The Kattans: Meet the Sisters Who Built a Billion Dollar Beauty Empire
By: Norah Soufraji/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Iraqi-American sisters Huda, Mona, and Alya Kattan have been fixtures in the beauty industry for years. Born and raised in the United States and now based in Dubai, these savvy entrepreneurs built their empire from the ground up and now have one of the most successful beauty brands in the world. Huda Beauty is currently the #1 most followed beauty brand on Instagram beating out such heavyweights as Glossier, Kylie Cosmetics, and Colourpop with a grand total of 51.6 million followers.
Glamour Meets Authenticity
For makeup enthusiasts and loyal fans of the Huda Beauty cosmetics, the Kattan sisters need no introduction. They have been fixtures on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok over the last decade. Huda Kattan, the middle sister, is the face, founder and CEO of the brand. Mona Kattan, the youngest, is a co-founder and president as well as founder of the offshoot brand Kayali Fragrances. Oldest sister, Alya, is a blogger and the brand’s Social Media Manager. Over the years, each sister has brought their own sets of strengths and expertise to the incredibly successful billion dollar beauty empire. Huda Beauty, Kayali, and skincare line Wishful Skin fuse glamour, authenticity, vulnerability, and just a dash of sparkle which has helped to amass such a dedicated fan following.
The Kattan sisters were born in Oklahoma City, USA to Iraqi immigrant parents and later lived in Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Work ethic was something that was instilled in all three sisters from an early age. Recalling her childhood, Huda has expressed that she felt isolated growing up in Middle America. As children, they were often teased for their Arab heritage while growing up in a predominately white and conservative Baptist neighborhood. Huda often went by the name “Heidi” while Mona went by “Monica”. Both Huda and Mona studied bachelors degrees in finance. Huda received her bachelor’s from the University of Michigan while Mona received hers from the American University of Sharjah. Alya earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition with a minor in business. The family would later relocate to Dubai in 2006 where they would soon after begin building their beauty empire.
Finding a Niche
The self-made beauty mega-brand was the brain-child of Huda Kattan who was encouraged to pursue her love and passion for makeup after being fired unexpectedly from her corporate job in recruiting. Soon after she enrolled in beauty school in Los Angeles and would later go on to work as a makeup artist for Revlon in Dubai. In 2010, Huda started a WordPress blog which she called Huda Beauty where she would share her tips and tricks of the trade with the world. She later began filming makeup tutorials and product reviews for her makeup and beauty essentials.
As her beauty blog gained more and more followers, Huda, with the help of her sisters, and a $6,000 loan, decided to launch her very first product, a collection of false lashes.
Huda was unsure if she would ever be able to pay back the loan but nevertheless took the risk to pursue her passion after identifying a space in the beauty market in need of development. The original Huda Beauty team consisted of only 4 people; Huda, Mona, Alya, and Huda’s assistant. However, it was not long after that the false lash line gained the attention of such celebrities as Kim Kardashian. In 2013, Sephora Dubai made a deal with the young company and projected to sell 7,000 units of Huda Beauty lashes in a year. Those 7,000 units sold out in just one week. According to Forbes, retail sales skyrocketed from $1.5 million to $10 million by the second year.
As Huda Beauty grew and became more successful, they encountered problems with distributors who took advantage of them as a new company. In 2015, Huda’s husband, Christopher Goncalo, joined as the Chief Operating Officer and helped to create a new distribution channel in order to fund cosmetics.
Huda Beauty may have started with a wordpress blog and false lashes, but they now offer a wide array of products including cosmetics, fragrances, skincare, and beauty tools. Although Huda Beauty offers high quality world class products, that isn’t the only thing that makes this company so special.
Building an Empire
As the founder and face of Huda Beauty, Huda Kattan has always leaned into vulnerability and authenticity. She firmly believes in approaching beauty from a place of honesty. Throughout the years, in her makeup tutorials she has shown her unfiltered bare skin, been open about her cosmetic procedures, and never shied away from dramatic before and after makeup transformations. This has created a sense of trust with her consumer base. She also made a point to avoid paid sponsorship posts, which has become a fixture on Instagram and other social media platforms. Huda instead prefers to recommend products from brands which she herself loves and uses. Huda Beauty started as a blogger with a fan-base in Dubai but soon after became one of the most popular beauty influencers in the entire world.
Oldest sister Alya Kattan, whose primary role is in Huda Beauty’s social media marketing, has been at the forefront of the brand evolution over the years. She is also a health enthusiast and fitness expert. Huda Beauty’s success is in large part due to their adept use of social media. Alya has said that in the early years, the brand’s main focus was on growth but oftentimes the content which received the most engagement and comments did not help with the brand’s overall bottom line. Because of this, a balance between product pushes, free informative content, memes and funny videos, as well as personal content from Huda and family had to be in balance. Huda Beauty’s page never shies away from supporting and building up other brands while also promoting their own products.
Youngest sister, Mona Kattan, known for her encyclopedia of positive quotes and affirmations, has served as the president and co-founder since the beginning. In recent years, she headed the creation of an offshoot brand of fragrances called Kayali meaning “my imagination” in Arabic. Kayali includes floral, citrus, woody, and musk infused scents. Mona has said that her passion for fragrance is comparable to Huda’s passion for makeup. Mona is active on social media, particularly on youtube where she discusses various topics such as self love, spirituality, and career development. Mona is an advocate for meditation, positive daily affirmations, and always speaking about one’s future goals in the present tense.
Making Beauty Meaningful
The Kattan sisters are without a doubt a source of pride for the Arab and Arab American community. In interviews, Huda Kattan has described herself as a rebel, and that passion and spirit has certainly fueled her drive towards success. At the same time, Huda, as well as her sisters, strive to center family and their core values in everything they do. They recently created Huda Beauty Investments which serves as an investment fund for women starter brands in the Middle East and plan to expand in the future. Huda Beauty has also leaned into philanthropy. In 2021, Huda donated 1 million meals to the 100 Million Meals Mission in order to eradicate world hunger. The brand has also supported the NAACP Legal Defense fund, Doctors Without Borders, and used its influence to speak out and champion young entrepreneurs in the Middle East.
The Huda Beauty team is proof that a beauty brand can have meaning and intelligence as well as glitz and glamor. Seeing these three sisters achieve such amazing success as a family is an inspiration to us all.
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