DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In February, I flew to Dubai for 34 hours to interview Huda Kattan for the cover story of BoF’s print issue. I spent quite a bit of time with the influencer turned entrepreneur, who in addition to adding skincare to her $1.2 billion cosmetics empire will soon become a brand incubator to develop and grow new labels. I got to visit the brand’s over 22,000-square-foot headquarters, where I sat in on a product development meeting, a fitting and discussed the future of Kattan’s brand. There were parts of the story more targeted to an industry reader, which I cut from the print version and instead included in this newsletter.
Here’s what Kattan had had to say:
AN EMPHASIS ON INCLUSIVITY
Kattan introduced complexion last year, and although #FauxFilter Foundation launched with 30 hues in five shade families, she’s continually tweaking the assortment. During a meeting with the product development team, the founder explained that she’s working to recategorize how the foundation is merchandised to consumers and potentially increase the undertones and shades offered.
The current foundations fall into classifications of fair, light, medium, tan or rich but Kattan acknowledged this still doesn’t touch everyone, especially during a time when other brands offer up to 60 options. During our interview, three members of the product development team presented potential additions to her: “ultra-fair,” “light medium” and “deep.”
“Do we have a shade for albino skin?” Kattan asks before informing her team she was pleased with these new frontrunners.
“I don’t think we’ve heard necessarily a need for more shades because I felt like we covered quite a few originally, but we felt that we could do more. We are really critical of our own products,” she adds.
Kattan notes it’s of utmost importance that her product development team – which jumped from two to nine people in a year – is a cross-section of employees with different aesthetics in “all different flavours.” For instance, one is as extra as Kattan and favours “very Arabic makeup,” including false lashes and warmer tones, while another is a French minimalist.
“Undertone is something that we stress so much. It’s really sensitive for us,” says Kattan, who added that she “still feels like we’re a small brand."
FROM COLOUR TO SKIN
Soon, there will be a new Instagram account to follow: Kattan is launching a skincare brand, with the first product scheduled to debut in the second half of 2019. She was unable to disclose the name of the range because it’s still in the process of being trademarked, and was tight-lipped on other details, beyond that it will include a “hero product” not complementary to makeup.
What she could say: products may or may not be intended for use together, but there won’t be a “1,2,3 step” regimen a la Clinique. Her team proposed launching with a kit, but she turned the idea down because she wants the focus to be on a single product. This tactic can work, even in the age of multi-step skin routines – just ask Vintner’s Daughter or Summer Fridays.
Undertone is something that we stress so much. It’s really sensitive for us.
“I don’t want to pretend that we’re going to come out here and … solve people’s problems for their skincare," she says. "I’m not a dermatologist – I’m a beauty connoisseur who is working with some really amazing labs to target some very specific issues… I just want to give people the opportunity to feel like they have beautiful skin."
As an influencer who shot to global fame for her makeup expertise and corresponding makeup brand, getting into (and being an authority on) skincare might be more challenging. Makeup tutorials, before and afters and promoting colour swatches on her forearm via social media are things Kattan excels at, but she must now convince her millions of followers to also start buying her skincare. Also: skincare overall is just less visual by nature, and unless the packaging is highly “Instagrammable,” the category is sometimes a harder sell online. Good thing Kattan clearly knows what's Instagrammable.
She’s not worried about being taken seriously as a credible creator of skincare.
“I don’t like makeup brands that do skin care, so how do I do that [create skincare] and still feel good about what we’re doing? We’ve partnered with some amazing labs…that’s what’s really what we’ve done,” she explains. “If anybody is critical, or even cynical of what beauty [colour] brands can do skincare – it’s me – so we have a very specific strategy. It is not going to be me doing what I do for makeup for skincare. I’m not going to be like, ‘Hey guys try this skincare product it’s amazing.’ I’m going to be using real people for sure, and I will let the results lead the discussion.”
It is not going to be me doing what I do for makeup for skincare.
Kattan says skincare will remain a tightly edited assortment and will never eclipse her primary colour cosmetics business. She has no intentions of becoming a skin first brand.
DEALING WITH HATERS
Once, she got flack online for supposedly sleeping in her makeup when fans misconstrued a social media post, which called her commitment to skincare into question.
“I publicly said that I don’t sleep in my makeup,” Kattan says, clarifying that she posted pictures saying she was tired and that she didn’t want to take her off her makeup (she still did). Followers responded instantly with comments like, 'You aren’t going to remove your makeup?'”
“I was like ‘Guys, I will remove my makeup.’ Only twice did I go to sleep using a makeup wipe. I take really good care of my skin, I really do,” she says.
It might have been minor, but it’s just one instance of Kattan having to deal with backlash. Like many brands or founders in the public eye today, she’s had her share of controversy online, from outrage over her use of (fake) mink lashes to accusations of using packaging similar to brand Beauty Bakerie.
It was about seeing the negative comments as a chance to be better and accept it as constructive criticism.
Some people love her and others “think we’re not original, and by the way, we’re one of the most copied brands in the industry,” but Kattan says she would be worried if people weren’t talking about her and her brand.
“It helped me develop a really thick skin,” says Kattan, who called negative commentary online part of her success.
Kattan admits that one of the most difficult times of her adult life was a period where she went through a lot of cyberbullying. While awful, she contends it made her that much stronger, and she was able to use the negativity as “fuel to be better.”
“It was about seeing the negative comments as a chance to be better and accept it as constructive criticism,” she adds. “I’ve been very upfront and very honest about so many things and I want to continue that and I want to have that relationship with our followers.”
THIS WEEK IN BEAUTY
Hum Nutrition raised $15 million. The vitamin and supplement company, which raised $5 million two years ago, has since doubled in size.
P&G beat Wall Street estimates. The conglomerate’s beauty business saw a 9 percent increase in organic sales, fueled by the SK-II brand.
Golde wants to make wellness approachable. Ingestibles and skincare from founder Trinity Mouzon Wofford’s self-funded venture are sold at 100 stockists from Urban Outfitters to Goop.
Beauty is looking to YouTube’s ASMR community. Influencer Taylor Darling’s 2.3 million subscribers tune in for her ASMR content, an acronym for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” or the physical sensation viewers experience from listening to certain sounds.
Arrive wants to be the Glossier of clean cosmetics. Founded by a former beauty editor, the new clean, vegan and cruelty-free brand launched with three products.
Givaudan purchases artificial silk manufacturer. The fragrance house acquired the cosmetics business of Amsilk for an undisclosed amount.
The Business of Beauty wants to hear from you. Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to our beauty correspondent, Rachel Strugatz (rachel.strugatz@businessoffas