Women With GRITT: Shanthi Murugan On The Importance Of Role Models, Being The Change You Wish To See And Leading Adore Beauty’s Global Shades Initiative

“As a woman of colour, a consumer and as a marketer, I knew I wasn’t the only one experiencing this inequality. Australia boasts one of the most diverse populations in the world so it seemed really ironic to me that our beauty industry wasn’t celebrating this diversity.”

Welcome to Women with GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same.

For some, the thought of being a driving force behind big change can feel like an overwhelming and scary concept. For others, namely the likes of Adore Beauty’s Head of Campaign and Strategy, Shanthi Murugan, this is exactly what they thrive off. One of three sisters and born into a migrant family, Murugan has drive and ambition in her blood. Crediting her mother for her tenacity, the Melburnian’s independent nature has spurred her to the top of the corporate ladder. “My mother always stressed to us girls the importance of being self-sufficient and relying solely on yourself,” Murugan reflects. “I think that’s where a lot of my drive comes from. I know that if I want to see things change, I have to play a part in making that happen.”

The driving force behind Adore Beauty’s Global Shades Initiative, Murugan’s own experiences with racism and inequality fuelled her passion for ensuring Adore became a leader in embracing and showcasing diversity. Part of the business’s first phase to becoming more inclusive, the initiative curates complexion products based on their criteria of ensuring shade ranges cater to the whole spectrum of colour and tone. 

In this interview, Murugan speaks to Gritty Pretty about taking control, asking for help, fighting for what you believe in and the importance of inclusivity.

 

Hi Shanthi! Thank you for chatting to us today. Before we jump into your amazing career, we would love to know a little bit more about what makes you, you. So, where did you grow up?

I was born in the mid-80s to my mother, who is Sri Lankan, and my father, who is Malaysian. My parents left their respective countries to study abroad in England in the 70s, which is where they fell in love. My two older sisters were born in the United Kingdom before my family chose to migrate to Australia. What was really fascinating about that time was that although Australia was witnessing this incredible increase in immigration, there was a real lack of acceptance of new communities and specifically ethnic minorities. When I was growing up, racism in Australia was a really genuine and disturbing reality.

That would have been incredibly difficult to navigate as a young woman. How did you deal with this when you were growing up?

I think I always knew that it wasn’t something that was okay because of how it made me feel. It made me feel less than, othered and not valued. Which, human nature will tell you is never a good thing. I think when I started to become more vocal about it was probably in my 20s. So, it definitely took a while for me to bring it up in conversations and discuss it with my friends and family. But it’s never something you fully put to bed. I think many people of colour or minority groups will agree that they still deal with some level of it on a daily basis and you’re constantly reminded that you are different as you walk through life. It’s something that keeps reappearing and you have to keep evolving in how you respond to it and educate others.

Where would you say you inherited your drive and passion from?

I certainly believe that qualities like drive and passion are learned from a young age. I was really fortunate that my mother was an incredibly resilient and powerful woman. Her strength wasn’t exhibited in the traditional sense of being overly confident or outspoken but she always maintained the strength of influence and she delivered the strength in a very elegant way. That’s what I love about my mother. She raised my sisters and I to be really self-sufficient financially and emotionally. She always guided us to ensure we would never rely on anyone other than ourselves. And my mother did experience terrible isolation as a result of racism in Australia. Yet, she overcame those dark years and found it within herself to keep growing her own sense of worth for her and her daughters. She’s quite marvellous.

She sounds like an incredible role model! How did she inspire your entry into the beauty industry with Adore Beauty?

I started with Adore in 2012 and I entered the company at one of its most defining, transitional moments. For the first time in its history, the company had enough resources to invest in marketing and new hires. That resulted in a natural trajectory of growth, as Adore was the first beauty e-tailer in Australia. Since then, we’ve been able to expand and take on new brands and invest in public relations and brand awareness initiatives, which we didn’t have the luxury of doing before 2012. We’ve gone from being quite the underdog to becoming a mighty disrupter and leader in the industry. A win for us is the fact that when people talk about Adore Beauty, they name drop our competitors in the same breath. This hasn’t always been the case and is a true testament to our growth.

How has your role changed since you started almost ten years ago?

Personally, I’ve gone from being the one who meets with all of our brands and suppliers to leading my own team. I am always working on ways we can innovate and improve our ways of marketing. But my knowledge of e-commerce has been learned entirely on the job. I’m really fortunate to say that I gathered a lot of what I know from the founders of the first online beauty retailer in the country.

You were also the force behind Adore Beauty’s Global Shades Initiative which aims to expand the current shade offering of base products to ensure everyone can find their perfect shade. Why was introducing this initiative so important to you?

I initiated the conversation about being more inclusive as a retailer because I had experienced the inequality of the industry firsthand. As a woman of colour, a consumer and as a marketer, I knew I wasn’t the only one. Australia boasts one of the most diverse populations in the world so it seemed really ironic to me that our beauty industry wasn’t celebrating this diversity. In fact, the industry was choosing to nurture an image of Anglo-Celtic beauty and at Adore, one of our core values is to do the right thing. So, when I made a conscious effort to bring this to the attention of the founders and our leadership team, it was something that the company wholeheartedly supported. I think our values as a business have been a really great compass when navigating really significant issues like diversity and inclusion. It’s a great way for us to embrace change.

