As I walk into a discreet Central London hotel on a chilly Monday evening, I state my business to the elegant looking receptionist. ‘I’m here to meet Huda Kattan’. Outside of this context however, that surname would be perfunctionary. This makeup artist /blogger turned social media star (41 million followers and counting) turned billion dollar entrepreneur behind her eponymous brand, has reached such heady heights of success she has become a mononym. She is famous for her realness; as open about fillers and botox as she is for deft makeup skills – no one does a winged eye like Huda. But how different is the social media, ‘girl boss’ persona to the one I was about to meet IRL? Is she really that real?
We sat down to discuss the launch of her new skincare line, Wishful, and the brand’s launch into Boots and I can safely say you can expect your expectations to be exceeded. Huda, funny, witty, self deprecating (cue many shared moments of raucous laughter) was on form and as real as ever. Over the course of the hour we discussed everything from what inspired the brands’ beauty ethos (‘I felt ugly as a kid’) to going overboard with injectables (‘I looked crazy!’) to her obsession with Queen Bey (‘When I don’t know what to do, I channel Beyoncé’) to how to be a great business person (‘You need to have conviction to make it work’) and arse implants ( I’ve seen some things on the beach that are so shocking, I can’t stop staring’.) In the midst of everything she also explains why when other brands are launching liquid exfoliators, why she has gone against the grain (pun intended) and launched a scrub…
FUNMI FETTO: I think it’s so interesting that even though you have your own brand – makeup and now skincare – you still openly use and talk about other brands and products. That’s really unusual…
HUDA: I do talk about other brands because the truth is we are not going to launch lots of products. We are not going to take care of everyone’s skincare issues. We just can’t. I have never seen it done. I’ve never seen a brand that does it all and completely gets rid of lines and wrinkles. Which is why (breaks into laughter) Botox is my best friend. But no, we have to talk about other brands – those that we like, with founders we know are nice people. That’s important to us as a brand. If people are not nice, we just ignore you.
FF: Yes that’s a chic way to deal with it rather than this whole call-out culture situation.
HUDA: Oh my God. Call-out culture. It is getting so bad in America. I mean who do you think you are to cancel somebody? Nobody cancels anybody. It’s mean. It’s just bullying.
FF: When did you start thinking about launching this line? What inspired it?
HUDA: It started with acne – I had adult acne. My skin was really porous, I didn’t have smooth soft skin and I really wanted it. And that’s really what the brand is about. I wanted it to be for people who had acne scars and wanted to re-texturize their skin. It was how to get more even, pore-free skin. It’s not going to be an anti ageing, remove your pigmentation kind of product. We are working with labs who have done 5-10 years of research but we are not looking at anti wrinkle – just smooth soft skin. I have an issue with so many products – so many break me out. Having more sensitive skin has made me more cautious and made me more particular. With Wishful we (the brand) really wanted products we could all use.
FF: In a time when brands are launching liquid exfoliators, you have surprised everyone and launched a scrub. Why?
HUDA: I had always used a Korean scrub. I found it to be a perfect makeup base but some of them were not nice to use – some actually felt quite gross, were not that effective and broke me out. We worked with Korean and Japanese labs to develop this and it is very simple but very effective. It is so gentle and basically removes all your dead skin so the makeup application afterwards is so smooth. It’s incredible.
FF: How do you keep your brand constantly relevant? The makeup industry is said to be saturated and struggling so how do you keep your head above water?
HUDA: I feel like I have said this before – and please forgive me, I hope I don’t sound cocky. But I said this would happen. It’s a cycle. I remember when Kylie launched her cosmetics brand, I thought, ‘Crap, every celebrity is going to see this and want to launch something. And then we noticed another brand not launching at a retailer and just launching on their own space and I thought ‘Oh the power is gone from the brand to the actual influencers, the beauty industry is going to implode and a lot of beauty brands are going to die’. I expected this. The problem is there are a lot of people who see a wave and just gravitate towards it but really they don’t actually give a shit about beauty. It is important( as a brand) to be really qualitative and intentional with what you are doing. And if you do that, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. You just have to ride the wave – the good times and the bad – and let it play itself out.
FF: Did you always think you would get into beauty?
HUDA: You know it wasn’t even something I was sure I could get into because in the MiddleEastern culture, I didn’t think it was going to be a job. I thought I had to do something that is perceived as serious. And so when Mona (her sister and business partner) said I should go and study make-up in a school in California, I was so serious about it. I was a nerd! When you really love what you do and are obsessed with what you do, you have to be the best at it. Have you read the book on Beyonce? I know everything about her. I know, I know, it’s really sad. You can ask me anything about her, I am obsessed! I know every fact about her. It’s interesting when you hear about people you admire and just how committed they are to success. She would study dancing for long hours from a very young age. She was a nerd at it. That means being committed to being the best at your job whatever that is. Going beyond the typical of what people think. So I am a nerd committed to learning.
FF: So what was the thing that attracted you to beauty and still keeps you excited about it today?
HUDA: I think these two things are connected. I felt ugly as a kid. I grew up in a predominantly white community in Tennessee. I was the brownest person in my school. Mona and I stood out. We didn’t know what we were. And that was tough – we were not blond and blue eyed, we were hairy, I just felt I didn’t belong and I really wanted to belong. You know in Arab culture, unfortunately still to this day, while it has gotten better, the fairer you are, the more attractive you are considered. It’s funny because now I’m at the point where I want to be richer in skin tone but I tell myself, no, you just have to love your skin tone. You don’t need to be lighter, you don’t need to be darker, you just need to be your skin tone. Before this I felt like I was not beautiful because I was so different looking and I wanted that ‘feeling’ so badly. So now I feel driven by the purpose of wanting people to feel it, to feel beautiful. It’s more than just skin tone, it’s about certain imperfections too and people just not perceived as beautiful. So many of us are on this journey. It’s upsetting because we sell beauty and by saying no you’re not a part of this journey, no it’s for everyone but you… That’s what really bothers me – people that don’t think the beauty journey is for everyone.
