Style and strength meet on Saudi palace catwalk

JEDDAH: Iraqi-American Huda Kattan, founder and chief executive of Huda Beauty, spoke about how she started her billion-dollar beauty empire at Voices, an annual gathering for big thinkers organized by the Business of Fashion (BoF) in England on Friday.

The annual invitation-only event, held in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, brings together the trailblazers with the movers and shakers of the fashion industry along with entrepreneurs and inspiring people who are shaping the wider world.

While Kattan now has one of the fastest-growing beauty brands in the world, it wasn’t always easy. 

She was born and raised in Oklahoma City, where she said she stood out. 

“To be honest, I felt different. I was darker, hairier, my hair was unruly, my parents would speak loudly in Arabic across the hall. I was one of the only brown kids. My family were Muslim immigrants with very little money. We knew we didn’t fit in. It showed.” 

Kattan said she had an “identity crisis” after being fired from her first job out of college.

“I had no choice but to accept who I was. I wanted to be fully me, totally and utterly weird…. Being different challenges norms, but different is brilliant,” the influencer said.

“The crazy part about accepting yourself is that the conviction of not caring what people think allows them to accept you in return. The only people who enjoy happiness and success embrace their weirdness.”

Kattan, a Hollywood-trained makeup artist who has worked with celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Nicole Richie, launched her blog, hudabeauty.com, in 2010, eventually branching out to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Kattan started with a line of five styles of false eyelashes, gradually expanding to a range of cosmetics, fragrances and soon skincare. Today, Huda Beauty is on track to do $400-million in retail sales this year. Kattan is the 60th most-followed person on Instagram with 30 million fans. Her company, started along with her sister, has become one of the fastest-growing beauty companies in the world, with distribution at global retailers from Sephora to Harrods and Selfridges.

“We became limitless and we weren’t chained to the beliefs of society. The impact was so profound our brand didn’t blossom — it boomed,” Kattan said. “We’re competing against conglomerates with billions of dollars, people telling us we didn’t have a chance. How did we not only compete but dominate with so little resources? We embraced our weirdness.”

Kattan joined a host of other inspiring speakers at the three-day event from Nov. 28-30, including celebrities and big names in the world of fashion and entrepreneurship such as designer Stella McCartney; Peter Smith, co-founder and CEO, Blockchain; Francesca Bellettini, president and CEO of Saint Laurent; South Sudanese model Adut Akech; and Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, among others.

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