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The Interview: Huda Kattan

Gaelle Walker
18 October 2021

Launched by award-winning beauty blogger, makeup artist and entrepreneur Huda Kattan in 2013, Huda Beauty is one of the world's fastest-growing beauty brands.

With almost 50 million followers @HudaBeauty is also one of the largest beauty Instagram accounts on the planet, reflective of Huda's drive to build an informed, engaged and passionate community.

The brand’s deep connection to, and engagement with, its growing community of followers continues to set it apart - with consumer needs and desires rooted firmly at the heart of its prolific innovation drive.

Together with her sisters Alya and Mona Kattan, recent years have seen Huda expand the brand into almost every beauty category, introducing innovative new makeup products under the Huda Beauty banner as well as a fragrance range under the Kayali brand and a line of clean, simple and personal skin and bodycare products under Wishful.

Her role as chairwoman of Huda Beauty’s investment office HB Investments, has also seen Huda become a beacon for budding beauty entrepreneurs – her support and guidance helping to bring a growing number of mission-driven beauty brands to life and scale.

Here, Huda speaks exclusively to Gaelle Walker, Contributing Editor of TheIndustry.fashion about her meteoric rise to fame, what sets the Huda Beauty brand apart and her goals to create a more supportive, inclusive and responsible beauty industry.

Huda Beauty has become one of the most powerful brands and forces in the global beauty industry, what is it about the brand that you think makes it so successful?

Honestly, it’s our community. They are so loyal and incredible and they inspire me every day to be the best I can. We listen to their feedback, highlighted with our recent reformulations, like our Faux Filter Foundation and we value their input so much on products they would love us to create and what they would like to see.  We wouldn’t be here today without them.

Did you always want to pursue a career in beauty?

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, introduced me to her beauty secrets. Later, in my terrible teenage years, like many teenagers, I had pimples and blackheads which I hated and so makeup helped me camouflage what I thought were flaws.  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.

I didn’t start my career in beauty, I worked in finance, which, I honestly hated – although looking back it definitely helped me build a business with the knowledge I had learnt.

I just loved make up, I was and still am so passionate about it and I never dreamed I could make such a successful career in the beauty business.

Having retrained to be a make up artist and then seeing there was a gap in the market for fabulous false lashes, I took the jump to start a business and worked very, very hard at it.

My passion became my career and that’s why I also say, do what you love, you never know where it will lead you.

What or who inspired you to create the brand?

I have been inspired by so many people, for different reasons.  My younger sister Mona has always been a constant source of creative and beauty inspiration.  Oprah Winfrey is someone I have always been inspired by, she broke stereotypes and I often ask myself, What would Oprah do?

I also had an incredible mentor at my University, Mike Callahan, who gave me so much wonderful advice while I was at school, and it still impacts the way I do business today.

But now, I’m mostly inspired by our social community – they are truly the biggest inspiration. Seeing how much they really benefit from some of the tips that we give, how much they love the products, seeing how they aspire to start their own career in beauty or just something they are passionate about – that’s always what’s truly most inspiring. I finish up work at the end of the day and I want to do more because our followers are so inspirational.

Please tell us about the journey that you have taken to get to where you are today?

When we were just starting, we weren’t taken as a serious brand for a long time. There was a lot of frustration because retailers and distributors didn’t take us seriously. I am so proud that my sisters and I stayed true to our vision and were able to take Huda Beauty from an idea to what it is today. One of the biggest rewards has been succeeding in a space where it isn’t common for an individual or a family-owned business to do so.

Success for me is about creating authentic beauty products and content that might help and inspire others, to help break down current beauty standards by being inclusive for all and empowering people as much as possible.

We have an incredible community who constantly make me feel proud and humbled by all that we have created, the relationships that I have built with my followers and the trust that I have gained is far more valuable than any business setbacks.

What has been the most defining moment of your career so far?

Probably still our first launch of our classic false lashes at Sephora Dubai mall. So many people were there! I was overwhelmed and humbled by the support and love. It really was a crazy but such an exciting moment, to see our hard work come to life and so many people love the lashes we created. I will never forget that launch!

What does a “typical” day in the life of Huda Kattan look like?

Ha! There is literally no such thing. One day I can be in the labs working on new product development, the next I can be in creative meetings working out our latest campaigns and packaging and the next I can be holding interviews or shooting content! Every day is a busy one but I keep myself motivated by surrounding myself with an incredibly inspiring team.

Huda Beauty and Wishful are both famed for their innovative market-leading products, where do you get your NPD inspiration from?

We start developing our products long before they are actually released, sometimes we don’t release products as they don’t make the cut and, in some cases, it takes several years before our products actually come to life.  We only want to create great products that we believe are missing from the market, that offer something different.  That’s the same for WISHFUL as well as Huda Beauty and why we launched the brand with our Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub, which is an incredible product and our best seller of the collection. There is nothing like it out there.

Ultimately, we want to create products that offer something new, that our community loves and people enjoy using.

Inspiration comes from everywhere, from travelling – when we were able to travel!  From nature and the incredible colours around us.  From our community and from being passionate about skincare and make up and believing that there isn’t a product like those we create already on the market.

What are your most successful products and why?

Success is relative.  If a product changes the way you view yourself or your skin then that is a wonderful thing.   Since we started creating Wishful, my skin has never been better and that has been life changing for me.  I am so much more confident in my skin and that affects me on a personal level.

