Leadership

A thing of beauty: How Kate Morris founded $10 million online retailer Adore Beauty

Kirsten Robb /

Kirsten Robb

Name: Kate Morris

Company: Adore Beauty

Based: Brunswick, Melbourne

Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris has spent her whole life fascinated by the beauty industry but she’s come a long way since her first job as a teenager working at the local pharmacy.

“I would be cleaning toilets, vacuuming floors and dusting the makeup counter,” recalls Morris about her humble beginnings in beauty.

She upgraded her cosmetics gig when she went to university, working part-time at the Clarins counter of department stores as a makeup demonstrator. It was there she noticed a trend she believed was holding back the industry.

“I noticed when I told people what I did, they’d pull a face and say, ‘Oh, I hate coming in there, those department store ladies are so mean and scary,” Morris says.

Pushy saleswomen with snobby makeup advice were putting off customers in droves and Morris could see a missed opportunity.

“For me, cosmetics is always so fun and something to feel good about rather than something that intimidates and disempowers women,“ says Morris.

“I thought someone should start an online beauty store and I was waiting for someone else to do it. But over time, this idea got stuck in my head.”

With two social worker parents who taught her to “study hard and just get a good job”, Morris says she she’d never considered the life of an entrepreneur.

It took some prompting from her partner – who is still is business with her today – but Morris eventually bit the bullet and launched e-commerce site Adore Beauty out of her garage in 2000.

“I guess I found that entrepreneurial spirit,” she laughs.

Now approaching its 15-year birthday, Adore Beauty is set to turn over more than $10 million this financial year. Morris has grown the company by 78.53% in the last two years, landing Adore Beauty on last year’s Smart50 list, and now lists over 140 brands on the site.

Morris chats with SmartCompany about making the transition into a $10 million company and why she thinks having it all is possible, but doing it all isn’t.

Mornings

Morris is the first to admit she is “not a morning person”.

“I do have a three-year-old though, so the latest I get up is 7am. But I feel like with a three-year-old, 7am is not actually doing too badly,” she says.

After a rush to get the family and herself ready for the day (she has always worn a full face of makeup to work, ever since her days in the garage) Morris arrives at her Brunswick office by 9am, “giant coffee” in hand.

Daily life

Like most entrepreneurs, there is no such thing as a typical day for Morris, but she says there is at least one hard and fast rule she tries to live by.

“I never schedule meetings on a Monday. Mondays are for trying to trawl through a heaving inbox and get ready for the week,” she says.

Morris spends a large amount of her time working on various marketing strategies, which have been amped up considerably in the lead up to Adore Beauty’s 15th birthday in April.

As a part of the celebrations, the retailer is launching a spanking new website and the overhaul is taking up most of Morris’ time.

“Websites are a constantly changing thing. I always have a bit of a laugh when bricks-and-mortar stores say online retailers don’t have any overheads. Sure, that’s easy for you to say, you don’t have to renovate your shop every three years,” she laughs.

The website makeover represents a turning point for Morris; a transitional phase that waves goodbye to being a business founder who is across all day-to-day operations, to a chief executive steering a $10 million company into another 15 years.

“I’m still wearing a lot of hats, but I’m also trying to plan for the future. It’s an interesting transition from being the person who does everything through to being CEO,” she says.

The Adore Beauty team has expanded significantly in recent years to just under 30 staff and Morris says she places priority on finding the right people to grow the culture of the business moving forward.

“We went through a whole values process last year to work out what sort of company we wanted to be,” she says.

“It wasn’t just mission statement crap you put on the wall and forget about, it was about finding the actual values we want to live by.”

Leisure time

With a three-year-old at home and a hectic period of growth for her business, Morris admits her work-life balance can be tough terrain to navigate.

But she believes an understanding partner and an emphasis on parenting rather than mothering is the key to winning the cliché battle of a woman who “wants it all”.

“Workplace equality has to start at home. When people say, you can’t have it all, I think it’s more like, you can’t do it all. My life is eminently more manageable knowing I have someone who will do half the pick-ups and drop-offs. Someone who doesn’t believe it’s my job to do it all,” she says.

When Morris does get a rare moment to herself, you might find her devouring Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North or baking “real nana stuff” like lamingtons and ANZAC biscuits.

The future

Beyond the new Adore Beauty website, Morris’ priorities for 2015 include further expanding the site’s product range and “making the biggest marketing push” Adore Beauty has ever made to change the mind of Aussies buying cosmetics online.

“Adore Beauty needs to be the first place people think of when they think of buying cosmetics,” she says.

“I think Australians have gotten used to shopping for cosmetics and looking overseas first. But now for us, with our growing product range, I feel that it’s time to show Australia, right OK, we are fully cooked and ready to go”.

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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