By Lubna Hamdan
Huda Kattan proves that when done right, blogging can mark the foundation of a globally known business and brand
“I’m very insensitive. I have, like, no emotions. So when I say something, I sometimes say it in a very harsh way. There’s no ill-intent behind it, but that’s just how I approach things.”
Dressed in a black turtleneck and suit trousers in her Jumeirah Lake Towers office, Huda Kattan has bigger things to worry about than being harsh.
Best known as one of the top beauty influencers and bloggers, Kattan has used her public profile to go on to found her own beauty brand, Huda Beauty, under which she runs a line of false lashes, false nails, henna tattoos, plus a lip contouring kit in the pipeline, all of which are best-selling products at worldwide branches of French cosmetics giant, Sephora.
Not bad for a 32-year-old makeup artist who started her career in 2010 by writing makeup tips and tricks and filming YouTube tutorials.
“When I started doing makeup and blogging on the side, so many makeup artists were telling me I was so dumb for doing that. They were like, ‘you’re giving away free tips; you’re giving away information to people on how they can do their own makeup. Why are you doing that?’ And I looked at it in a very different way. I had the approach that this is my marketing tool,” Kattan says.
She knows a thing or two about marketing tools. With a 12-million-strong following on her Instagram account alone, Kattan has proven that she does more than just blog.
“I’m creating this environment and this eco-system essentially of a beauty community where people can come here and they can ask questions, we can reply to each other, and they can rely on me as the expert that will be giving them a look into the industry. And as it developed it became bigger and people started to see that ‘hey, this girl really knows what she’s talking about,’” she says.
Kattan does know what she is talking about when it comes to beauty. But that has not been the case with finances and making her blog profitable. According to her, it made no money for a long time.
“I didn’t make any money for the first four years. It was tough. I had a very idealistic approach to blogging. I thought I’m not going to take money and blog about products or be biased about products that I didn’t pay for. And essentially that is the income for a blogger. They almost work like magazines, where you get paid and you support brands that pay you. And I didn’t do that, so I didn’t make money, really, until we started our brand,” Kattan says.
She does not have to worry about making money any more. Though the businesswoman refuses to divulge information regarding her brand’s revenue or profit, she says it has grown somewhere between 200 percent to 500 percent over the past two years.
The products themselves have been the driving force behind the growth, she says.
“We’re one of the top four selling brands in Sephora. And we’ve been the number-one brand before. We do very well,” she says.
There is no doubt about that. With a second UAE office opening later this year and a lip contouring kit launching this month, Kattan is doing well for herself. But, she says, the Huda Beauty brand is not a one-woman show.
“We’re a family business; I think it’s important to talk about family businesses. If people can find it in themselves to work with their sisters, their best friends, in a cooperative way, the thinking, creativity, and capability are really amazing. And you get a different element of commitment and warmth to the company,” Kattan says.
The beauty mogul works alongside her husband Chris Goncalo, who is in charge of business development, operations and logistics, and her sisters Mona and Alya, who are in charge of brand strategy and product development, and social media and content development, respectively.
Kattan’s first investor also came from within the family.
“Alya was actually our initial investor. She invested $6,500. She was the investor behind our first batch of products. She helped me a lot,” she says.
The eldest of the Kattan trio works on the brand’s social media pages, a major driver in the company.
“It’s everything; it’s transformed the business. When we started, we first started using Facebook, and we saw how the numbers in our blog just jumped. And then we used Instagram and YouTube and Snapchat. All these elements have become important drivers in our company,” Kattan says.
But she did not gain 12 million followers overnight. Social media is still a challenge for the beauty influencer.
“It’s hard and it’s challenging. A lot of people think that they’ll get one shout out from one person and that will just make them [famous] when actually that’s not the case. There’s a constant message behind what you do, even if you’re going to use an influencer, there’s a message behind that influencer. Social media works for me in the way that, if it’s in front of you, you see it. But out of sight, out of mind.
