Women in FRAME
Jessica Alba needs no introduction: the actress, mother, and businesswoman is a self-proclaimed “brand architect” and a perfect example of the modern mogul. Just six years after she launched The Honest Company, Alba is preparing to take the thriving brand overseas, making natural products more accessible around the globe. The Honest Company is described as a “mission business,” constantly working to source more sustainable ingredients and formulations. And like everything Alba does, it directly reflects her personal dedication to making the world a better, safer place.
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What led you to found The Honest Company?
The catalyst was getting an allergic reaction from a laundry detergent for babies that my mom had recommended. I got a rash and I was pregnant and I thought, ‘what if my newborn baby had an allergic reaction? How would I have been able to help her? What if it was a severe one where her throat closed?’ I started to research all these untested, potentially harmful chemicals in everyday products, from cleaning formulas to baby products, lotions, body washes, beauty products. I freaked out and tried to shop around the problem. I was importing things from Australia because they have much stricter standards and shopping at natural grocery stores, but it was prohibitively time-consuming and expensive. And I thought, “It just has to be easier for people to make better choices.” It took three years to crystalize that idea into a real business model and turn it into something that investors could get behind.
Honest is described as a mission business. How has its agenda evolved since you launched in 2012?
We make products so people can live healthy, happy lives. We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s been done and thinking outside of the box. That hasn’t changed. But initially, we were only available online, now we’re available in retail stores, and we are working to expand into Europe – that’s our next territory. I always wanted to build a global brand and I felt that there was a lot of room for disruption in CPG [Consumer Packaged Goods]. The internet is a global marketplace where you can directly reach out to consumers as a brand. It’s a more even playing field. I believe that we’re only going to grow as people become aware that they can make better choices without compromising effectiveness.
People not believing in me or thinking I’m capable of something: that fuelled me to achieve my goals.
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You’ve said: “I always knew I had it in me.” Where do you think your tenacity and self-confidence come from?
It’s weird. I never really had confidence in relationships with boys. [Laughs]. And I wasn’t necessarily the most confident person in a social setting when it came to small talk or interacting with my peers. It took me a while to get there. But it was different when I had an idea or vision of what I wanted to do in my life and what I thought was possible. People not believing in me or thinking I’m not capable of something: that fuelled me to achieve my goals. If people had believed in me, I don’t know if I would have done what I’ve done. I think that the resistance was good for me, that chip on my shoulder. My parents always believed in me though, that’s for sure. I always had them as a source of support.
Who are the woman you admire?
My grandmother had five kids, worked full-time, and was the sole breadwinner for the family while my grandfather went to school. When my grandfather graduated and got a job, she went back to school after leaving at age 12. She got her GED at 36. Everything she does, she does 100%. She doesn’t think twice about anything. I love her determination. My mom never had one job, she always had all the jobs, was always hustling, always figuring it out. Being raised by those two women, I learned how to go with the flow and adapt.
Actors and entrepreneurs often face rejection before they reach success. What parallels do you see between the two worlds?
Actors are anthropologists. We study people for a living and we become them. When people were saying no, I wasn’t like, “I shouldn’t do this.” I said, “Oh, I just have to go about it differently and convince them.” Being self-aware, being able to read people, to read a room – those are the same skills that allow you to navigate and negotiate in business. Working in entertainment is a collaborative process and running a successful business is a collaborative process as well. You’re not doing it alone. You need a great team around you. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You want to work with people who are more experienced, who have drive and different strengths.
What’s your personal definition of success?
Being content and happy. Going to sleep every night feeling that I’ve done everything I could have possibly done that day. Some nights it’s just cuddling with my baby and making macaroni and cheese for the girls. Or vegging out on the couch without my phone. For a long time I felt like success meant I needed to struggle and grind and be a little cynical. I realized that I could be happy and be in the moment and still be successful and reach my goals.
What do you consider your biggest achievement?
Allowing myself to be vulnerable and at the same time really owning and leaning into my strengths. I didn’t know you could do both.
How would you say motherhood has shaped your outlook?
It was the moment that I went from being a girl to a woman and started owning the skin I was in. Before that, I felt disconnected and objectified. I allowed my success as an actress to define me as a person in many ways. After I had kids, I disconnected from the superficial idea of who I am and leaned into the person that’s inside, that I’m proud of. I used to concentrate on my flaws; I wasn’t very kind to myself. Now, I accept my flaws: I’m always trying to evolve and be better, but I also know that I’m not going to change overnight.
I’ve called Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve called Diane von Furstenberg. I’ve called Tory Burch. If I meet someone who’s an executive at a bank we’ll have lunch, because I know she’s been through some shit.
Who do you turn to for business counsel?
I’ve called Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve called Diane von Furstenberg. I’ve called Tory Burch. There are various other women. Even if I’m just at a business conference and I meet someone who’s an executive at a bank we’ll have lunch, because I know she’s been through some shit.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Date more. Don’t take boys so seriously. [Laughs]. I was so serious when I was young!
Are you optimistic about the future?
I am. What excites me about the future is the youth. More women having a seat at the table, more diversity being represented in every facet of life: pop culture, business, government. It’s probably not as fast as a lot of us want it to be. But Gen Z and millennials think fundamentally differently than the Baby Boomers in power today. As they die out and the next generation of leaders come in, and those after that, I hope we are going to experience a huge shift of consciousness.