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Mona Kattan on Superpower Scents and Conquering the Beauty Boardroom


Most of us would recognize Mona Kattan as one of the most successful women in the beauty industry. Not only because she co-founded Huda Beauty and launched Kayali, a brand that paved the way for the Middle Eastern perfume-layering culture in the West, but also because she’s a trend-setter and passionate advocate for female representation in business.

But behind all that is a warm, bubbly personality, which I noticed almost immediately after hopping on a Zoom call with the entrepreneur on a cold Monday afternoon. Tuning in from sunny Dubai, Mona joined with her super glowy skin and an impressive amount of energy, despite the four hour time difference. But regardless of opposite weather conditions and our different heritage (I grew up in Kazakhstan), I felt an almost instant connection – especially as someone who’s also moved halfway across the globe to pursue my passion.

Born and raised in the US, Mona, along with her sister Huda Kattan, started her beauty journey from a very young age. She shared that both sisters were involved in beauty pageants from the age of three until seven. “I was such a girly girl growing up. Me and Huda both used to love playing with dolls and had makeup parties,” she recalled.

But before the beauty moguls founded Huda Beauty, Mona’s career took her everywhere from investment banking to owning a beauty salon. Having founded Kayali in 2018, she’s now known as a ‘perfume princess’ in the Middle East, amassing 2.8 million followers on Instagram (and counting). To find out more about her journey, I chatted with Mona on everything from her relationship with beauty and mental health, the inspiration behind Kayali, reconnecting with her Middle Eastern roots and her hopes for the beauty industry.

“Moving to Dubai was a huge part of my inspiration behind starting the brand because although I’m originally Middle Eastern, I was really not connected to my roots at all.”

When I grew up in the States, I was not familiar with the traditions and the rituals – there was such a huge disconnect. And when I moved to Dubai, I fell in love. People use fragrances as a part of their rituals, multiple times a day [as opposed to once a day]. It’s something that they do with intention. It’s not an afterthought. There’s different [fragrance] rituals you do at a wedding or on Fridays, which is considered a holy day. I love seeing it is a tool and not just something that you do right before you leave the house.

I do feel like I’m kind of torn between being an American and being an Arab, but I wanted to share this with my friends that I grew up with [in the US] that they were missing out on this. So I was like: “let me kind of merge the two worlds and go somewhere in the middle and create a brand that connects to my roots.” In 2023, we’re finally launching a project that I’ve been working on for five years. It’s really going to give people a taste of the Middle East – I can’t wait to share it with the world.

“I really feel like beauty is a tool and fragrance, especially, is a superpower.”

I feel like we kind of helped start [the fragrance layering trend]. When we first launched [Kayali] in 2018 and we were pitching to retailers, we were telling them the brand is all about layering different fragrances together and mixing-and-matching. We got so much criticism and they were like: “It’s not going to work, you’re crazy.” And now we see it all over TikTok and Instagram. I’m obsessed with the fragrance community [on social media]. They’re so creative and I just love that people are experimenting.

When you layer, [the fragrances] get more complex and start lasting a lot longer. It’s more individual as well, since no one else is going to smell like you. And seeing people follow something that we’ve been doing in the Middle East for centuries is super exciting.

“Men are still the decision makers behind the products we’re buying. I’d love to see that change.”

I would love to see the beauty industry dominated by women leaders. Right now, it’s still dominated by men [with] women making up probably 95% of all consumers. I’d love to see that change.

In my previous job, I was actually an investment banker. And one of the main reasons I left was because I was never treated the same. My whole team was all men. I remember going to meetings and they would speak in their own language and completely disregard that I was there. [And although the beauty industry is] much better, it’s still a challenge.

I remember, even when we first started Huda Beauty, at first it was just me, Huda and Alya in the business. And then when Huda’s husband, Chris, joined, he would join our meetings, and we just saw that, at the time, people would make more eye contact with him. They’d start disregarding that we were there. You would just see that men would respect men more. And I do think [the narrative] is definitely changing. But again, not fast enough. We need to be a part of the change. I think the whole world has a long way to go. In Dubai specifically, it’s really inspiring to see what they’ve done for women. We have so many women ministers, and as an Arab woman, I’m so proud to see that progress happening. But as we look around, a lot of our neighbouring countries are really behind and there needs to be a lot of progress made.

“I spend way longer putting on my fragrances than I do putting on my makeup.”

Day-to-day, I’m a quick glam girl. Makeup on an average day? 5 to 10 minutes. Fragrances? Probably a good 30 minutes. But if I’m going out, I would say I would want a minimum of an hour and a half. In an ideal scenario, I’d say two to three hours would be great.

“I think the one thing that Huda taught me that really helps me a lot was that less is more.”

She taught me to be a lot more light-handed with my makeup and to stop maybe five steps before I normally do, because I would just keep adding it on and on and before you know, it’s an insane mess. She’s very good at helping someone enhance their beauty. Another thing she taught me was that if you can’t perfect it – blend it. For example, if you can’t make the perfect winged liner match, just blend it out.

“I honestly think if I ever retire, I will probably become a therapist.”

If you go to my discover feed, you’ll probably find more things on mental health and personal development than on beauty. Honestly speaking, I think that’s why I’m obsessed with fragrances. I’m an emotional person and I think there’s a correlation [between emotions and fragrances] because it’s all so related.

I think I’ve always gravitated towards providing beauty to people. Before we started Huda Beauty, I actually had a beauty salon and after becoming older and reflecting I was like: “Why do I do what I do?” and I realised I love making people feel good. I love watching people’s confidence boost and seeing the way they feel and carry themselves change. So yeah, I think [when it comes to] beauty and mental health, there’s a big correlation. There’s also a negative side where standards can put too much pressure on people, and it’s really important to speak about it as a community.

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