I love our Wishful Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub, it is an incredible product for great, healthy looking, glowing skin.  And our Legit Lashes Mascara from Huda Beauty has meant I don’t wear false lashes all the time as its such an amazing mascara, it looks like false lashes and this has been incredibly popular globally!

The past year has witnessed a significant shift in the way in which people discover and shop the beauty category, what’s your take on it and how has Huda Beauty responded?

It was a worrying time at first, some beauty lovers would never have dreamt of purchasing a product without swatching in-store but I think it’s amazing to see how the entire industry just used this time to become even more innovative.

We are all still working on becoming more adept at technology and offering great experiences whilst we are not able to be in store in the same way we were, change is part of life and we have to adapt as we can, however challenging it can be.

What key learnings have you made?

To really take time out for myself and to really just enjoy life, actually lockdown helped me to do that. I was always going at a million miles an hour and literally never stopped. My cup was not full and I was unable to give my most – so I took some time out from social media, spent time with my family, took bubble baths, organised my new house, enjoyed lots of afternoon tea and just took some time to be ‘Hoodie’ again (my nickname!). Sometimes it’s easy to get so wrapped up with working, meetings, late night calls, shooting and I didn’t have that balance in life. Don’t get me wrong I love to work hard, but I’ve definitely taken a step back and realised the need for a healthy balance. I’m a better and more patient person for it!

How do you expect the way in which consumers discover and shop beauty to evolve going forward?

Concepts such as virtual skin consultations. We would never have imagined a use for this before but now I think they’re here to stay – which is amazing! Online beauty sales surged during lockdown and I feel like some customers have now converted to online shoppers for life.

Could we ever see stand-alone Huda Beauty stores?

For now, we are committed to our retail partners, particularly given the hard times recently.  They show us unconditional support, time and time again.  We want to continue to grow our partnerships together to provide customers with the best offering.   So stand alone stores are not in the plans currently….

Beauty has the ability to act as an enormously potent force for good, however, so called “toxic beauty” standards can also cause serious harm - what are your views on this and the importance of honesty and transparency in the beauty industry?

It’s so important. I want to inspire people to understand that no matter what they look like, they are beautiful. For me, true beauty lies in our differences, so we need to get rid of the traditional beauty standards that almost nobody fits into and that has always been so important to me.

We absolutely are not there yet so we can do so much more to inspire this change as an industry.  I want Huda Beauty to continue to encompass this, to share our experiences and to inspire others to believe in themselves.  We want everyone to accept and love themselves for themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.

What is Huda Beauty doing to raise the bar here?

For me personally, creating WISHFUL truly made me realise I had to walk the walk, as there needs to be some realness and transparency in the beauty industry.

When we shot the WISHFUL campaign, I was adamant about not wearing makeup in it, about not photoshopping, and it was a really vulnerable moment for me. And I felt extremely exposed, extremely sensitive. I felt unconfident. I had to go deeper into that, but I’ve never been the same since.

I have always battled with feeling ugly, from a young age. A combination of criticism from my extended family for being “too dark” on the one side and being the only family of Middle Eastern Arabic descent background in Tennessee.

I felt unaccepted on every front. I felt worthless. Beauty was something I really wanted to make me feel different as I didn’t believe I fit any of the beauty standards that were out there.

And this narrative of having a monolithic standard for beauty has to stop now. We need to democratise beauty. We need for everyone to own their own standard of beauty. We have to all be held accountable and be authentic. I’m a mom, I worry about my daughter and the beauty industry that we are shaping for her future.  I want to stand up more where I can. I posted recently about driving a campaign for people to sign a petition to get the beauty industry to own up and be honest when they optimise photos, so that we stop pervading the impossible beauty standards.

There’s so much talk these days about inclusivity and diversity but is enough really being done?

These conversations are happening now which is the all important first step. There is a long way to go to get there, but we all owe it to everyone and ourselves to make changes now.

How is Huda Beauty driving change here?

At Huda Beauty we believe fiercely in representation, we support everyone and I still want to do more.  Honestly, that is what I constantly look to do more of, to help drive and support how important it is to make changes in our industry, to embrace everyone, to be honest about our industry and where we have challenges that we must work to fix these, so that we can provide a much more accepting, understanding society for all people to live in, together.

HB investments recently backed the free salon and spa booking platform Fresha and of course helped to launch the new feminine wellness brand KETISH – why is it so important to you to support other beauty entrepreneurs?

I had a hard time trying to source funding when I started and wanted to expand the business, so to be able to provide that support for others who were in the same position as me, means everything!

I am constantly inspired by the incredible people around me and we have launched HB Angels, specifically to work with incredible entrepreneurs to build and scale their business and offer that key support, so that they can work their magic!   And our first brand to come out of this is KETISH.  Created by Emaan Abbass, KETISH is a luxury brand ready to transform the feminine wellness industry.  It’s a movement. It’s about taking power back and being fully comfortable with yourself. When people start to become part of this community, they’re going to feel liberated.

I realised very quickly that this was a topic that so many people had so many issues with. The more I started talking to Emaan, the more I was convinced that she could change the category and make this sexy and empowering. This brand is deep within her. It’s very purposeful. It’s very powerful. It’s very personal.   I am so proud of Emaan, we have been working with her on this for a long time now and she is an incredible woman.  You should definitely check it out!

 

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