Afterwards, brands could no longer ignore the obvious fact that a dozen different shades of white and light tan foundation, and a handful of medium and darker shades, didn’t reflect the reality of people’s skin. And flimsy excuses that there wasn’t enough demand for darker shades of foundation or shelf space to stock them were revealed as ignorant, if not downright racist.
But while there’s undoubtedly been progress towards greater inclusivity in the beauty industry over the past four years, it’s been slow. So when Australia’s biggest online beauty retailer Adore Beauty recently announced its commitment to increasing the range of foundation and concealer shades it stocks on its website as part of its new Global Shades initiative, some asked why it had taken so long.
“All these questions are really valid, and they’re questions that I’ve asked myself personally along the way,” Shanthi Murugan, Adore Beauty’s head of campaign and strategy, told Inside Retail.
Murugan has been intimately involved with the development of the Global Shades initiative since she first emailed Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris in 2017 to let her know that the retailer didn’t stock a single foundation that was dark enough to match her skin.
In a recent post on LinkedIn, Morris said the story still fills her with shame.
“I suddenly realised that the series of simple decisions that the business had made to try and manage inventory levels and cashflow, such as only ordering stock of the most popular eight or 10 shades of any makeup product, had led to the exclusion of most people of colour,” Morris wrote.
“Her courageous email was the start of Adore’s long journey towards inclusivity, and to address the problem caused by my ignorance.”
More complicated than it looks
While Adore Beauty was quick to acknowledge that it was part of the problem, its desire to be more inclusive didn’t immediately translate to a wider range of foundation and concealer shades being stocked on its website.
The reason, according to Murugan, is that many brands don’t offer their full range of shades to each market, and before making more SKUs available, they want to see proof of demand. That’s why Adore Beauty is asking customers to sign a petition as part of its Global Shades initiative.
“What happens in any industry is that each market is given products that are deemed suitable for that particular population. The problem at present is that Australia is being given access to products that exclude those that service Black, Indigenous and people of colour,” Murugan explained.
“The biggest obstacle for us is that we need to redefine what Australians look like on a global scale, because we need to cater to the true diversity of this country. And that’s what this movement is about.”
Brands need to get on board
At the same time, Murugan acknowledged that some beauty brands simply do not offer inclusive ranges. Either they only offer a handful of darker shades of foundation and concealer, or they don’t offer darker shades with the full range of cool, warm and neutral undertones.
“We have some brands that we stock all of their foundation shades, but they don’t actually have various undertones, or they don’t have a deeper shade range,” Murugan said.
“We want to work with those [brands], and we are having conversations with them. But I think what’s important is that we’re not going to be able to change what they’re doing on our own. It’s something that needs to come from the entire industry.”
All Shades Matter
But if legacy brands have been slow to diversify the range of foundation and concealer shades they offer, new makeup brands are launching with inclusion top of mind.
All Shades Matter is an Australian beauty brand that will only offer darker shades of foundation when it launches online later this year. Co-founders Tali Mason and Shaanti Wallbridge plan to expand into lighter shades in future, the reverse of what most beauty brands do.
“We want to be known as the go-to brand here for darker foundations,” Mason told Inside Retail.
Both adopted from India by Australian parents, Mason and Wallbridge have always struggled to find foundations that match their skin colour. Like many people of colour, they’ve been forced to buy multiple shades of foundation and mix them together to try to get the right colour, or shop overseas in markets that stock a bigger range of shades. Neither option is very affordable.
“What’s really frustrating is that big companies understand the terminology of undertones, but they’re not applying it to darker shades. Is it ‘too hard basket’, or why are we getting left out?” Wallbridge said.
While Wallbridge and Mason are hoping to solve this problem with the launch of their All Shades Matter brand, they also welcome Adore Beauty’s Global Shades initiative as a way to raise much-needed awareness in the wider industry.
“This is a really serious issue that has been around for such a long time, but there needs to be change,” Mason said.
Murugan agreed that offering a wider range of shades of foundation and concealer is important.
“It might seem like we’re just talking about makeup and beauty, and it should be fun, and why are you complaining? But it’s this idea that people of colour have been excluded from narratives for so long, and this is just another narrative that they’re excluded from,” she said.
A major theme for businesses
Rosanna Iacono, managing partner at Sydney-based retail consultancy The Growth Activists, believes businesses needs to become more inclusive, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes commercial sense.
“We are likely still too close to the events of 2020 and the rise of social justice movements like #blacklivesmatter to see that inclusivity and anti-racism will be ongoing major themes for businesses over the next few years, not only to address internally from a policy standpoint, but to address in a way that manifests externally to the customer and in the broader marketplace,” she told Inside Retail.
“In some ways these themes will dominate the next phase of responsible business practice, now that sustainability has been truly embedded as a critical theme.”