NEW YORK, United States — Every day, Huda Kattan reimagines her look using an ever-expanding array of products from her five-year-old makeup brand, Huda Beauty. And every day, a significant portion of her millions of followers log onto Instagram or YouTube to watch.
A recent tutorial on purple eyeshadow racked up over 915,000 views, and a video depicting Kattan applying a “soft and seductive” mix of olive and caramel matte eyeshadows found similar success. Many go on to buy the products featured in these videos; Andrea Szasz, a principal with the consulting firm Kearney, estimates Huda Beauty sales reached at least $250 million last year (the company declined to comment on revenue).
But the dramatic transformations that sell highlighters, foundations, eyeshadow palettes, lashes and lipsticks aren’t going to work with Wishful, the skincare brand Kattan introduced in February. Selling enzyme scrubs and cleansers means showing off natural, bare skin — which means going makeup-less.
All of a sudden I was forced to be ‘me’ at the most vulnerable, under a microscope in front of a camera… I felt scared.
“I always feel like I can become another person, that’s what makeup does to you in some ways,” Kattan told BoF. “All of a sudden I was forced to be ‘me’ at the most vulnerable, under a microscope in front of a camera without Photoshop. I felt scared.”
Kattan’s pivot to skincare is well-timed. The category was already growing faster than makeup when Wishful launched. Once the pandemic hit, interest in moisturising, masking and at-home self-care surged, while makeup sales dipped. But there’s no guarantee that customers who love Huda Beauty’s dramatic eyeshadows will go for Wishful’s six products, including the “Yo Glow” enzyme scrub, which promises its beta and alpha hydroxy acids and fruit extracts will leave skin brighter and softer.
Huda Beauty needs to bridge that gap if it’s to make the leap from a successful, mid-sized makeup company into a category-straddling behemoth. Kattan said although she once conceived of Huda Beauty as a makeup-first brand, the initial success of Wishful has her thinking the revenue mix should be “a little bit more 50-50.”
“The question is how able she’s going to be making a sustainable business proposition that can shift to spaces that are more on-trend, that are move Covid relevant — and leverage her strengths,” namely her strong connection with her massive social media following, Szasz said.
The job of building that sustainable business falls on Nathalie Kristo, Huda Beauty’s chief executive. Kristo, who headed the brand’s North America operation, was named interim chief executive last year. She is the company’s first leader other than Kattan.
As the company grew, it became harder to be the face of a brand, oversee product and engage daily with Huda Beauty’s nearly 50 million Instagram followers — while also serving as its chief executive, Kattan said. She repeatedly underscored that she’s not minimising her role; she is just making time to do what she excels at: product, social media and content creation.
Kattan is also the chairwoman of HB Investments, a family fund she runs with husband Chris Goncalo and sisters Mona and Alya Kattan. The fund invested in a fashion resale site, The Luxury Closet, in August.
“I was depressed,” Kattan said. “Content and communicating with the community and making product makes me so happy… I couldn’t do it at all.”
Kristo called Kattan a “trusted authority” in skin, despite getting her start as an influencer and entrepreneur in makeup tutorials. Blog posts about skincare could get twice the engagement as those about makeup.
“There is all this bias about a makeup brand or someone who has that makeup authority being able to launch a successful skincare brand,” Kristo said.
In addition to building out Wishful’s portfolio of products (a rose oil was recently introduced, and more are on the way), Kristo is overseeing expansion in the US, as well as Huda Beauty’s newest markets, including China (via cross-border e-commerce), South Korea and Mexico. The largest portion of Huda Beauty’s sales comes from Europe (followed by North America), but there is outsized brand awareness in the Middle East, and especially Dubai where Kattan is based.
“Engaging with the US consumer hasn’t been my personal priority. That’s been part of the problem,” Kattan said. “I’ve always been like, ‘We need to try and go after where we are first and then expand outside of that.’”
There is all this bias about a makeup brand… being able to launch a successful skincare brand.
Going forward, the team will partner with more US influencers, increase digital marketing spend and work with US retailer partner Sephora to get more in-store exposure.
Crystal Jones, 31, a corrections officer in Brooklyn, New York, said she bought Wishful’s exfoliator as soon as it came out because of how passionately Kattan talks about her products on Instagram.
“I love watching different makeup artists use her skin care,” said Jones, who is studying to become an aesthetician. She plans to order the “Clean Genie” makeup removing balm. “If it’s good enough for them [makeup artists], it’s good enough for me.”
Mandatory mask wearing in many places and quarantines hurt an already challenged colour cosmetics sector, but some makeup categories have fared better. Products that enhance the eyes, like concealer, mascara, eyeliner and eyebrow pencils, are all visible while wearing a mask (or on a Zoom call). Fortunately, Huda Beauty’s biggest makeup launch of the year happened to be a mascara, also the label’s first. Legit Lashes went on sale in May.
“It was able to offset some of those other categories,” Kristo said of mascara. “Our strength in digital was able to offset some of the loss we had in brick and mortar. The reality is, when the stores shut down that’s just a huge volume of business that just didn’t happen.”
Huda Beauty’s lip business was most impacted by Covid-19, said Kattan. Some products were not able to launch as planned (one was pushed to next year).
Instead of going head to head in the colour space with similar brands, some experts think Kattan’s ability to pivot into different businesses or products — whether it’s in the US or markets where she has higher brand awareness — that will determine long-term success.
“[Kattan] is smartly or fortuitously, not sure which one came first, stepping into that trend,” Szasz said of Wishful.