Photography by Darcy Hemley for Yahoo Style
After signing in on a company iPad, guests visiting Honest Company’s Santa Monica, Calif., offices are invited to take a seat in a sunny waiting room that looks as if it came straight out of the pages of Interior Design. Not surprisingly, it takes a little extra time for your name to be cleared if you want to meet with the founder of the billion-dollar brand. One would expect that Jessica Alba would roll with an army of assistants plotting her every step, but then you’re led into brightly lit break room and there is the star/business mogul, giggling at a table among her co-workers. She apologizes for the delay. She’s just so excited about her latest brainchild — 100 percent organic tampons — and was discussing the rollout plan with her marketing team.
Alba’s face lights up as she rattles off all the amazing reasons her tampons will change the world. “We are making a product that doesn’t exist in the marketplace,” she tells Yahoo Style. “A certified-organic cotton tampon with a bio-plastic applicator has never been done. It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for people.” She mentions that most conventional tampons are made with synthetic fibers treated with fragrances, chlorine, bleaches, and phthalates that are known endocrine disruptors. “These are going in the most intimate part of your body,” says the 34-year-old mother of two daughters.
Alba came into prominence in 2000 when she was cast as the lead in Dark Angel. She was quick to become a household name, appearing in everything from Sin City and Good Luck Chuck to Fantastic Four and Little Fockers. In her 20s, acting was her priority until she met Cash Warren and became pregnant with their first child in 2008. After trying out a laundry detergent that her mother recommended at her baby shower, Alba experienced an allergic reaction, which prompted her to begin researching what may have caused it.
“I discovered that there are lots of chronic illnesses, from allergies and asthma to cancers and learning disabilities, that are linked to toxic chemicals in our environment,” says the star. “They are in everything from cleaning supplies to mattresses to paint to beauty products and feminine care and diapers and wipes. I was horrified. I was bringing a new little person into the world!” Alba attempted to shop for safe household products but couldn’t find a solution, so she took matters into her own hands. “I had this idea of this healthy lifestyle company that was honest and transparent, had safe ingredients, products that actually worked,” she explains. “And, really more than all of that, provides education. What is this certain chemical? Is it good? Is it not? What is all the noise about? Is it actually linked to an illness?” The budding entrepreneur enlisted the help of Christopher Gavigan, then CEO of a nonprofit called Healthy Child Healthy World, to make her vision a reality. The duo wrangled power lawyer Brian Lee, who signed on Sean Kane as the COO, and together the foursome launched the Honest Company in 2011.
Today, Alba finds herself running a $1.7 billion operation, bigger than fellow celeb-based lifestyle sites like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop or Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James. But as with any big company, it’s not without controversy. Last September, a consumer named Jonathan D. Rubin filed a $5 million class action suit against the Honest Company saying that the brand’s sunscreen was “ineffective in preventing unhealthy exposure to harmful UV rays.” He also sought damages regarding the Honest Dish Soap, Honest Multi-Service Cleaner, Honest Hand Soap, and the company’s most sought after product, Honest Diapers. A second lawsuit filed later that month also claimed that the Honest Sunscreen did not protect against UV rays. Though she wouldn’t answer any questions about the pending litigation for this interview, Alba has gone on record to defend her company. “I created The Honest Company to give people access to safe and effective products and we are committed at The Honest Company to make sure that we use the safest and most effective ingredients,“ she told Good Morning America at the time. “We’re also committed to continue to educate our customers on how best to use our products.”
Despite that unfortunate backlash, her Honest endeavors are thriving. In addition to mainstream retailers like Target and Costco, the brand is now also available at automated kiosks at airports like New York City’s JFK, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International, and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “That’s been a passion of mine for years, and now it’s finally happened,” she says, with a beaming smile. “There aren’t any safe or healthy effective alternatives at the airport. But now you can get toothpaste, healing balm, moisturizers, face wipes, all the things you need.” In May 2015, Alba launched her North America-based brand in South Korea. Then, in September, she released Honest Beauty, which offers more than 70 color products and 14 skin care essentials. Alba’s favorites are the hyaluronic acid and mica-based Everything Primer, the Crème Blush, and Magic Balm.
The Honest Company employs a team of in-house scientists and biochemists to research and examine an array of products. Alba and her counterparts also keep tabs on their various manufacturing partners and chemists that provide constant quality-control testing, as well as check in on the 4,000 daily touch points the company has with its customers. Honest Company consumers are rather vocal, often calling, emailing, and tweeting to let the co-founders know what products they are coveting. They are also quick to send their feedback on everything from the eco-friendly laundry pods to baby shampoo. For Alba, this makes her job rewarding. “That’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me motivated. It’s exciting that we can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
As a leader, Alba is very hands-on. She arrives at work Monday through Friday dressed in “classic essentials” — cashmere sweaters, tailored blazers, and jeans. “I’m focused on being able to move comfortably, as I’m in a lot of different situations,” she explains. “I can go from a photo shoot to a board meeting to a dinner in one day.” Since she’s constantly bouncing from approving new diaper prints to working on corporate expansion details and choosing lip crayon colors, keeping her energy up is essential. “I drink water with lots of lemons to stay hydrated and snack on popcorn made with coconut oil and seasoned with Himalayan pink salt,” she says. And after her long day on the job, her goal is always to make it home in time for a family dinner and to tuck her kids into bed.
It’s not surprising then that acting has taken a backseat. “That’s all I did for 15 years of my life. I have kids. My priorities are different,” she says. “Unless a role is really great, I’m usually not going to do it.” Despite this pledge, we can plan to see her gracing the big screen in 2016 — first up is the Kevin Connolly-directed Dear Eleanor and, in August, an action film opposite Jason Statham called Mechanic: Resurrection.
After navigating the business and entertainment world, Alba is proud to be a role model to aspiring female entrepreneurs. “Surround yourself with smart people and ask a lot of questions,” she says emphatically. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; they will inform you, and you will do better next time. Sometimes you have to make the same mistake over and over again until you figure it out, and that’s OK. But I think the biggest disservice that any woman can do is to not try.”