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Influence Peddler: Huda Kattan on Building a $200M Brand

Kattan's Huda Beauty is set to launch in J.C. Penney Sephora doors this August.

Beauty blogger turned entrepreneur Huda Kattan has moved beyond the days of her Vagisil-as-a-face-primer video tutorial.

Not too far, though — she has instructed a manufacturer to use dimethicone, a Vagisil ingredient, in the makeup primer she will release later this year — but these days, a big part of Kattan’s focus lies with expanding her makeup business, Huda Beauty. Industry sources projected the brand will reach $200 million in sales for 2017.

This August, Huda Beauty is set to launch in the top 100 J.C. Penney Sephora doors, with 400 more planned for 2018, said Kattan, who is founder and chief executive of the company. She runs the business with her sister Mona, partner of strategy and business relations at Huda Beauty, which has almost 70 employees. Huda describes the sibling relationship as “Pinky and the Brain.” (Huda is Pinky, Mona is the Brain.)

At the J.C. Penney locations, Huda Beauty will take over an endcap that includes highlighters, liquid lipsticks and the Rose Gold Eye Shadow Palette. In September, the brand’s next eyeshadow palette will join the lineup.

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Bringing her products closer to the people is part of the goal, she said. “We grew up in small towns, always 20,000 people or less….I remember the first time I saw a J.C. Penney Sephora, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I finally can get Dior mascara without driving an hour for Dior mascara,’” Kattan said.

In addition to the J.C. Penney’s Sephora launch, Huda Beauty is slated to enter more than 40 freestanding Sephora doors, Kattan said.

“I’m a Sephora girl,” she said. “So we decided to launch with Sephora and stay there exclusively….They want to put us in all their doors by next year.” Outside of the U.S., the brand is sold at Cult Beauty in the U.K., as well at Harrods, Selfridges and Sephora Middle East, France and Australia, plus Kattan was born in the U.S. but runs her business out of Dubai, where she lives now.

The company’s goal is for its products to be different, and Kattan described her product development strategy as “weird.”

“We work with our labs very closely, and they laugh sometimes when I’m, like, ‘OK guys, I’m obsessed with Vagisil, I need you to take the dimethicone that is in Vagisil and make it into a primer.’ And they’re just like, ‘uh, OK.’”

“It’s not a matter of a manufacturer coming to us and saying pick from this,” Mona added. “[Huda] tells them what she wants, and they have to create it. She definitely pushes manufacturers to the extreme.”

The process has resulted in products such as Huda Beauty Lip Strobe, a collection of metallic lip glosses, or the Summer Solstice Highlighter Palette, which includes a violet-toned highlighter.

That strategy is something Kattan keeps in mind as she considers the possibility of taking on a financial partner, an option she said she is open to. “I really want somebody who is future oriented,” she said. “Especially from the bigger companies, they’re great, but a lot of them are also doing things systematically, and we want people who don’t do that.

“If somebody’s, like ‘Oh, this is what works, and this is why it works, and this is what we’re going to do,’ I’m almost cringing,” Kattan added. “Don’t tell me that. Be innovative. Let’s do something nobody’s ever done before, let’s erase the board. I like to think limitlessly, and you can’t be limitless if you’re constantly looking at best practices — though I love them — but I want to know what they are, and not necessarily do them. If we find a partner who is all about that and who gets that about who we are, that would be music to my ears.”

Here, Kattan talks more about her line, social media and the dangers of sleep shopping.

WWD: What’s your Instagram strategy?

Huda Kattan: People say, “Oh you’re [reposting others] on Instagram,” but we were always doing it on the blog. I find other makeup artists’ work very inspiring. I’m so glad that I can be a part of creating these products and everything, but beauty is more than just a person, it’s this revolution — this fact that people want to feel more beautiful and it’s more accessible for them. So for us, [we think about] what are those things that are standouts — sometimes we’ll find the weirdest videos. I like things that pique your interest. We try to be in different people’s shoes a lot, and I don’t think everybody’s going to want to always see my face. You just need to find ways to be more neutral…and all-inclusive.

