Celebrating 10 years of Huda Beauty, Huda Kattan transformed a kitchen-counter business into a billion-dollar empire. Now, she admits to finally knowing what she’s doing…
We are standing in a pitch-dark studio. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is blasting through the speakers. At the end of the room, a spotlight gently starts to move across Huda Kattan’s face, then travels across her body, finally resting on her sequined mermaid tail. Lights on, and the whole set claps, while Kattan’s eyes redden. “This is one of the most emotional moments ever,” she says, watching the images appear on a large monitor.
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Emotional is the word often evoked – not only on the day of this cover shoot, but also during the subsequent Zoom interview with the entrepreneur, her third with Vogue Arabia. Kattan first graced the cover of our publication with her daughter Nour, in May 2019. Then, she shared the spotlight with Amina Muaddi and Nadine Njeim to celebrate our fifth anniversary last year. Now, it is her big solo moment, with an appearance that commemorates a decade of her beauty brand, Huda Beauty. “In today’s world it’s really important to have imagination, and to be able to see yourself in other ways than what you would normally think you can do,” she says, when asked how it felt to be a mermaid for a day. “A lot of us are given the idea of who we are, our boundaries, our ceiling, and how far we can go. The concept of transformation to become a magical version of yourself is so liberating. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think this was possible. When I consider how far we’ve come, and what we have built…” she pauses to reflect. “And being on the cover of Vogue, too. Me, a little brown girl coming from the middle of white America. Holy crap, that’s a moment!”
It’s no secret what Kattan did in fact build, and her success story is probably one of the best case studies on what can happen when you work hard in the UAE, the country she calls “a land of opportunities.” Ten years ago, after being fired from a job as a financial recruiter, Kattan developed a set of faux lashes, working from her kitchen counter with a US $6 000 loan from her sister. The new product was launched exclusively in Sephora and was met with instant success, as the entrepreneur had built a loyal following after years of blogging. Today, Huda Beauty is a billion-dollar empire, spread out across over 3 000 stores in 45 countries, offering make-up, but also skin care and fragrance, through recent brands Wishful (2020) and Kayali (2018). “There’s something about being here in the Middle East. You know, it’s so hard sometimes to be creating things in different parts of the world, outside of Los Angeles, New York, or Paris… Dubai just gives you so much inspiration,” she states. “When we launched, no one knew what was going to happen with the brand; it was a total risk. Every time I walk by Sephora in Dubai Mall, I still see that day when my products hit shelves. Even now. So, for this anniversary, I’ll be hosting a private event there, and we will have a few days of celebration. But to be honest, I’m celebrating the whole year. This is a major deal, with a lot of reflection points.”
Now, with the global acclaim, I wonder if running a business that is still growing becomes easier or harder with time. While there’s more familiarity with the industry, there is also more responsibility and a bigger machine to operate. “There are all these books that say that, after 10 years, you really become an expert at your job. And it does feel different. We are always learning, the world is always changing, but for the first time I feel like I really know what I’m doing and that I can trust myself,” Kattan says. “One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my career is that I always doubted myself as a leader. Sometimes you hire experts who come in and tell you what’s best for your business, but I realized that I had to stop listening to those voices. What I do comes from my heart, and no one will do it with the same passion as me. Huda Beauty is my baby. My second baby actually, as Nour will always be my first baby.”
Speaking of family, Kattan was born in Oklahoma, to Iraqi parents. Based in Dubai since 2008, to join her father who took a position as professor at the American University of Sharjah, family life occupies a central role in both personal and professional realms, with sisters Mona and Alya also involved in the business. However, although the entrepreneur is one of the most loved personalities in the region, fame also comes with a dark side, especially for someone who is constantly engaging on social media. With her bubbly voice turning more serious, she reveals that very often it’s her daughter who ends up being the target. “You wouldn’t believe what she goes through. She gets bullied a lot,” Kattan reflects. “When she was younger, moms would talk bad about me in front of their kids, and the kids would say it to Nour.” The entrepreneur recalls an episode when her nose job was a vicious topic. “They were trying to make fun of me when I’m so open about my surgery… There are other times when people are judgmental and tell her things such as, ‘You must be really over the top, like your mother,’ even though she is the opposite of me. But today I confront the moms and let them know it is not ok. It’s not acceptable.” And does Kattan suffer from a sense of guilt? “I do, but I don’t want to make mistakes, like over-protecting her. I realized that the most important thing is to just be honest with her about everything, as this is part of life. And she understands, as there are also benefits. She sometimes has more opportunities; and some of her [classmates], especially teenagers, get excited when I show up in school.”
An advocate of diversity and freedom, Kattan was recently a victim of an internet attack, when she posted on her social media a festive portrait wearing a red lace bodysuit. Some of her over-50K million followers quickly pointed out that the look was too provocative. A true master of social media, Kattan compiled the most hurtful comments in a video, turning the negative situation into an opportunity to share a lesson in kindness. “People were saying I was naked, in a very judgmental way. I was wearing a whole suit underneath it. I do consider myself a modern Muslim, and I try to wear what I want to. However, I avoid wearing clothes that are too provocative because of the responsibility I have towards my religion,” she says.
Focusing on the positive, Kattan does not shy away from stating that she has evolved as a woman, with some of the evolution powered by her fame, money, and growing responsibility. “It is hard not to change,” she says. But some feelings remain, even when you become a self-made beauty magnate. “This might sound weird and cheesy, and I’m always telling this to my husband: we are lucky that we’ve bought a fancy house with so much space, but I really miss my old apartment. I don’t feel comfortable at all,” she muses. Cheesy or not, she had better get used to it, as the rise of Huda Beauty is showing no signs of slowing down. You can take the girl out of Oklahoma, but you can’t take Oklahoma out of the girl. Even when she is Dubai’s reigning queen of beauty.
Originally published in the February 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Makeup: Huda Kattan assisted by Ivana
Hair: Dom Seely
Digi tech: Ali Jerome
Set design: Yehia Bedier
Art/concept: Roberta Terra
Backdrop: Painter Antonio Ibáñez
Set design assistant: Mustafa Abdu
Retouching: Cristian Bustos Riera
Junior fashion editor: Mohammed Hazem Rezq
Production: Sam Allison