“So it needs constant, almost like a reminder, of whatever your message is. So people need to be more strategic with social media and I don’t feel they are. And I think it’s very important to have a plan, very much,” she explains.
She did have a plan - and not just for social media. From the moment Kattan started blogging, her goal was to give women a beauty community that unparalleled with anything else; something that had a different approach from anything in the beauty world. How has she done that? By thinking of herself as the consumer, she says.
“We are always thinking of ourselves as consumers. And I’m the toughest consumer to please. A lot of manufacturers have said to me, ‘we don’t want to work with you anymore’. It’s happened. They know the orders, they know the possibilities behind them, but after the fiftieth sample they’re like, ‘this is a headache, we’re not sure we’re ever going to be able to please you’. And I’m like, 'it’s not me, it’s you'. Your products are not good enough. A lot of brands have said we see the potential behind you, we see everything that you’re doing, but it’s honestly really hard to work with you. And I take that as a huge compliment,” she says.
Kattan’s high standards have lead to the firm still re-investing a lot of its profits, offering its small team what she says are humble salaries. Some of her products, particularly the handmade false lashes, take more than eight months to design and manufacture.
“Most lashes are catalogues lashes. Our lashes are hand-designed. Our design process alone takes months, months. Sometimes I won’t sleep, I’ll be designing them for eight hours straight. We don’t just pump out lashes. We could, but we don’t do that,” she says.
That is why Huda Beauty’s lashes are the number one sellers in the UAE and among the top four worldwide, according to Sephora. And it is why Kattan is not worried about competition.
“We really work hard on making sure that our lashes are the best. If I want another person’s lashes that means ours are not good enough. And if somebody makes something that’s just as good as ours, then we’ll make something better. We’re a very competitive company,” she says, adding that she is a workaholic who barely socialises.
“I’m not lonely, I just don’t have the time,” she says.
Considering that her day starts with a pile of products to review, followed by meetings, followed by social media work, followed by more meetings, followed by product development, we believe her.
But she seems not to mind juggling.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I was going to have a very big business. I knew I was going to have a multinational business. We’re not there yet, but hopefully in two years’ time, when people have completely seen what we’re doing and embraced it, they’ll understand that it was more than just makeup, it was more than being a blogger.
"I remember when I first started my career, somebody said to me, 'what are you doing?' And I was like, 'you don’t understand my idea. It may seem like there isn’t an idea there but there is a reason that we do everything that we do'. Now people are starting to see it. And I know in three years’ time they’ll see even more,” she says.
Many people may not understand Kattan’s idea, but it does not take much to understand that in the beauty world, she is a force to be reckoned with.For all the latest lifestyle news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
An insightful blog post thank you. X
she is amazing
Loveeeee her!!! .. and her family
Huda you are my example, you are amazing!! I can see myself through your ideas.
Wish you all the best xoxo
A very interesting read and what a strong focussed woman!
Huda beauty is amazing, she is an icon and a great example to me. She represents the modern woman with values and respect. Nowoday, it's complicated to be famous and still keep good values, so I think it's a very hard work for her! I wish you all the best Huda :)
LOVE YOU HUDA & MONA & ALYA !
Huda I just saw your snapchat and I want you to know nobody thinks of you less after reading this! I love you so much and I look up to you and Mona so much! Of course you have to be tough because it's your company love! Take care Huda!!!!! -Tash
A very interesting article about a very ambitious and intelligent woman who knew from day one what she wants and knows who to reach her goals. I've been following Huda Beauty on social media for about two years now and I'm super impressed that despite the obviously gigantic success they are still all together a loving family and always take time to laugh and have fun.
I wish you all the best and even more success with Huda Beauty! Love the brand and the products, amazing quality and can't wait to finally get my hands on a lip contour kit!!
Kisses from Germany xxx
You're amazing Huda! We are all so proud of you!