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It’s Time for Instagram Darling Huda Beauty’s Own Makeover, Says Founder Huda Kattan

Huda Kattan is back in the driver’s seat of her eponymous beauty brand — and she’s got a new roadmap.

After working behind the scenes for the past couple of years, Kattan is hoping that by resuming the company’s top leadership role she can rev up the business and put it back on the fast track.

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Hailed as a super influencer in the 2010s, Kattan built her huge Instagram following into what was once valued as a $1.25 billion business, with her baking and contouring products flying off the shelves and leading to the launch of several subbrands, including skin care label Wishful, makeup line Glowish and fragrance play Kayali. In 2017, the company received a minority investment from private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners, which has backed brands like Smashbox and It Cosmetics.

But multiple factors— including leadership changes, the pandemic, increased competition from brands such as Makeup by Mario, Charlotte Tilbury, Patrick Ta and Summer Fridays and the rise of TikTok— have hampered the business in recent years. Most recently, Kattan’s comments on the Israel-Hamas war led to calls for a boycott of Huda Beauty.

“Financially, we always had a very sound business, but we really started to fall [in 2021]. Our sales dipped tremendously,” Kattan said during an interview with WWD, adding that 2022 was a particularly bad year.

That is now changing, according to Kattan, who stepped back into the CEO role with her husband, Christopher Goncalo as co-CEO in 2021, replacing Nathalie Kristo who left the business after just six months as CEO. Previously, Kristo was the president of the company’s North American division since 2018.

Kattan declined to share sales figures, but sources told WWD that net sales were around $200 million in 2023. Retail sales are understood to have come in around $400 million, according to sources.

WWD previously reported that sales were estimated to be roughly $250 million in 2021, 2020 and 2019, respectively.

Restoring the business entailed breaking down the parts that aren’t in step with Kattan’s full-glam brand, and rebuilding the pillars of growth, such as makeup.

Last month, for example, Kattan took to YouTube to announce she was back as CEO. She also revealed that a new logo, redesigned packaging and new products are coming to the brand. At the same time, 40 percent of the current lineup is on its way out, including Glowish — a range meant to infuse makeup with skin care to give users a no-makeup makeup look. The brand was a COVID-era launch, when people were wearing less makeup.

These plans call for Kattan to be front and center of the brand and Goncalo to take on a more behind-the-scenes operational role as co-CEO.

That’s not to say Kattan won’t be operational, though. “I surprised myself how much I became operational the last couple of years in really understanding how to unite an organization towards one goal,” she said, describing her previous leadership style as “sh–ty.”

She was equally as candid about the toll the executive changes took on the business, and the tension created when a founder’s vision doesn’t necessarily align with that of an investor.

“It really did almost kill our business in so many ways,” she said, referring to the CEO changes. “I don’t ever want to say anything bad about anyone because everyone shows up trying to be their best. And I probably mismanaged many situations when people came in to do their job, just maybe not understanding how to properly bring people on.

“But the company was divided,” she continued. “We had one direction and we had another direction, and I was just inexperienced and maybe foolish as well.”

Now the brand, which began with false eyelashes, is going back to its roots. While Kattan was sporting a more natural makeup look in both the YouTube video and during this interview, she told WWD that Huda will always be full glam. “Our client is the glam social media user who loves to experiment,” she said.

In terms of launches, first up is Faux Filler, Huda’s new lip gloss, launching globally Wednesday.

Huda Kattan Huda Beauty lip gloss
Huda Beauty lip gloss.

More new products plus a change in fixtures and visual merchandising are coming this year across the board, but at the same time many existing items are on their way out. And as Glowish is set to be delisted, Wishful’s fate still hangs in the balance.

“We’ve thought about different ways to keep it up, but in my heart I feel like it’s time to let go of it. My sister Mona doesn’t want to let go of it,” said Kattan, referring to her sister Mona Kattan, founder of Kayali. Their other sister, Alya Kattan, is chief social media officer at Huda Beauty.

Retailers were not told in advance that the product assortment was undergoing such a significant shift. “I don’t think anybody knew that I was going to post this video,” Kattan said.

Huda Beauty’s geographical footprint could also become more focused, too.

“We’re reviewing some of those things,” she said when asked about markets. “It really is a new business. Huda Beauty was a start-up. Now we say it’s the restart-up. It’s the rebirth. So everything is on the table.”

Then there’s social media. Kattan has 4.1 million followers on Instagram, while Huda Beauty has amassed 54.1 million. On TikTok, Huda Beauty has 9.3 million followers.

Instagram will always be Kattan’s personal favorite. “I’ll be honest, I don’t spend as much time on TikTok as I do Instagram. My team does. I do love TikTok, but the algorithm does not have me figured out.”

But nonetheless, she will be expanding her presence on TikTok as she plans to share clips of her new upcoming podcast on the app. It is scheduled to launch in April, and will be more about life than makeup.

“I started the work in 2021, but it didn’t launch because once I parted ways with my CEO I had to just delve into the business,” she said. “I’m so excited now I finally get the opportunity because I feel like the team is working in a really great space.”

According to CreatorIQ, in 2023, Huda Beauty drove $286.9 earned media value in the U.S., marking a 10 percent increase over 2022. EMV assigns a unique value to a piece of content based on engagement that this content receives from users (likes, comments, shares, views), as well as the platform that this content was published on (Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc.), and attributes that value to brands mentioned in this content.

Huda Beauty ranked third in total EMV out of influencer-founded beauty brands CreatorIQ tracks, behind Rare Beauty and Fenty Beauty and ranked 18th in annual growth rate.

“While they maintain a high-ranking EMV, 17 brands are growing much faster [year-over-year],” said Leah Spector, director of communications at CreatorIQ.

Hailey Bieber’s beauty brand Rhode, for example, was up 248 percent year-over-year, and Summer Fridays, founded by Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Ireland, enjoyed 109 percent growth over the same period.

On publicly voicing her support for Palestine via social media, Kattan said it has impacted her in good and bad ways.

“I was extremely stressed during this period because it’s always a tricky situation. You feel certain ways in your heart, but also it’s very complicated. I really struggled on my ways of communicating and sometimes I was really just not thinking about the brand when I was communicating,” she said.

“I would say it definitely impacted us in some negative ways, but also in some positive ways. I think a lot of new people came to the brand too. So some people were burning our palettes, some people were buying them. The long-term effect I don’t know yet.”

With all the changes over the past couple of years, investors, Kattan said, had been “worried.”

“How are we going to figure it out if we don’t have the right leadership in place?” she said. “But I think now they’re very confident. I don’t know for a fact. At the end of the day, investors look at numbers and numbers speak for themselves…..I can say the business is becoming very healthy.”

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