempts to start diversity and inclusion conversations unravelled other facets of the business that needed addressing.  

“We’re collecting data to understand the make-up of our team and how they identify, because the important thing is you can’t assume,” she said. “We are reviewing our recruitment processes to address any unconscious bias. We’re also working with content creators of colour to continue elevating their voices, and we’ll constantly review other products for hair, skin types to access more inclusive brands.”  

Adore Beauty has also established a diversity and inclusion committee to drive program of work and highlight its intentions across the business. The committee is working on measurable goals for the next two years, due by May. To help with the process, it’s aligned with the Diversity Council of Australia.

“To foster future learning and unlearning, staff need to be allowed to say they want to be better, understand how and to feel supported. And as we do more, there’s more we recognise needs to be done,” Murugan said. 

Long-term commitment

Murugan described the Global Shades initiative as a “human rights campaign, not a commercial campaign”, and one seeking genuine, meaningful change.

“We need to engage all of Australia in this,” she said, adding the business is hoping to secure at least 10,000 signatures to its petition. “Each digital signature is a potent picture of demand and the real issues. Realisation is a core part of this initiative.”  

Murugan’s long-term hope is global shades won’t be a specific category but part of an all-inclusive product and services offering.

“We are in it for the long haul, and we’ll continue to uncover and amplify these stories,” she said. “We want to educate and build relationships with brands and retailers to continue this behaviour change. A lot of this comes down to education and access.

“And we hope to see other brands correct this and demand change, and band together as a collective so the entire Australian beauty industry becomes inclusive, not just one retailer or brand. By end of 2021, our goal is to make the wider Australian industry an inclusive space.”  

Murugan agreed movements such as Black Lives Matter during 2020 stirred up the Australian public and put race top of mind.

“Timing plays a key aspect in how public receives calls for changes like this. This topic has circulated for some time, but it’s really now coming to the forefront,” she said. “It’s become more natural to respond than reject. So now is the opportune time to talk about these issues.  

“We know we're not perfect and we’re trying to be better and deliver an inclusive experience. The support from the Australian public and beauty industry to rebuild an accurate picture of 'Australian beauty' will result in real change and a positive shift for customers. We must share the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of colour and paint a true picture of what it's like, and more importantly, how it should be.”

Related: How Adore Beauty boosted customer engagement

What being a data-driven brand really means to Adore Beauty

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