August 9, 2016
A self-proclaimed “big thinker”, 35-year old Jessica Alba wasn’t content to rest on her acting career laurels for long. In show business since the age of 13, the California-born beauty has been on a mission since she latched onto a healthy lifestyle concept back in 2008, with the birth of her first child. Three years later, she met Christopher Gavigan, author of “Healthy Child, Healthy World: Creating a Greener, Cleaner, Safer Home”, and together, they launched “The Honest Company”, an enterprise that last year was valued at $1.7 billion. The wildly successful brand, which focuses on non-toxic household, baby and beauty products, has just made a major foray into Canada, and Jessica Alba was in Toronto to help spread the word. I spoke with the stylish mother of two about her commitment to bring safer products to the world, and the joys and challenges inherent in trying to ‘have it all’.
JB: This company was born from a realization that came to you when you had your first daughter, Honor. Tell me about how your passion for this kind of a movement started.
JA: I had an allergic reaction to a laundry detergent that my mother used on me when I was a baby. She had told me to use it on my kids clothes, but I did some research and tried to figure out why I even had an allergic reaction and I learned all about these potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients that are in everyday products that you can buy on the shelf. I just trusted that if I could buy it, it was going to be safe and it was going to be good for me. But that’s not always the case. So I tried to shop around the problem and find products that had safer, healthier ingredients, and didn’t have any synthetic fragrances and I found it was really challenging. After reading Christopher Gavigan’s book, that linked all of these chemicals to human health issues—cancers and learning disabilities, and allergies, asthma, skin rashes and sensitivities—I asked him what (safe products) I could buy, but he said there really wasn’t one company. So I said, “Well, let’s create that company!”
JB: When you call a company “Honest”, that’s a lot to live up to!
JA: We are honest. We’re transparent about the ingredients that go into the products. We use very safe but effective ingredients and we’re affordably priced because I grew up in a working class family and it’s important that the products are within reach. And then (the packaging) is also beautifully designed because millennials do care about things being pretty and if these products are going to be out on your countertop, they should look cute and fit into your home décor.
JB: Well you certainly are a great brand ambassador, obviously because you’re living it. This is something you’re evidently very passionate about
JA: It’s more about the lifestyle of wanting to live an honest life. It’s not an extreme version of healthy living. It’s balanced, it’s practical, it’s doable and little things matter.
JB: Besides just putting these products out there, how much are you doing to try and really push the envelope with government legislation?
JA: The first time I lobbied for chemical reform in the United States was when I was pregnant with my second kid, Haven. That was before we launched the company. It was a very interesting but frustrating process, just navigating how laws are made and how reform happens. Then I went back about a year and a half ago and lobbied again for TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) reform, and then it just actually got passed. So there now is better regulation on chemicals and a fast track to the most harmful chemicals and testing them and making sure that only the safest ones are used in products.
JB: You’re juggling such a multifaceted career and you’ve got two little girls. Are you conscious of the fact that you’re a role model not only to your daughters, but to a lot of other young women as well, who want to have it all?
JA: I think having it all just means being happy and being authentic and living the life that’s right for you. I don’t know what my kids will ever want to do with their life. I just want them to be happy, to feel like they have purpose, and to be fulfilled and have empathy. That, at the end of the day, is the goal.
JB: You have shown enormous amount of confidence from the get go. Was that always really the way you felt, or was it a case of “fake it til you make it”?
JA: A lot of fake it till you make it! When you start from the bottom and people have no expectations of you, you can only go up. And people having zero to no expectations for me or my success in any field has definitely inspired me to prove them wrong and to pave my own way.
JB: Not many people are able to really walk that line between business and creativity. But it’s something that you seem to be mastering quite well. Is it ever a struggle? Do you ever get torn in one direction over the other?
JA: I find that when I’m overly creative, it feels really self indulgent, and when I’m overly analytical, it feels like I’m a robot. So that mix of being analytical and strategic, and being creative and open and in the moment is just how I’ve always lived my life. And it works in business.
JB: You also dance with at least one foot in a world that’s very much about gloss and surface appearances. Yet your heart seems to be entrenched in something more meaningful than that. How do you come to terms with Hollywood and those kinds of values?
JA: In Hollywood, it really is about telling stories and being able to give people an escape, to entertain them. People get bogged down in their day-to-day lives. Not everyone works at a job they love. Not everyone is living the life that they really want to. So to be able to give them an escape, so they can disappear for ninety minutes with popcorn and a drink and have a good time and go on a ride with you, there’s no better feeling than that. You can really touch so many people by telling stores. I have a fun action movie with Jason Statham coming out that was shot in Thailand. I play someone who has a military background, so I got to kick some butt. And it’s just fun to be able to do that and tell those types of stories but then also have The Honest Company and do something so completely different.
JB: Talk about balance!
JA: They’re very different worlds.
JB: What do you say to people about what true beauty is really all about?
JA: It’s really about confidence. I feel like the fashion industry is even tougher (than the movie industry) and the music industry is even tougher than that. In any industry where it’s about the next new thing and there’s a high turnover, and it’s not a ‘necessary’ thing… well those are all tough industries to be in. Entertainment is one of them. So at the end of the day, you have to be true to yourself and tell the stories that you feel good about telling. And you have to be part of things that you can stand behind.
JB: Have you found that having a strong sense of yourself is something that gets easier with age?
JA: In terms of fashion, I’ve become more adventurous the older I am. I was much more conservative and shy about fashion, but as I’ve gotten older, I do like to play and have fun with fashion.
JB: Are you really as fearless as it appears you are when it comes to your various pursuits and your gusto for going for it?
JA: I think so. If you are bogged down in ‘what ifs?’ then you never really get anything done. I like to put it out there, see if it sticks, see what needs to be worked or reworked and then go from there. But I would kick myself if I never tried anything…
JB: You’re certainly living a big life.
JA: Exhausting life is more like it!
JB: What is the most daunting aspect of this juggling act that you’re managing to perform? What is the toughest thing about keeping it all in sync?
JA: Time management, and trying to figure out how much time I need to spend on me, on my husband, my kids, my friends, my parents, my co-workers. I feel like I’m pulled in so many different directions and there are so many people that need so much of me all the time. It’s hard for me to manage it all the time.
JB: What advice do you give to other women who aspire to be great moms and to be creative artists and also to have businesses that can be lucrative?
JA: You can’t be shortsighted with your goals. You have to think long-term as a parent, as a businessperson, as a friend… whatever it is in life you want, you just have to think of the long-term and not be shortsighted. That’s probably the most important thing. It helps relieve a lot of the pressure of trying to be everything to everyone in every moment.