Huda Beauty founder Huda Kattan shares with Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup the secret to the brand’s success
HUDA Beauty has been widely influential in the makeup scene ever since its launch in 2013. Starting with false eyelashes, the company has expanded to include various beauty items, including the best-selling liquid matte lipsticks and eye colour palettes.
The brand specialises in the maximalist approach to makeup – full-coverage foundation, highlighted cheeks, big lips and multi-coloured eyelids capped by those long, glamourous eyelashes.
The look is best exhibited by the founder of Huda Beauty, 35-year-old Huda Kattan. You might say she shares the same beauty aesthetics as Kim Kardashian.
Kattan was born and educated in the United States to Iraqi parents. She now lives in Dubai, where Huda Beauty is based. The company, valued by Forbes at US$1 billion (about RM4.2 billion), is very much a family enterprise, with her husband Chris and sisters Mona and Alya involved in different aspects of the business.
Kattan’s foray into beauty was first documented in her blog in 2010. She was already working as a makeup artist at the time, and the blog, her YouTube tutorials and social media posts all helped create an online presence that was instrumental to the instant success of Huda Beauty.
She’s still very active online as the face of Huda Beauty, with 28 million followers on Instagram, 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube and a reality show called Huda Boss on Facebook. Bilingual in English and Arabic, Kattan is gregarious and full of enthusiasm.
Following the release of Huda Beauty in Sephora Malaysia, Flair catches up with Kattan in this exclusive email interview.
WHAT IS THE POWER OF MAKE-UP?
For me, make-up has always been a way to make myself feel more confident. Makeup can give you the feeling that you can take on the world. I’m a firm believer in the power of make-up; it’s transformative abilities to give you confidence and change the way you feel about yourself.
THERE’S A TRANSIENT QUALITY TO MAKE-UP, IN THAT WE SPEND TIME AND EFFORT ON SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T LAST FOR VERY LONG, YET IT’S VERY SIGNIFICANT TO OUR IDENTITY. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS?
That’s the beauty of make-up – it 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. The empowering quality of make-up is the transformative aspect.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE WHEN IT COMES TO THE MAKE-UP BUSINESS LIKE YOURS?
One of the biggest misconceptions we faced when the brand was first starting out was that we weren’t a serious brand. There was a lot of frustration when we first started out.
During meetings with distributors and retailers, they made out as if we were just some girls with a hobby.
But my sisters and I have always had a really big vision for the company and we didn’t give up on it.
We stayed focus on what we wanted to achieve and eventually Sephora in Dubai Mall decided to stock our lashes and we sold out that same day. Before that, there was a lot of time spent convincing people that we were a serious brand.
HOW COMPLEX IS IT TO DEVELOP YOUR PRODUCTS?
It is super complex! Our latest launch, The Overachiever Concealer, was really challenging. We got it to a place that we thought was perfect and then we discovered that the formula was oxidising so we needed to go back to lab and start again. It was really, really stressful.
Our 3D Highlighter Palettes, for instance, took forever to create! Highlighters are everywhere and the challenge for us was introducing it in a way that would be interesting to people.
I really wanted to launch Highlighters and although we had this amazing formula, we still needed to find a way to package it and make it unique, which took a lot of time. We always try to differentiate ourselves from other brands so it was quite challenging creating a product that would stand out.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN HOW PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST VIEW BEAUTY AS COMPARED TO OTHER PLACES, AND HOW DOES HUDA BEAUTY ADAPT TO THAT NOW THAT THE BRAND IS GLOBAL?
Beauty in the Middle East is very glamorous, and the women living in this region love to pamper themselves. Many women in Dubai go to the salon twice a week — to get our nails done, brows shaped, or hair blow-dried.
When it comes to skincare, we love natural ingredients such as using coconut oil to remove our makeup, castor oil for our brows, or using rose water as a toner.
As a company, what we value most is product, content and social media – and those three things are inherently intertwined at Huda Beauty – regardless of how big we have become. I am constantly inspired by the comments and requests we see on Instagram.
When it comes to creating new products, we always take into account what our social family is asking for. For example, when we were developing the #FauxFilter Foundation, I reached out to our Instagram audience because I wanted to understand what kind of coverage they wanted, what finish they wanted, how they chose foundation.
We had thousands of responses that helped guide us. They also helped with naming the foundation so our community really and truly helps with the creation of Huda Beauty products – more than they probably realise.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO’S PASSIONATE ABOUT SOMETHING AND IS THINKING OF FOLLOWING UP ON IT? IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE A REALISTIC DREAMER?
Be ready to sacrifice a lot. When you really want something you have to work for it. You need to keep focused, and only do it if you are 100 per cent passionate about it. We used to hear that “the sky is the limit” but that isn’t true – you can go as far as you want to!
No matter how big your vision is, just believe it, breathe it and evoke it. When you think limitlessly, it changes the way you behave, operate and ultimately the way you react to situations.
BEING A MAJOR PERSONALITY WITH A HUGE FOLLOWING ON SOCIAL MEDIA, HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHICH PART OF YOUR LIFE TO SHARE AND WHICH TO KEEP PRIVATE?
The nature of being an influencer is that your life is an open book and I knew that going into this business. It’s a full-time, never ending job with little privacy and that’s OK with me.
If I guard anyone from the public it’s my daughter, Nour. My maternal instincts kick in and it’s very important to me to make her feel safe and protected but otherwise, I am fairly open about my struggles, my insecurities, what beauty products I am in love with at the moment – it is all out there!
WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY WHEN IT COMES TO MAKE-UP AND WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT?
I developed a love for beauty when I was about 9 years old. My older sister Alya was really into beauty and I was mesmerised by her when she applied her make-up.
In fact, my first memory is watching Alya do her make-up. She also taught me on using household ingredients as beauty products. I have very dark knees and knuckles, and Alya taught me how to lighten the skin using lemons!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SMELL?
I have two! I am obsessed with Feve Delicieuse and La Colle Noire by Christian Dior! I love that they are opposite scents – Feve Delicieuse is very light and fresh, and La Colle Noire is heavier, with notes of amber and musk.
I first discovered the scent when I was burning the candles at the same time and it smelled really good, so I mixed the scents and it just worked!
Layering them together makes the most amazing scent! I think the muskiness combined with the freshness says a lot about my personality; when I wear them together, there is a bit of mystery; it is sweet and fresh but also a bit edgy and sophisticated.
I receive a lot of compliments because it smells really different and complicated so people can’t place the scent.
Not many people combine these fragrances so I love that it’s really mysterious and unique.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PETS?
Yes, I have a Pomeranian (dog) named Coco! I bring her to the office all the time because my team is obsessed with her! She’s really tiny and loves being held, so it’s a great environment for her!
HOW DO YOU KEEP FIT AND HEALTHY?
I drink lots of water, I practise yoga and I do life coaching every morning which helps keep me centred! Although I do love a good burger or pizza, I try to stick to a healthy, carb-free meal-plan most days and follow a vegetarian diet twice a week to detox.
I usually have an omelette for breakfast or some fresh fruits with Greek yoghurt and a cup of bulletproof coffee – I swear by it.
DO YOU EVER GO ONE DAY WITHOUT ANY MAKE-UP ON?
Of course! I love make-up – I live, breath, dream make-up! But for me, using beauty products is to help me feel better from within. You have to be comfortable in your own skin, bare or cake faced. No matter what you look like at any moment, own it!