How did you go about getting this initiative off the ground?

I wrote an email to our founder, Kate Morris, in 2017 proposing that we could do and be better when it came to being inclusive as an online retailer. Since then we’ve been working internally with existing brand suppliers and also onboarding new inclusive brands to build out what is now our Global Shades offering. It’s an evolving edit of complexion products that you can find on our site that meet our definition of what it means to be inclusive. In 2021, we realised we needed to get the public’s support to illustrate the demand that the remaining suppliers were asking for. Which is how the Global Shades petition was born. We have been asking the public to sign our petition if they believe that beauty in Australia should be accessible to all. These signatures represent the need and want to have all globally available complexion products brought into the country—because everyone deserves access to the same array of products, regardless of skin tone.

What were some of the more challenging aspects of introducing this new part of the business?

The most challenging aspect of the Global Shades initiative has been navigating what is a very personal lived experience of inequality and endeavouring to influence commercial behaviour change. It’s a fragile dance between managing intense, personal turmoil and allowing my personal story to affect others in a human way that encourages action. It’s definitely not easy and has required an investment of not only time but an investment in my mental and emotional capacity. 

 

Well, you should be so proud of what you have created! It truly is a gamechanger for the beauty industry. How do you hope to see this initiative flourish and influence the rest of the industry in the future?

The Global Shades vision is to ensure beauty retail in Australia is inclusive. Not specific to any one retailer, but for the industry as a whole. We have started the conversation with skin tone, however, being inclusive extends far beyond the confines of skin. We need to be inclusive in areas of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to explore what this means for all categories of beauty, not just makeup, but skincare, haircare, fragrance. Diversity and inclusivity is not about meeting a set equation or criteria, it’s ever-evolving and there will always be work to be done. 

And finally, we couldn’t let you go without asking about your top beauty recommendations. When it comes to skincare, what are your favourite products?

Currently, I cleanse with ASPECT’s Purastat 5 Cleanser. I religiously, spritz my face with the Minenssey Hydrating Dynamic Facial Essence (I popped a spray head onto my bottle so it’s easier to use), then while my skin is still slightly damp I apply asap’s Super B Serum and let this soak into my skin. I then apply ASPECT’s Phytostat 9 moisturiser—which is heaven in an airtight container—and finish by applying Ultra Violette’s Supreme Screen SPF 50+, an SPF that’s completely undetectable on darker skin tones.

Thank you for chatting to us today Shanthi!

For some, the thought of being a driving force behind big change can feel like an overwhelming and scary concept. For others, namely the likes of Adore Beauty’s Head of Campaign and Strategy, Shanthi Murugan, this is exactly what they thrive off. One of three sisters and born into a migrant family, Murugan has drive and ambition in her blood. Crediting her mother for her tenacity, the Melburnian’s independent nature has spurred her to the top of the corporate ladder. “My mother always stressed to us girls the importance of being self-sufficient and relying solely on yourself,” Murugan reflects. “I think that’s where a lot of my drive comes from. I know that if I want to see things change, I have to play a part in making that happen.”

The driving force behind Adore Beauty’s Global Shades Initiative, Murugan’s own experiences with racism and inequality fuelled her passion for ensuring Adore became a leader in embracing and showcasing diversity. Part of the business’s first phase to becoming more inclusive, the initiative curates complexion products based on their criteria of ensuring shade ranges cater to the whole spectrum of colour and tone. 

In this interview, Murugan speaks to Gritty Pretty about taking control, asking for help, fighting for what you believe in and the importance of inclusivity.

 

Hi Shanthi! Thank you for chatting to us today. Before we jump into your amazing career, we would love to know a little bit more about what makes you, you. So, where did you grow up?

I was born in the mid-80s to my mother, who is Sri Lankan, and my father, who is Malaysian. My parents left their respective countries to study abroad in England in the 70s, which is where they fell in love. My two older sisters were born in the United Kingdom before my family chose to migrate to Australia. What was really fascinating about that time was that although Australia was witnessing this incredible increase in immigration, there was a real lack of acceptance of new communities and specifically ethnic minorities. When I was growing up, racism in Australia was a really genuine and disturbing reality.

That would have been incredibly difficult to navigate as a young woman. How did you deal with this when you were growing up?

I think I always knew that it wasn’t something that was okay because of how it made me feel. It made me feel less than, othered and not valued. Which, human nature will tell you is never a good thing. I think when I started to become more vocal about it was probably in my 20s. So, it definitely took a while for me to bring it up in conversations and discuss it with my friends and family. But it’s never something you fully put to bed. I think many people of colour or minority groups will agree that they still deal with some level of it on a daily basis and you’re constantly reminded that you are different as you walk through life. It’s something that keeps reappearing and you have to keep evolving in how you respond to it and educate others.

