Self-made beauty millionaire Huda Kattan gave up annual salary to protect employees’ jobs amid Covid-19 uncertainties

Melanie Chalil
·5-min read
Born in Oklahoma, US to Iraqi immigrants, Kattan experienced racism and told friends to call her Heidi. ― Pictures courtesy of Sephora Malaysia
Born in Oklahoma, US to Iraqi immigrants, Kattan experienced racism and told friends to call her Heidi. ― Pictures courtesy of Sephora Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 ― Renowned beauty influencer turned cosmetics mogul Huda Kattan had no qualms sacrificing her income to safeguard her employees’ livelihoods when Covid-19 struck last year.

In an interview with Malay Mail, the Huda Beauty founder who has a net worth of US$510 million (RM2.1 billion) said she and her team’s mental health and wellness became a top priority during the pandemic.

“I made sure they knew their jobs were going to be protected,” Kattan said in an email interview presented by Sephora Malaysia.

“With everything going on in the world, job stability was the last thing I wanted my team to worry about, so I forfeited my own annual salary to make it happen.”

The Iraqi-American social media icon who has 47.8 million Instagram followers said she also offered employees monthly wellness days and life coaching sessions amid the Covid-19 crisis.

“They can use the free time to do what fills their cup.

“They also have access to my personal life coach who offers the team the tools to navigate through tough times in and out of work,” the 37-year-old said.

The pandemic taught her to take care of her mental health and wellbeing more than anything.

“This past year made everyone very fragile and I have had to learn how to communicate when I need time to recharge,” she said.

The super influencer who founded Huda Beauty and Wishful skincare has a net worth of US$510 million. ― Picture courtesy of Sephora Malaysia
The super influencer who founded Huda Beauty and Wishful skincare has a net worth of US$510 million. ― Picture courtesy of Sephora Malaysia

10 years as a super influencer

The Dubai-based mogul built a beauty empire ― that Forbes valued at US$1 billion ― after attaining success from a blog she started in 2010 to share makeup tutorials and beauty tips.

A celebrity in her own right, she was named the 10 most powerful influencers in the beauty world by Forbes magazine and one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2017.

Looking back on her meteoric rise in the past decade, Kattan said she doesn’t have a simple answer to capture her emotions.

“Some days are easier than others, chalked full of gratefulness and pride and other days are more challenging, where I feel like I have so much responsibility and pressure weighing on my shoulders.

“It is amazing to look back and see how far we’ve come but being in an industry like beauty, we have a lot of work left to do.

“I’m excited for what’s to come and I hope we continue to bring awareness to the importance of inclusivity and self-expression as our community grows,” she added.

As a game-changer who paved the way for influencers-turned-founders, Kattan said the people she surrounded herself with played an important part of her journey when she waded into uncharted waters.

“When you find good people, hold onto them because they don’t come often.

“When your team and your community are solid, make them your priority and everything else will fall into place,” said Huda, who started the brand with her two sisters in 2013.

The 37-year-old mogul didn’t want employees to worry about job stability when the pandemic hit and also offered them her personal life coach. ― Picture via Instagram/Huda Kattan
The 37-year-old mogul didn’t want employees to worry about job stability when the pandemic hit and also offered them her personal life coach. ― Picture via Instagram/Huda Kattan

She used to be embarrassed of her name

Born in Oklahoma to Iraqi immigrants, Kattan’s lily-white environment always made her feel like an outcast growing up.

Did she experience racism in the US?

“Absolutely,” Kattan said, who donated US$500,000 in support of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

She fell in love with makeup because it could transform the way she looked which helped her fit in.

“I could never really relate to anyone where I grew up in Tennessee because I was the only brown girl.

“I made friends call me Heidi because I was embarrassed of my real name, Huda,” she said.

But as she got older, she learned to accept who she was and not long after she embraced the name her parents gave her, Huda Beauty took off.

“You become so naturally powerful when you embrace yourself and share it authentically with the world,” she said.

The mum of one spoke about being the only brown girl in Tennessee where she grew up in. ― Pictures courtesy of Sephora Malaysia
The mum of one spoke about being the only brown girl in Tennessee where she grew up in. ― Pictures courtesy of Sephora Malaysia

Inside Huda’s world

For the busy chief executive officer who runs Huda Beauty and her cruelty-free skincare line Wishful, no two days are the same.

But meetings, photoshoots, interviews, calls and home-schooling her 10-year-old daughter Nour are always in her daily schedule.

“I have a lot to focus on at work but more importantly, I’m a mother and wife and always to know that Nour and my husband, Chris, are cared for and feel loved.

“There is always so much happening but I always make sure to make time for myself and my family.

“They are my world and I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them,” she said.

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Asked if she recalls the moment her daughter was aware of her famous mum’s celebrity status, Kattan said Nour realised it when people at school started asking her about her mother.

“She is a smart girl though and I’ve never hidden anything from her, I have always wanted her to be involved if she wanted to be.

“I wanted her to learn how to run a business and chase her dreams from an early age,” she said.

While Kattan is happy for her mini-me to continue her legacy when she grows up, she and her husband would ultimately want Nour to follow her dreams.

“If her dreams do or don’t involve beauty then that’s okay and we support her either way,” Kattan said.

Beauty talk

With the pandemic still looming large, Kattan foresees the subtle, no-makeup look dominating 2021 although more people are getting creative with eye and lip colours.

“I think it’s because people have more time on their hands at home, allowing them to feel comfortable and confident testing out new bold looks.”

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Having countless beauty products lying around at home waiting to get tested is just one of the many perks of being an influencer but Kattan always uses everything and doesn’t throw anything away.

“If it’s a product that I am not interested in or would rather someone else enjoy, then I’ll offer it to my friends, family and my team at work.

“Otherwise, we try to recycle where we can.

“One very important rule though: don’t share used mascara! It’s terrible, don’t do it,” she said.

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