WWD: How do you reconcile promoting outside content with promoting the Huda Beauty brand?

H.K.: We’re always trying new things. Sometimes I’m, like, “Oh, I really like this video, the makeup is so beautiful, she’s not using any of our products, but I really do love it, let’s post it and see how it goes.” And then I’ll push — like if the summer collection is coming out, let’s post a lot of things for summer collection. Or the new highlighters. And we see if stuff is resonating. If I’m posting stuff [from] our brand and people aren’t liking it and aren’t interested, I’m not going to keep posting it. We have more than just one responsibility — we don’t just sell product, we also sell content. It may not always be our content, but we are always selling the idea of beauty. It’s really important. That’s what people come to us for and we’d be really foolish to forget that.

WWD: When you wake up, what’s the first social platform you check?

H.K.: Definitely Instagram. I do Snapchat at bed, and then I [finish] with it and then go on Instagram for a long time. And I do LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn, I’m like a LinkedIn nerd. But I do feel like Facebook is going to make a comeback; I feel like with the original content they’re going to be doing, it could be a huge opportunity.

WWD: How do you decide how much of your real life to put on social media?

H.K.: That’s hard, because we want people to know who we are. I feel like Snapchat is more up close and personal. You can be a bit of a weirdo, a bit of a goofball — not so perfect. It does disappear. And [for] Instagram maybe you’re a little bit more filtered. I feel like we try to show a lot — we don’t show the things I don’t think are interesting — before a launch when things are going into place. We did a launch and it was very public — we couldn’t go to it because there was a security situation — I normally would not be public about those things, but it was public so we had to be public. We had to give a public explanation…we actually felt bad.

I don’t want to bore people. We’ve been asked to do some things reality TV-type things — and I don’t know if people really find us that interesting. We’re workaholics.

WWD: Walk me through your beauty regimen.

H.K.: I have the worst skin ever. If I don’t take care of it religiously, I break out every single time without fail. I do like SkinCeuticals — it’s a brand that I started using recently — I use the SkinCeuticals Skin Firming Cream, which I love for my pores. I use the Ren Rose Facial Oil, I love that. And the CE Ferulic actually from SkinCeuticals. I really do love the Baby Quasar — I had a lot of acne scars and it helped me a lot. I actually used it on a plane once…and I was, like, “I don’t know if I should be doing that.” Nails I do religiously, I like having my nails done — I do them every week.

I have a crazy obsession with sunglasses — that’s because I feel like it’s a part of beauty. There’s so much that goes into it — framing the face, lifting the face. I think Gucci right now is just on fire. I like Diptyque Doson. I love body care — one of my favorite brands is Caudalie, their Divine Oil and their Divine Body Lotion and Cream. I swear by it, I take it everywhere. It’s so softening.

WWD: What about fashion?

H.K.: I really do love fashion, I have a problem.

Mona Kattan: She sleep shops.

H.K.: I don’t think that’s a problem.

M.K.: She’ll wake up and I’ll be, like, “What did you order?” And she’ll have bought an insane amount of clothes.

H.K.: I do love Net-a-porter. I love shopping, I think it’s fun. We work hard, people play different ways; that’s one of the ways I play. I love Gucci a lot right now. I like Vetements, but the fit is sometimes a little iffy. I love mixing it with high street. I love going into Topshop and bringing some pieces together, with a Saint Laurent blazer.

WWD: Who do you follow on social media?

H.K.: There’s something called a finstagram [fake Instagram]. I did have an account I used to have — there’s Instagram politics, you can’t unfollow people. So once you follow, you have to keep following, so I did have an account where I’d follow if I found them remotely interesting and not if I didn’t find them interesting. I don’t really do that so much anymore, I spend most of my time now on the explore page. It’s a mix of things, most of it is makeup.