FF: It’s great that you are using your platform in this way. There are people still dealing with comparison and mental health issues. I would love to know your thoughts on how social media is impacting the way women see themselves.
HUDA: It’s just so hard – there has to be more regulation. The fact that I can face tune a picture to the point where you don’t actually know how I look… I mean I have to say, I’ve done that before where even I was like ‘Woah! Did I post that?!’ I’ve got to the point where I don’t do much face tuning of my images – if at all. There were a few images where I literally just posted them. And you know it’s kind of liberating when you do that. People just need to do it. For the Wishful campaign, we shot me with no makeup and no photoshop and there were bits where I looked really thick and had rolls but I was like, you know what, just leave it. It’s not easy and it’s hard but you know it’s also empowering at the same time. It’s hard because I know I’m going to be criticised and I know people are going to comment, but I also know it’s going to be the right message as well. Unless we start changing, it’s not going to get better. Maybe there needs to be something from instagram that says ‘WE VERIFY THIS HAS NOT BEEN EDITED’ or something. There has to be some sort of system because otherwise, it’s a lie.
FF: Many people are not just editing their faces on screen, they’re also doing it in real life to look like their facetuned face…
HUDA: I mean I had some really bad botox and fillers and I melted most of them and I feel like I actually look so much more attractive. Of course I still have some. I’ve definitely been filling up my lips a little bit. But I feel like before, I was doing the craziest things, I was like ‘put things everywhere’. It’s addictive but I have more control.
FF: I think the doctors have a responsibility to say ‘Maybe we won’t do that today’ Maybe you don’t need that.
HUDA: Definitely, I don’t think people understand the responsibility that everyone has – whether you’re on social media, whether you’re doing Botox and fillers… If you’re doing it to feel better – all power to you but if you’re doing it to fix an issue, there’s no amount of Botox and fillers that is going to do that. That’s one reason why we are very vocal about what (work) we do as well. When we announced we were doing Wishful, I was also doing a lot of stuff around Botox and Fillers and I got a lot of controversy from different people in the company. They were like, ‘What are you doing? We are talking skincare and you are talking about Botox and Fillers. And I said, no they are very different things’. But there is still a stigma. People still don’t understand Botox and Fillers. Especially because we are getting to a place where people are not looking human anymore.
FF: Do you think we are so far gone as a society that we can’t go back?
HUDA: I mean the arse implants I’ve seen… And hip implants… I’ve seen some things on the beach that are so shocking that I can’t stop staring. I mean I’m trying not to be rude but it’s like woah! When they move, the butt moves afterwards. You cannot take your eyes off it. I think there needs to be a shift where we focus on health and not fake curves. Why can’t you just be the healthiest variation of yourself? Just be you.
FF: And there is a push towards that… It feels like beauty and wellness are split into two different tribes; there are some who dabble in both, they’ll have the superfood powder and they’ll also have a teeny bit of tweakments. Even if not for you, that somehow feels more measured.
HUDA: I do think people will become healthier. I think it is important that people are beginning to look more individual rather than everyone looking the same. I’ve been very open with getting rid of the fillers… I feel like I’m beginning to look more like my old self now. Man, I was bad (laughs). In 2018 you should have seen my face! Did you see me last year? I was that person!
FF: To be so open and honest is inspiring. Tell me about the women who inspire you.
HUDA: You know how much I love Beyonce. But actually from earlier in my career, Oprah was my inspiration. My mum would always quote Oprah. She has become such a huge part of American and Global culture. She is like ‘QUEEN’. There’d be times I would call up my mum and cry over the phone saying things are not happening and she’d be like ‘Do you remember Oprah?!’ I look at how far she’s come and that really resonated with me. Having good role models really help you. I embody Beyonce when I don’t know what to do (laughs). My dad is also an inspiration – he never gives up. He is a retired professor that works with us now. He outsmarts and outworks everyone. I get a lot of my work ethic from him. Always curious, always learning. My father was born in Iraq and when we grew up and lived in America, having this heritage was almost shameful; the comments we still get… Really racist comments. It’s really upsetting but it motivates us to work harder and give back.
FF: What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
HUDA: People don’t realise how much sacrifice it is. We went 5 years without a vacation and said bye to all my friends. I told them, I’m a mum now, I’m working on this thing that is taking so much of my time now and you probably are not going to see me for some months. A lot of people just didn’t want to be my friend anymore. There is so much sacrifice, so you need so much conviction in what you are doing. I also believe in Positive Energy and ‘manifesting’. When I’m doing all these things I keep thinking to myself, I feel this is going to be so huge, I feel it’s going to be so major and it becomes so major. I think it’s also really important to understand why you are starting a business. There is so much desire to own a business but it is not for everyone. Unless you are doing something to shift an industry, to disrupt or fill a gap in the market, there is no reason to do it. I see a lot of people doing it because it is cool and it is something to put on Instagram but then they end up failing because it is not purposeful and there is no intention behind it. All the things we are doing, we do because we want the industry to be different. We want to do things that are so much more than selling makeup. You have to have a mission to change the industry.
‘Wishful’ is available at boots.com