By Arwa Lodhi
Jessica Alba is undoubtedly a pretty face and a good actress. But after she became a mom, the superficiality of Hollywood made way for her to focus on something more important: the health of her child.
After having broken out in a rash herself due to the chemicals in a baby wash she was using, she did some research and was horrified to discover that there are 80,000 unregulated chemicals being used in personal care products in the USA–and some of these may even cause cancer. According to Forbes magazine, only five personal care chemicals are actually regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency; just 11 are banned from consumer goods. (In Europe that figure is more than 1,300.) This is something that Alba found completely unacceptable.
Speaking at Forbes’ third annual Women’s Summit, a gathering of hundreds of women entrepreneurs and leaders in New York with the aim of changing the power imbalance in the business world, she said: “Bringing these items into our homes is such an intimate thing, to put it next to your newborn child,” she said. “My mother had cervical cancer at 23. My grandmother died of stomach cancer. I grew up with people being ill. This has got to stop. My friends in their 20s shouldn’t have a hard time getting pregnant.”
In response to her horror of the chemicals we use every day and the harm they can do to our health, she decided to do something positive, and the Honest Company was born. Focused on baby care and household cleaning items that contain no harmful ingredients, it was a huge undertaking for the actress to switch from the silver screen to the boardroom.
“People just saw me as this girl in a bikini in movies kicking butt — maybe not the brightest bulb,” she said. “It took three and a half years of condescending nods and pats on the back of ‘good luck’, or ‘go back to endorsing things or go do a perfume,” she said at the summit. Indeed, starting the Honest Company wasn’t easy, as Alba had to overcome not only the inherent sexism she was facing, but also the fact that she had no business background. She admits she had little knowledge in the field of household cleaning formulas, but insists that one key to her success was not being shy about saying she didn’t know something, and finding people who did. And of course, learning from them.
Today, with the help of her partner and her team, her company has generated $150 in revenues in 2014, and it is thought to be worth one billion dollars, making her America’s richest self-made woman.
Unlike many entrepreneurs who come from family money or an ivy league business background (though these usually go hand in hand), Alba came from modest roots, and she even recalls her parents ‘cutting coupons’ and being unsure as to whether they could pay upcoming electricity bills.
She vowed to do whatever it would take to make money, and is unashamed that she did indeed earn big bucks from films. The difference between her and many stars in that position, however, is that she used that cash to fund a new business–one that focused on the emerging market for eco-friendly cleaners and baby products.
Sure, she was extremely lucky to be in a position to have earned this money in the first place, but we’re inspired by the fact that she persisted with her goals even in light of rejection, condescension and a steep learning curve.
It’s also quite inspiring that she chose to invest her time and money in a green company. We’re hopeful that the success of the Honest Company sends a clear signal to other producers of chemical cleaners that consumers are increasingly demanding clean, natural products that won’t harm their health–or that of the planet.