November 23rd, 2020
Consistently taking top spot in the global brand power lists, Huda Beauty boasts 47.9 million followers on Insta and 27 million hashtag mentions too. Celebs and consumers alike love everything they produce – including with a certain Mrs KKW who was an early adopter. It’s no surprise that new products fly off the shelves yet the company’s first offering only appeared seven years ago. We chat to founder, Huda Kattan, about her meteoric rise from Economics major to beauty entrepreneur.
Where did you grow up?
I was born on 2nd October 1983 in Oklahoma City. I grew up in Tennessee, where my nickname was Heidi, due to my eyes and the dark colour of my hair: I am of Iraqi descent. My parents left Baghdad in 1980. I’ve been living for the past 10 years in Dubai.
What is your beauty background?
Makeup has always been an obsession of mine. My youngest sister, Mona, participated in so many beauty contests as a child. She was so pretty and I would spend all my time doing her hair and makeup, she was like my little doll. My other sister, Alya, who is 10 years older, initiated me into her beauty secrets. Later, in my terrible teenage years, like many teenagers, I had pimples and blackheads which I hated. Makeup helped me camouflage these. I would put tons on, my peers would mock and make fun of me but it made me stronger. I began to fall in love with playing with the different products, their textures, their applicators, their shades. Later I obtained my degree in Economics, but I only thought about cosmetics. However, this time enabled me to learn about public speaking, to showcase my ideas and to be taken seriously by directing a student association. Without this teaching my life would be completely different.
From my passion for makeup I always dreamed of making it a job. I started by becoming a blogger, an Instagrammer, an influencer and finally an entrepreneur.
What is your first makeup memory?
My mother has always been a firm believer in DIYs and it’s actually through her that I learnt so much and decided to create a DIY section on the blog. I remember growing up she had a health book that she would refer to for EVERYTHING. I can’t remember the name of it anymore, but I used to get a lot of DIYs from there. It taught me that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on beauty products because there are so many natural ingredients in your kitchen which you can use.
I feel like I share almost all of my beauty tips with everyone, for example one of my recent tips for how to remove dark circles is so easy and takes just one secret ingredient: sweet almond oil. Make sure you look for a raw, cold-pressed, unrefined oil that’s organic and hexane-free because not all are created equal. Apply two to three drops onto your ring fingers and then rub your fingertips together to warm the oil and activate the magic. Then gently pat the product into your skin, to help avoid pulling the skin. Make sure you’re consistent but patient with this one though because it takes about four weeks before you can really see the results.
What made you want to turn your love of makeup into a career?
While I was working as a makeup artist, I always struggled to find the right false lashes for my clients – at the time there was barely any choice for different designs and lengths so I started adapting false lashes and making them my own unique design, customised to certain eye shapes and sizes. I would cut into them, making them more chunky, dramatic, fluffier – and my clients really wanted to purchase the lashes and wanted to know where they could buy them. It was then I realised that there really was a huge gap in the market and my sisters pushed me to start my own lash line with Huda Beauty. Therefore, it was more of a natural step and creating my own lashes and designs then became a business as well as a passion.
Ever since I knew what makeup was, I loved it! When I understood how powerful makeup was and how it could alter your feelings and confidence, I wanted to share that power with the world. My passion for beauty comes from the feeling that makeup can give you, no matter how much or little you choose to use and apply. It’s really a vehicle for confidence and creativity and with confidence, you can conquer anything.
I couldn’t have dreamed of what my path turned into being. I took a really safe option out of high school by studying finance and working as a financial recruiter so becoming a makeup artist and launching a cosmetic company was never in my plan.
Where you surprised how quickly your blog took off and how it connected you to your followers?
Social media allows you to embrace your weirdness. This is something that took me longer to embrace than I’d like to admit. When Huda Beauty took off, I was adamant about putting my name everywhere; not because I was vain but because I was finally proud of who I am and I wanted to own it. The moment I embraced myself and let me be me, everything took off. People see people similar to themselves and learn from them. We embrace diversity at Huda Beauty and social media, with its global influence, following and reach enables this diversity and appreciation of it greatly.
I think I appeal to most people because I don’t speak to just one audience or do anything with one culture or type of person in mind. My social family has a love for beauty and self-expression, and I speak to that on every level. I like to express beauty in so many ways to appeal to everyone and to inspire them to dream big and own who they are.
