There’s glamorous, and then there’s Huda Kattan. The Iraqi-American influencer and global beauty entrepreneur is next-level groomed and glossy as she perches behind her desk, her petite curves va-va-vooming in a black bodycon dress. Photos of her daughter Nour, six, husband Christopher Goncalo and her sisters Mona and Alya (who all work in the ‘family business’) pepper the vast corner office’s pristine walls.
I’ve met Huda a few times before, in London, but this time it’s different. We’re in Dubai – her home turf – in the gleaming glass skyscraper that houses her multi-million-pound beauty empire, Huda Beauty. Launched in 2013, it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing beauty brands. Next to her office, Huda’s smiley, mainly female team beaver away on the latest launches.
Last year, the 34-year-old financier-turned-Hollywood-trained-makeup-artist-turned-superstar-blogger was named one of the 25 most influential people on the internet by Time magazine (that’ll be the 24 million Insta followers) and the No1 influencer on Instagram’s Rich List. But despite the accolades and global fame, she’s charming and not intimidating in person; a warm girl’s girl who tends to talk fast with no filter. She’s also a kickass CEO, as I discover…
AS: You have 24 million Instagram followers and more than two million on YouTube – do you ever check the numbers?
HK: I check it daily, every morning.
AS: Really, you check! Does that level of fame ever get to you?
HK: Yeah, I definitely can’t go shopping, especially with my daughter and that’s unfortunate. I’m not a celebrity. I’m accessible and I love that I have a connection with people, but it is challenging when I’m with my daughter. I went shopping with her recently and I didn’t get to spend a moment with her. My husband was like, “Honey, come spend time with us.”
AS: Do you ever refuse pictures?
HK: I’ve only not taken a photo once, and I still think about it.
HK: Yeah, because it’s part of my job. At the time, I was going up an escalator holding my daughter and my husband refused. I don’t think it’s nice to say no. People are buying my products, they’re part of my family. How can I just be like, “Oh, I love you guys!” on Instagram and then be like, “No photos!” If I ever become that person, please punch me in the face.
AS: Why do you think you appeal to so many different people?
HK: I think my story relates. When I started out, all I had was my passion and grit. I didn’t have money for a photo shoot for our lashes [packaging], but I knew what I wanted, so I took a selfie and sat with the graphic designer to make it. The rest is history.
AS: What’s your first beauty memory?
AS: And your toughest moments starting out?
HK: I started a blog with $500. I was doing shitty videos as I didn’t have money for cameras. When I went to revamp the blog, I needed $10,000 and I couldn’t get it. It felt like no one believed in me. I had to do so many makeup jobs, it took me eight months to raise the money. Finally, I launched the blog and as soon as it started to take off I fell pregnant, and that was hard to deal with because I hadn’t planned on having kids – ever. Obviously, I love my daughter, but she wasn’t in the plan.
AS: So now it’s a family business?
HK: I forced them to work with me! [She laughs.] I bribed my sister Alya, then Mona, then my husband. I don’t think I could be who I am without him being so supportive. Now I feel like I’m working for my daughter and she loves to be here, too.
AS: How much does your Iraqi heritage influence your look?
HK: I feel like I’ve mixed my Middle Eastern and Western loves together. I grew up in the States, but was drawn to Arab [beauty] influences – I wore a lot of liner and perfume. My mum is not that person, so I started to wonder if it was innate.
AS: How do you feel about ageing?
HK: People think you should embrace it, but I say, “Fuck that!” Why should I? I want to age well mentally, but physically NO! I get Botox and fillers; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I want to be at my best health so I’ve tried being more vegan. As long as I can be physically healthy, I don’t mind being curvy.
AS: I love that you’re so open about it all.
HK: I’m sick of people who pretty-shame others. I think if you want to look and feel good, why should you be reprimanded for that? Why does that mean that you’re superficial? Sorry, no!
AS: How do you handle negative comments on social media?
HK: I don’t engage. That’s what people want. When people say bad things, it’s not about you, it’s about them. I think, ‘Is it going to change who I am as a person?’ No. So, I just ignore it.
AS: What advice would you give to a young girl?
HK: I have been cyber-bullied twice, really badly. When I first started out, some people were trying to take me down and it affected my business big time. That made my skin thicker. When my daughter and niece come up against this issue, I say, “Do you think I’m ugly?” And they say, “No.” And I reply, “Well, some people do, but if I feel good that’s all that matters.”
AS: That’s a great lesson. What did your mum teach you?
HK: She taught me to be patient. There’s an Arabic saying that basically means: ‘With every delay there is a blessing.’ I’d call her and say, “I want people to know I’m serious!” She’d say, “Just relax. Be patient, things need time.” That means a lot – I think about the disasters that could have happened if I’d rushed.
AS: So, what’s next at Huda Beauty?
HK: Rose Gold remastered [Textured Shadows Palette Rose Gold Edition, £56, Huda Beauty]. Also, more foundation. But I don’t want to just create a colour, pull it out of my arse and launch it. I want to know that it actually matches skintones. People have said they want darker shades and I think we need more medium tones, too. [Many people have] yellowish undertones; rich red undertones are harder to find. I haven’t found anyone with a blue undertone yet, but I know they exist. New York is a great place to find people – there are so many ethnicities. I just want to go up and approach people in the street. I shade-matched a girl from Nigeria – she really wants to help me find more people [to shade-match]. She’s awesome.
AS: Finally, what’s your personal goal?
HK: I don’t write goals, but I do write a diary. I like to reflect each year. Personal growth is really important to me. I 100% know I’m not the same person I was a year ago.
This interview was taken from GLAMOUR Magazine’s Spring issue.