Unilever on why it had a ‘responsibility’ to launch the first inclusive deodorant

Unilever-owned Sure is marking its first foray into accessible design with a deodorant for people with visual impairments and upper limb mobility disabilities as it looks to drive long-term change and get more businesses thinking about inclusivity

For most people, putting on deodorant in the morning is a routine but necessary task. However, for the more than one in five Britons with a disability, this is another example of an area in which the product and experience has not been designed with them in mind. 

Currently, there is no deodorant product designed for people who have upper limb disabilities that might make twisting a deodorant cap or pushing down on a spray cap a significant challenge. And so they have to try to make current products work or get someone else to help.

Unilever’s executive vice-president of global marketing and chief diversity and inclusion office, Aline Santos, says: “Everyday personal hygiene items are something that many people take for granted, yet across the beauty and personal care industry there is currently no deodorant specifically designed for people with upper limb disabilities and mobility issues to use.

“Twisting a deodorant cap, turning a stick, or pushing down on a spray can with limited arm mobility can be a real challenge, and the fear of sweating – and smelling – can keep people from doing what they want to do.”

This is an issue Unilever is now trying to address. It has designed a deodorant that comes with a hooked design so it can be used one-handed, a magnetic closure so the cap is easier to take off and put back on for those with limited grip and/or vision impairment, a braille label with instructions and a larger applicator to reach more surface per swipe.

The product was designed with help from organisations including Chicago Lighthouse, Open Style Lab, and Muscular Dystrophy Association, with 200 people with disabilities trialling the prototype and sharing their feedback. It is currently being trialled in the US, with plans to bring it to the UK in August 2021. 

Santos says the Sure Inclusive range is part of the company’s commitment, as part of its Unstereotype initiative, to make products that are designed to work for all.

“Businesses like ours have the responsibility to advance our brand offerings and accessible design is a part of this journey,” she says.

“We are so proud of the Sure Inclusive launch and our aim is to continue to receive feedback on how we can improve the prototype and support Unilever’s intentions for long-term change across the portfolio. The more inclusive products we see entering the supermarkets and our everyday lives, the closer we can get to a more inclusive and accepting society, so we are excited for what’s around the corner!”

Businesses like ours have the responsibility to advance our brand offerings and accessible design is a part of this journey

The move into inclusive design came after Sure realised that the nature of current deodorants meant many people simply could not use them. Santos describes a process that has required “constantly learning, listening, collaborating and evolving” its design with the help of those with visual impairment and upper limb mobility disabilities. That includes a range of diseases that can cause upper limb mobility disabilities such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, as well as those with upper limb differences. 

“When we set out to design this product, we knew it was extremely important to not just represent people with disabilities but co-create alongside them a deodorant that fits their needs,” says Santos

“As we are new to this space, we designed Sure Inclusive with an inclusive cross functional team of design experts from Wunderman Thompson, occupational therapists from NYU, engineers and consultants from Sour, and people with disabilities across the globe.”

While Sure Inclusive has been under development for some time, Santos admits people with disabilities have too often been ignored by the consumer mass market and not seen their needs recognised. While this product launch is important, she and Unilever recognise much more needs to be done. 

Unilever also has a goal that 5% of its workforce will include people with disabilities by 2025, and is working to ensure its advertising represents this community. 

“We hope that we can help accelerate the pace of change and work to ensure that people with disabilities have equitable access to movement,” she adds.

“When inclusion sits at the heart of a brand, we can drive systematic change, pioneering product innovations and accelerating inclusive and unstereotypical marketing. By introducing a deodorant serving the needs of those with visual impairment and upper limb disabilities, Sure continues to advance its ongoing commitment to provide inclusive products for everyone - whoever you are and however you move.”