We have a big responsibility and we have to give the right message. You can be kind in beauty, and that is real beauty, being kind, you don’t have to be someone who is too competitive in the wrong way, competing with yourself potentially but not in a negative way. Also accepting yourself, self-acceptance and self-love is a big importance within our brand and that’s what I hope to instil in people as well.
We always remember and focus on our mission, which, is to inspire, consistently. One main part of this is to always stay in touch with our followers. We post daily and I will then spend time replying to followers, making sure I stay in touch with them to establish what they do like, what they don’t like. By keeping in touch with reactions we learn to create posts that appeal to our following.
What did you want to achieve with your product line and how long did it take you to create and develop your first product, the lashes?
My first lashes were Giselle #1. They were named after my daughter Nour Giselle. I knew that there was a demand for false eyelashes before they became really mainstream. When I worked as a makeup artist, I used to create my own lashes by customising, shaving and stacking them together. People would always ask me where I got them from and that’s when we realised that there was a gap in the market. My sister Mona is super entrepreneurial, so she suggested I start a lash line, and my older sister Alya leant me $6,000 to help me get started. I really struggled to find a distributor at first because nobody believed me that women would buy false lashes – I was told they were irrelevant – even though I had all of these women wanting to buy them from me. It all changed when I had a meeting with the Sephora team and they agreed to stock them at Sephora in The Dubai Mall in February 2013, and we sold out that same day.
What is your greatest achievement so far with regards to your products and why do you think they are so popular?
Honestly, beauty is so powerful and for that it’s always been important to me. I’m a firm believer in its transformative abilities to give you confidence and change the way you feel about yourself. The empowering quality of makeup is the transformative aspect and I am so proud that we are empowering people to be who they want to be. That’s the beauty of makeup – it really allows you to be who you want to be at any moment with the option to be a different you just moments later. It’s totally freeing and being able to inspire people and empower them is honestly one of my greatest achievements from a business perspective.
Was your own makeup collection always the goal or did it develop organically?
The launch of my first false lash was a direct response to my followers and social family so when we announced that we were going to be selling them, it was such a natural move that felt personal to our audience. They loved it and felt like they had influence over what we give them – this is something that has stuck with our brand beyond false lashes. We really value our social media family and listen to what they want.
Our partnership with Sephora started with a million e-mails and business pitches that I tried to get through to them before they would take me seriously. I mean, I was relentless with my outreach. Eventually we spoke to the right person to get is in contact with the right team and got a meeting on the books to really pitch them our business. Before that meeting I looked at myself and said, “You’re going to go in there and give the pitch of your dreams.” We left that meeting with welcoming arms from Sephora and we launched Huda Beauty at Sephora in Dubai Mall in February 2013. This moment was HUGE for me and honestly surreal!
What advice do you have for young makeup artists starting out in today’s difficult climate?
Experiment and have fun with makeup. It’s created to enjoy, to try and for you to express your individuality, whatever that may be. There are no rules.
Beauty is power and confidence to me. I believe that it comes from within and everyone is born with it, it’s just about finding it. Once you find it, you feel it and you become it.
I couldn’t have dreamed of what my path turned into being. I won’t lie…it was and has been A LOT of hard work. I am grateful to have had the support my sisters and husband that gave me a lot of security when I was going through so much change, but it’s also been really stressful. Ultimately though, I am so happy I followed my heart and pivoted to do something that I really loved and that motivated me. The advice I would give someone wanting to start out today is that nothing is going to be simple but if you love something enough and you are willing to put the time in to make the changes and battle the challenges along the way, then go for it. Follow your heart!
What is next on the horizon for you and the brand?
Expanding globally has been a challenge. We are so focused on dynamics, making sure it’s one team and when you have your team split up in different parts of the world, so we have our main office in Dubai, one office in London, one office in LA and a team in Paris, it’s so hard to make everyone feel important, to make everyone feel they are heard, that they are contributing all the time, it’s very hard. To keep the context. Best way to do this is to hire really good Managers to do this and we are working on software internally to improve this, which, will help. I have been working on this for years so hopefully this will be ready next year.
Our goal is to be in a similar place but just hopefully bigger. I hope that we continue to have impact on the beauty industry.