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Huda Kattan has enjoyed a meteoric rise from makeup artist and blogger to mega-brand CEO, since the launch of her eponymous cosmetics label, Huda Beauty, in 2013. The last 12 months have been especially fruitful for the influencer, who has a $550 million net worth and a loyal 30 million followers on Instagram, despite never playing in the paid influencer economy. Private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners valued her beauty company at $1.2 billion and acquired an undisclosed minority stake in it in December 2017, and in late October, Kattan expanded her reach beyond makeup by launching her first fragrance brand, Kayali. Kattan’s plan is to debut more brands within the Huda Beauty portfolio in the coming year, including those dedicated to skin care. The goal? To back a full-fledged lifestyle brand.
What was the impetus for your new fragrance brand, Kayali?
My sister Mona [Kattan, who is president of Huda Beauty] has been bugging me forever to do a fragrance. She is a business woman at heart, so she is a bit more motivated by where you can make money — whereas, I am a brand builder, and I am looking at how a fragrance could be part of our overall DNA. At first, I could not figure out how it fit with what we already had with Huda Beauty, but then Mona turned me on to the Middle Eastern idea of layering fragrances and the way we could build different identifies with different scents. We started Kayali with four spray perfumes, but there are many more versions coming within the franchise. Yes, people spray fragrance, but they also slather it, they bath in it. We are thinking a lot about how you can apply fragrance and how that can be fun.
You started your beauty blog in 2010, which was largely centered around how-to videos. How important is education to your customers and fans today?
When I think about Huda Beauty and the brands we launch, it is very much about teaching people how to try certain products and techniques they would not have necessarily tried before. We want to show our fans how to think about beauty in unexpected ways. I have had a lot of different roles — I have been able to be a makeup artist and a blogger, and now I have a team — but I still get a lot of insight from the blog and social media on what people like and are willing to try.
How do you identify what other beauty categories you want to enter?
I think about what I am craving, what my team needs and what my customers want. I have a lot of skin issues — my skin is very acne-prone — so skin care makes sense for me and for us right now. I do know that some products are not going to be as profitable, but we know it is a good segue for the bigger story or how someone can first encounter our brand. I will be honest: Some of our palettes are not that profitable. But for the people who do try them and love them, they end up buying more from us. It is not about the short-term trend for me; I think about where Huda Beauty will be 40, 50, 100 years from now.
Who is your customer today?
We still have a very strong Middle Eastern, South Asian [and] North African client base, and when we started, that was who we wanted to appeal to. Now that has expanded, thankfully, but we originally focused on that audience because that is who I thought was representing me. She is popular now, but I idolized Priyanka Chopra when she won Miss World [in 2000], and that was originally the starting point of the blog — that kind of beauty. As we expand, I do not want to lose that focus.
How has the mainstream move toward inclusive and diverse beauty changed your business?
I could not find shades for my skin tone, and that inspired Huda Beauty. We took it seriously, and it took us a year to finish our shade matching formulation in 2016. It does not matter how dark you are or how light you are; it is about undertones, and I think most brands are still not as sensitive to that. It sucks that people are still being told they are not a part of the beauty game because of a certain skin tone.
You have been vocal about not accepting payment for sponsored posts or paying influencers. Why does that make sense for you and your brand?
When I was starting out as a blogger in the Middle East, monetization was not happening as much. But I remember
when I was just starting the blog someone offered me $10,000 to take 30 percent of the company. I almost did it, but it was not right. It makes me think about who out there is taking these kinds of opportunities just to get by and build their brands. Now, it does not make sense to have this brand and also try to do paid posts for other brands, even if I love the product.
What is next?
We started HB Angels [an early-stage investment fund for female entrepreneurs], and we are hoping to make our first investment in the early part of next year. I want to do more mentoring and give out as much information — and make it free. I am not doing enough of that right now, and I am itching for it.