The Kattan sisters: Beauty with brains
Riding on the social media wave, the Kattan sisters - three Iraqi Americans living in Dubai - have turned their passion for beauty into a business empire
It is has not even been half an hour since Huda Heidi Kattan put up a video tutorial on how to get those perfect cat eyes on her Instagram account, and it already has over 18,000 likes, but then she has almost seven million followers. The Tennessee-born, Iraqi style icon, who now lives in Dubai, is one of top 10 beauty bloggers in the world. Huda Beauty, born in Dubai, is a casebook study on how social media can turn your passion into a business. And now her business is poised to go international.
It all started when Huda was just 14 years old. Her elder sister Alya was in her 20s by then, and was already a beauty addict. Teenaged Huda would love watching her dress up. "I was already shaping her and her friends' eyebrows by that age." And then while studying finance at the University of Michigan, Huda regularly curated broadcast emails to her friends and family on all the new beauty products she was trying out.
Huda first came to the Middle East in 2003 and at that time was based in Sharjah. Her parents had relocated here, but it was not love at first sight for her. Huda returned to the United States after a few months and only came back in 2008 after she was married. Working at DIFC in finance recruitment, she kept up with social media updates on beauty. Two years later, she decided it was time to turn her passion into a business.
It was her younger sister, Mona, who also runs Doll's House, a successful salon chain in Dubai, who suggested she startwww.hudabeauty.com, which today boasts 9,000 views a day. The three sisters work together at Huda Beauty.
When you meet Huda at her offices at Jumeriah Lake Towers, she sits behind a desk neatly stacked with a mountain of cosmetic products, a dozen or so bottles of health supplements and of couple of coffee table books on her chosen subject, beauty.
Her elder sister Alya sits across the desk with three mini iPads on her lap and her younger sister Mona is proudly recounting the story of how Huda Beauty first started.
Mona heads strategy, Alya is the social media expert and Huda is, of course, the face and the creative head of the company.
They employ a staff of 22, and two and half years ago they launched their own beauty line. Starting with eyelashes (they are Huda's signature style statement), they moved into nails.
It seems Henna tattoo's will also be part of Huda Beauty, They are today one of the Middle East's top selling beauty brands and she even has a Huda Beauty Vending Machine. The beauty guru has also been the brand ambassador of Vaseline and on occasion she still does make-up for selected celebrities. Her favourite face to work on is Eva Longoria's. "She is beautiful on the outside and inside", says Huda.
This family business is turning into an empire (as of this year Huda's husband Christopher and father Ibrahim joined the organisation). Her lashes will soon start retailing at Sephora in the United States and the plan is for Huda Beauty to be at 150 stores in the country. She also will be available in the United Kingdom and is interested in retailing in Pakistan and India too.
Interestingly, 26 per cent of her followers are from the UK and the US. This Dubai blogger is an international beauty phenomenon. Which is why she receives at least 1,000 products a month to review (she still buys at least another 100 products online to keep up to date). One her favourite beauty brands is Too Faced, she also is partial to products by Guerlain and the cruelty-free cosmetic brand, Tarte. She spends hours on the Net keeping up to date with beauty trends, takes 45 minutes to do her own face a day, and still finds time to be a mother to her daughter Nour (at four, Nour already knows how to do a perfect cupid's bow - a professional make up technique that pouts up your lips). In between all this, Huda has also managed to train as a make-up artist professionally in Hollywood at the Joe Blasco Make-up School.
"The true secret to good beauty is happiness," she says. She admits to having had botox and fillers but says that fillers is the better way to go. I think it's freaky when women want to have no wrinkles. You should be who you are. Do not try and be Kim Kardashian or Beyonce." She adds, "Actually Botox often just ages you." She believes every women is beautiful and she should just think about enhancing her own beauty, and this what you learn by following Huda.
Since Huda mentioned Kim Kardashian herself, I could not help but ask about the comparisons often made between the Kardashian sisters and the Kattan sisters. "The only thing we have in common is that we are three sisters," says Mona quickly. The sisters are private about their personal life.
Next up for Huda beauty is a book, and an expansion of their beauty line. That will not interfere with her editorial content, as Huda has even reviewed other eyelash products. "We manage to keep things separate. And we will only launch a product if what have is really the best in the market." Huda, by the way, is a name that in Arabic means guidance, and it seems that she really is a guiding light on beauty to women from across the world. A true story of beauty with brains.
>Don't be afraid to go dark on the lip. Try burgundy and bordeaux coloured lipsticks. It's fun and a nice take on to red lip and very trendy.
The writer is Khaleej Times Consulting Fashion Editor
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