There's something so charming about Kate Morris’s down-to-earth disposition. She is, after all, the founder of Adore Beauty, Australia’s leading online beauty retailer and one of the country’s favourite success stories. Having built her business up from (very) humble beginnings, she saw the opportunities of online shopping before most, and went after it.
Photography by Tara Moore.
So tell us the inspiration behind Adore Beauty?
"I was working at a makeup counter during university back in 1999 and saw how many women really hated the experience of going into a department store and buying beauty products. They found the high-pressure sales environment really intimidating. I thought that was strange – buying beauty products should be an exciting experience and something to have a little fun with."
"I then became aware of online shopping and I thought that was a no brainer: you should be able to shop beauty online because so many people would want to shop that way. But nobody was doing it, so I decided to."
What have been the major setbacks on your journey from here to there?
“If you look at the fact it’s taken nineteen years to get to here, Adore has obviously not been an overnight success. Really I think that I was probably ten years too early in terms of the vision. Brands didn’t really want to be online at that point, there was a lot of no for a really long time. The customers also weren’t really ready to shop online, it was a bit of a different world then. It was only when people finally started to realise that this is a thing and it’s not going to go away, we were the obvious people to talk to.”
Is there a particular pinch-me moment that stands out to you?
“This is probably about sixteen years in. I was sitting at my desk one day, I’m not sure how many people we had on board at that point, maybe seventy to eighty. Suddenly one of the girls came through my door with a fire warden hat and an air horn. She announced that it was a fire drill and everyone had to go outside on the grass area. I didn’t know anything about it, which made me realise that a) this company is big enough that we’re doing fire drills, and b) there things are happening that I don’t even know about! And wow, that was a bit surreal. It’s when I realised it was bigger than me now.”
What do you love about beauty?
“I love that it’s a thing that can suit everybody. It’s that thing where if your skin is looking great, or you’re having a really good hair day, it can give you a really good lift. I think it’s also something that people are using to express themselves these days. It’s a bit like fashion in a way, it’s the thought of ‘who do I want to be today’ and beauty lets you do that.”
“What I’m hoping to see more and more, is that people don’t use makeup because they feel bad about how they look, rather people are using it as an expression of self-care, of taking time to yourself. That little ten minutes at the end of the day where you do your cleansing ritual – that’s not for anyone else. That’s just for you.”
Its definitely a new thing isn't it, the idea of beauty as self-care?
“Yes and I think it’s somewhat similar to exercise, where people go to an hour of yoga or Pilates and that’s their time; that type of approach is happening with self-care and beauty. It’s less about producing a result in terms of the way you look, and more about the way you feel once you’ve done it.”
Youve touched on this, but what do you believe is the link between fashion and beauty - self-expression?
“It’s a way of turning ourselves into the women we want to be on any particular day. I know I certainly do that with fashion, the outfit I choose when I’m doing a big presentation is very different to the outfit I choose when I’m hanging with the girls on the weekend. They’re all still me, just different expressions of me. The same goes with beauty, you’re giving yourself the confidence you need in that moment.”
How has your leadership skills evolved with the business?
“Well you certainly have to change, you go from sitting in a room of five people and everyone there is your direct report, whereas now it’s obviously a lot bigger. The challenge now is when to let go, and when to trust. I think that’s difficult for any entrepreneur who’s built something from scratch. You know that’s your baby, but you have to learn to let go. We have great people working here, which makes it a lot easier. Because when they say they’ve got this, they actually do.”
“It’s also about trying to build a culture that lets everybody get their work done. And how we can continue to be a high performance and agile company as we continue to grow. It’s easy to be agile when there’s only five of you, but when there’s one hundred and thirty-five of you, you have to build the systems and the right environment that will let people take risks. We don’t want to get big and slow. The reason that we are where we are is because we could take risks and do things that other people wouldn’t try. So my role now is much more about creating an environment that would support that.”
Does that come intuitively to you?
“Certainly not, it's absolutely something I’ve had to learn. It's not something I was born with but on the plus side, I am a fast learner.”
You learn on your feet?