DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — From a humble start of leaving the world of finance to write a beauty blog, Huda Kattan now has become one of the most recognizable names in makeup around the world.
The 36-year-old Iraqi-American now runs her eponymous empire Huda Beauty, a makeup line valued at $1.2 billion that has fast become a favorite among A-list celebrities and artists around the world.
Her personality has been key in connecting to the public via social media, a major driver for her makeup known for its vibrant color and contouring popular among Arab women. She’s part of a growing vanguard of lines built around personalities, an expanding business model as more-established brands face slower sales.
“I do think the idea of makeup as a form of self-expression will just grow even more,” Kattan told The Associated Press in Dubai. “I don’t think it’s going to be about beautifying anymore.”
Kattan reaches customers through a YouTube channel where she uploads all her makeup tutorials. Her brand’s Instagram account boasts more than 39 million followers, along with her seven million followers on Facebook. Her beauty line has found success globally, and especially across the Mideast and Persian Gulf, where Huda’s business model has been particularly successful.
So-called “beauty influencers” are seeing strong growth in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to Dubai. They also play an important role in showcasing beauty and personal care products in Saudi Arabia, which has the highest number of active users in the region on social media platforms.
According to Euromonitor International, big brands in the UAE such as Mac, Bobbi Brown and Estee Lauder “saw slight declines in their value shares in 2018, due to the stronger competition from smaller brands” like Huda Beauty, singer Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty and Charlotte Tilbury.
As makeup sales slow in Europe and the U.S., they continue to grow in the Mideast. From 2018 to 2023, Euromonitor predicts a 7.2% growth in the color cosmetics industry across the Mideast, with a 2.9% growth across the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This year alone, the color cosmetics market is valued at $2.3 billion in the Mideast, growing to $3.1 billion by 2023, according to Euromonitor.
Kattan said her business remained strong because of her focus on the Mideast. Unlike in many Western countries where more natural makeup looks are in vogue, women across Arab Gulf countries often lean toward bright, eye-catching makeup trends and accessories that offset the utilitarianism of black veils and abayas. That complements the bold colors of Kattan’s lines.
“I feel like it’s very normal in a cosmetic business to go after the No. 1 beauty business or the industry, which is the U.S.,” she said. “Of course, I do want to go for the U.S., but I still feel like there’s so much to do in this part of the world.”
That focus has served her well so far. With a net worth of more than $600 million, Kattan was named one of the “10 most powerful influencers in the world of beauty” in 2017 by Forbes magazine and was named by Time as one of the 25 most influential people on the internet.
Kattan’s makeup line includes lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, foundation and highlighters among other products. She now is expanding her empire with a newly launched perfume line headed by her business partner and sister, Mona. Huda Kattan has also started a reality web show on Facebook’s Watch service.
“I think there’s a buzz of the beauty brands that have boomed and created billion-dollar brands like Huda Beauty, Kylie, so many other brands. But in reality it’s becoming super competitive and sales are dropping for almost every beauty brand out there,” said Mona Kattan while sitting beside Huda at their office in Dubai. “And the only way you can survive is if you have a really purposeful mission and a strong identity and you’re trying to be different and that’s what we’ve always tried to do.”
Huda Kattan also plans a soon-to-come skincare line.
“You know, I never really had great skin and I always wanted to feel comfortable not wearing makeup, and I finally feel like that for the first time in my life,” she said.
“So makeup shouldn’t be a need, it should be like a want. Like men!” she added with a laugh.
Follow Malak Harb on Twitter at www.twitter.com/malakharb .