The business of beauty
She now runs one of Australia’s most successful online beauty businesses, but when Monash Business School graduate Kate Morris launched the store, few believed it would succeed.
When Kate Morris, the founder and director of online beauty retailer Adore Beauty, launched her business from a small garage in suburban Melbourne 19 years ago, she never imagined she would one day have trouble finding a warehouse big enough to house her online operations. But that’s the predicament the Monash University business graduate now faces.
With 120 staff and thousands of orders a week, the online beauty juggernaut has recently outgrown its inner-city premises, moving to a larger site in Melbourne’s north-west. “All the bigger warehouses in Northcote have been turned into apartments,” she laughs.
Back in 1999, just as property developers were buying up disused warehouses in inner Melbourne, Morris was two years into a Bachelor of Business (Management) degree at Monash and working part-time at a department store Clarins counter.
It was during her time on the cosmetics floor that she developed the idea for Adore Beauty, realising many of her customers found shopping for beauty products intimidating and felt pressured into buying items they didn’t want or need.
So, at the age of 21, and with several banks refusing to lend her money, Morris borrowed $12,000 from the parents of her long-time partner, James Height (with whom she now has two children), and started Australia’s first online beauty store.
Operating from the garage of her student share house that she rented, it launched with just two little-known beauty brands on board. Every other cosmetics company she approached laughed her out the door.
Turning ‘no’ into ‘yes’
“There was a whole lot of ‘no’ and not very much ‘yes’ for the first few years. The industry just wasn’t ready for it,” she says.
The online store now boasts 200 brands and more than 14,000 products.
She says it was her own self-belief, her ability to back herself when no-one else did, that compelled her to continue.
“I’m obviously just innately quite stubborn, but there were also just enough little hints that I might be onto something.”
“I think some of the greatest opportunities for women in their careers come from bypassing the glass ceiling altogether, by building their own companies.”
Adore Beauty now has more than one million visitors a month, with annual turnover reported to be more than $20 million.
“We’ve doubled our turnover each year for the past three years, which was beyond all our expectations,” she says. “Our biggest challenge at the moment is scaling up operationally to cope with the growth.”
Morris, who was an inaugural member of the Monash Business School Advisory Board, has spoken at a graduation ceremony and is a regular speaker at Monash Business School events, says her degree taught her incredibly useful critical thinking skills.
“Entrepreneurship was never a career path that I had envisaged or contemplated for myself, and I think I did it very much the hard way, without much support or mentorship,” she says. She’s passionate about supporting the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, particularly women. In 2018, she launched the Women in Tech scholarship, giving Australian women studying computer science the opportunity for a paid internship with the company.
Morris wants to use her “experience and privilege” to help others. “I also think some of the greatest opportunities for women in their careers come from bypassing the glass ceiling altogether, by building their own companies. I want to help educate them as to what that’s going to be like and give them the best chance of success.”