Where would you say you inherited your drive and passion from?

I certainly believe that qualities like drive and passion are learned from a young age. I was really fortunate that my mother was an incredibly resilient and powerful woman. Her strength wasn’t exhibited in the traditional sense of being overly confident or outspoken but she always maintained the strength of influence and she delivered the strength in a very elegant way. That’s what I love about my mother. She raised my sisters and I to be really self-sufficient financially and emotionally. She always guided us to ensure we would never rely on anyone other than ourselves. And my mother did experience terrible isolation as a result of racism in Australia. Yet, she overcame those dark years and found it within herself to keep growing her own sense of worth for her and her daughters. She’s quite marvellous.

She sounds like an incredible role model! How did she inspire your entry into the beauty industry with Adore Beauty?

I started with Adore in 2012 and I entered the company at one of its most defining, transitional moments. For the first time in its history, the company had enough resources to invest in marketing and new hires. That resulted in a natural trajectory of growth, as Adore was the first beauty e-tailer in Australia. Since then, we’ve been able to expand and take on new brands and invest in public relations and brand awareness initiatives, which we didn’t have the luxury of doing before 2012. We’ve gone from being quite the underdog to becoming a mighty disrupter and leader in the industry. A win for us is the fact that when people talk about Adore Beauty, they name drop our competitors in the same breath. This hasn’t always been the case and is a true testament to our growth.

How has your role changed since you started almost ten years ago?

Personally, I’ve gone from being the one who meets with all of our brands and suppliers to leading my own team. I am always working on ways we can innovate and improve our ways of marketing. But my knowledge of e-commerce has been learned entirely on the job. I’m really fortunate to say that I gathered a lot of what I know from the founders of the first online beauty retailer in the country.

You were also the force behind Adore Beauty’s Global Shades Initiative which aims to expand the current shade offering of base products to ensure everyone can find their perfect shade. Why was introducing this initiative so important to you?

I initiated the conversation about being more inclusive as a retailer because I had experienced the inequality of the industry firsthand. As a woman of colour, a consumer and as a marketer, I knew I wasn’t the only one. Australia boasts one of the most diverse populations in the world so it seemed really ironic to me that our beauty industry wasn’t celebrating this diversity. In fact, the industry was choosing to nurture an image of Anglo-Celtic beauty and at Adore, one of our core values is to do the right thing. So, when I made a conscious effort to bring this to the attention of the founders and our leadership team, it was something that the company wholeheartedly supported. I think our values as a business have been a really great compass when navigating really significant issues like diversity and inclusion. It’s a great way for us to embrace change.

How did you go about getting this initiative off the ground?

I wrote an email to our founder, Kate Morris, in 2017 proposing that we could do and be better when it came to being inclusive as an online retailer. Since then we’ve been working internally with existing brand suppliers and also onboarding new inclusive brands to build out what is now our Global Shades offering. It’s an evolving edit of complexion products that you can find on our site that meet our definition of what it means to be inclusive. In 2021, we realised we needed to get the public’s support to illustrate the demand that the remaining suppliers were asking for. Which is how the Global Shades petition was born. We have been asking the public to sign our petition if they believe that beauty in Australia should be accessible to all. These signatures represent the need and want to have all globally available complexion products brought into the country—because everyone deserves access to the same array of products, regardless of skin tone.

What were some of the more challenging aspects of introducing this new part of the business?

The most challenging aspect of the Global Shades initiative has been navigating what is a very personal lived experience of inequality and endeavouring to influence commercial behaviour change. It’s a fragile dance between managing intense, personal turmoil and allowing my personal story to affect others in a human way that encourages action. It’s definitely not easy and has required an investment of not only time but an investment in my mental and emotional capacity. 

 

Well, you should be so proud of what you have created! It truly is a gamechanger for the beauty industry. How do you hope to see this initiative flourish and influence the rest of the industry in the future?

The Global Shades vision is to ensure beauty retail in Australia is inclusive. Not specific to any one retailer, but for the industry as a whole. We have started the conversation with skin tone, however, being inclusive extends far beyond the confines of skin. We need to be inclusive in areas of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to explore what this means for all categories of beauty, not just makeup, but skincare, haircare, fragrance. Diversity and inclusivity is not about meeting a set equation or criteria, it’s ever-evolving and there will always be work to be done. 

And finally, we couldn’t let you go without asking about your top beauty recommendations. When it comes to skincare, what are your favourite products?

Currently, I cleanse with ASPECT’s Purastat 5 Cleanser. I religiously, spritz my face with the Minenssey Hydrating Dynamic Facial Essence (I popped a spray head onto my bottle so it’s easier to use), then while my skin is still slightly damp I apply asap’s Super B Serum and let this soak into my skin. I then apply ASPECT’s Phytostat 9 moisturiser—which is heaven in an airtight container—and finish by applying Ultra Violette’s Supreme Screen SPF 50+, an SPF that’s completely undetectable on darker skin tones.

Thank you for chatting to us today Shanthi!

Comments

Jacqui

This is beautiful Shanti, so proud of you

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