OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Huda Kattan, the founder and chief executive of Huda Beauty, credits the ascension of her brand — currently valued at over $1 billion — to being weird.
It all dates back to the second grade, when a seven-year-old classmate named Laura came up to her told her she was weird, Kattan said onstage at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers hosted in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.
To make matters worse, a few more kids chimed in and seconded the sentiment.
“If so many kids are calling me weird, I must be so weird.... That’s where you go for information. As a kid, they defined who I believed I was,” said Kattan. “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.”
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Kattan recalled her family's “two-tone duct-taped cars” and wearing hand-me downs growing up. She also had a big personality, a “huge obsession with the arts,” and loved to talk, sing and dance. Classmates started to call her Honda and Hooters, which didn't go over well.
Desperate to fit in, Kattan stopped using her first name and went by “Heidi,” her middle name, for years before 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,” Kattan said, citing vlogs she’s posted on YouTube about using KY Jelly or Vagisil as makeup primers as an example. “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.”
Today, the beauty influencer and entrepreneur's line is on track to do $400 million in retail sales this year and she’s the 60th most-followed person on all of Instagram, with 29.5 million fans to her handle. What started out as a line of five styles of fake eyelashes has expanded to a full range of colour cosmetics, fragrance and soon skincare. In less than three years, Huda Beauty 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’s team is full of a “bunch of weirdos,” and by that she means people who have learned to embrace “their weird” – aka, their genius.
To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.