05 May Huda Kattan – The Most Influential Beauty Blogger?
Every month there seems to be a newly minted beauty star — someone whose social media feed highlights trends, how-tos, product reviews and more to her plentiful followers.
But in the world of influencers, not all fight in the same weight class. And one woman in particular has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, a Kim Kardashian West of the beauty influencer economy, if you will: Huda Kattan of @HudaBeauty, who has 19.7 million Instagram followers, heads a namesake makeup line and is introducing a Huda Beauty emoji collection called Hudamoji (not unlike Ms. Kardashian West’s Kimoji) this spring.
That there is a resemblance to Ms. Kardashian West in looks (dark and curvaceous), style (glamorous and sexy) and family (Ms. Kattan’s business partner is her sister Mona Kattan; her sister Alya is her social media manager) only fuels the comparisons. Based in Dubai, Ms. Kattan was in New York recently for a Women’s Wear Daily beauty event — last year the publication anointed her the Digital Innovator of the Year in the “prestige” beauty category.
“I can understand getting compared to the Kardashians,” she said, reclining on a plush seat at the Park Hyatt in Midtown. “We’re 2017 women who are ultimately going out there, pursuing something out of passion and making a business out of it. I just can’t wait for the comparisons to stop.”
With what she has in store this year, Ms. Kattan, 33, may just step out from the Kardashian shadow. Her makeup line, Huda Beauty, which she introduced in 2013 with a false lashes collection, successfully expanded last year with the addition of hit lip liners, liquid matte lipsticks and an eye shadow palette.
Sephora, for one, was surprised at how well her lip liners (called Lip Contours because Ms. Kattan uses them to make her lips look bigger, she said) sold. As a category, lip liners are often an afterthought because they were created to support lipsticks. Yet Ms. Kattan’s Lip Contour release last May was “one of the biggest launches in years,” said Artemis Patrick, the senior vice president for merchandising at the retailer.
Certainly Sephora is no stranger to makeup lines driven by social media. Anastasia Beverly Hills, Kat Von D and Natasha Denona all wield social media might. But Ms. Kattan is unique for a global reach that spans the United States, the Middle East and beyond.
“It’s rare for one person to be relatable across so many countries and cultures,” Ms. Patrick said. “Obviously, it’s the power of the internet, but it’s a testament to her business acumen that she can translate and harness the power of her followers.”
Indeed, Huda Beauty continues to be a top makeup brand at Sephora Middle East.
And at Harrods in London, there have been lines for Huda Beauty ever since the company set up a counter in August. It’s “one of our fastest growing color makeup brands,” said Annalise Fard, the beauty and home director at the store.
Relatable and sometimes giggly, Ms. Kattan is not in the makeup game to make a quick buck. “We’ve had really big brands approach us because they’re interested in investing,” she said. “But we own this, and I’m building a brand.”
Though social media fame can seem immediate, it didn’t come overnight for Ms. Kattan. An Iraqi-American who was raised in Cookeville, Tenn., and Boston, she was, like many teenagers, obsessed with beauty products.
“We didn’t grow up superwealthy,” Ms. Kattan said, noting that her father was an engineering professor, while her mother stayed home to raise her and four siblings. “D.I.Y. was supercool because it was affordable and you could do it really easily.” (Ms. Kattan is known for some of her zanier D.I.Y. experiments on YouTube, including trying alternative makeup primers — in one video, she found Vagisil superior to KY Jelly and Milk of Magnesia. “I honestly thought the lube was going to be the best primer, but it didn’t work at all,” she said, laughing. “People in the Middle East did not necessarily like it. Ha! Sometimes I get a little chastised.”)
As for her renowned brow-defining skills, they were cultivated early. “I’m hairy,” she said girlishly. “If you’re hairy, you have to figure out how to do them at a young age.” Her lighthearted approach to beauty later translated to a WordPress blog she started in 2010 at her sister Mona’s urging. Ms. Kattan had taken a makeup course in California and was hoping to build a makeup clientele in Dubai, where she moved after her father took a job teaching at the American University of Sharjah.
Ms. Kattan was particularly inspired by “originals, like Michelle Phan,” she said, adding, “Her YouTube videos were like watching a movie.” But her favorite was Kandee Johnson, because, she said, “she did really good transformations.”
Eventually, Ms. Kattan would eclipse them all. Though she dabbled in YouTube, she never felt comfortable on the platform. “I fell in love with Instagram,” she said, even rattling off the exact month (October 2012) and phone model (iPhone 4) she had when she started her account. A couple of years later, she reached a million followers.
Asked about her social media strategy, she shared the usual: Be true to yourself, share other users’ posts to gain a community and be “superinvolved” with both followers and customers by engaging in conversations. There is also the fact that she rarely accepts paid posts.
“Everyone is up in arms about paid posts,” said the beauty publicist Alison Brod, who likens them to commercials or print ads. But by not taking money for her content, Ms. Brod said, Ms. Kattan appears more credible to her followers. That has translated to both social media currency and actual dollars. Ms. Brod’s client Alterna Haircare saw its Instagram following jump up by 5,000 after Ms. Kattan featured its products in a post.
This year will test how well Ms. Kattan can truly capitalize on her following. She is releasing a 3D highlighter palette in April ($45 at shophudabeauty.com), has a foundation collection in the works and, more ambitiously, is planning a rollout to 125 Sephora and Sephora inside J. C. Penney doors starting in July.
For all that, Ms. Kattan will need to distinguish Huda Beauty from other social-media-driven brands that rely on a similar product assortment: liquid lipsticks, highlighters and eye shadow palettes. (See: Kylie Jenner’s lip kits, highlighters and, yes, eye shadow palettes.) Ms. Patrick, of Sephora, said it would come down to innovation and telling the product story well.
Ms. Kattan said, “I think my fun is work.”
Yet as her star rises, she has begun to draw a line between her work and personal life. She said she had not fully embraced Snapchat because it had “no virality because you can’t track,” and because the platform was more personal than Instagram.
“My day is boring,” she said. “I don’t know if people want to see me in meetings all the time.” Even her favorite weekend activities include “SWOT-ing” — that is, assessing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — and practicing the kaizen productivity philosophy (a Japanese practice of continuous improvement). Self-confessed “nerd” she may be, but one with “Pinky and the Brain” ambitions. Her ultimate goal is “global domination,” she said unwaveringly.
“That probably sounds weird, but why not?”