The eco-friendly entrepreneur behind The Honest Company gave us the scoop on running a sustainable business like a boss
Jessica Alba’s got a brain for business (her Honest Company, which sells non-toxic, eco-friendly products for family and home, is now a billion-dollar enterprise) and a bod for sin (Google the actress’s name + "bikini" and some 10 million results will pop up). So who better to rock the sexy suits of summer—check out the current issue of Shape—and speak “honestly” about running a successful sustainable business? We caught up with the 34-year-old mother of two at the GrowCo Conference in Nashville, where she was advising other entrepreneurs on how to take their company to the next level. We listened in.
Shape: You’ve been an actress since you were a teenager. What made you made you think you could run a business?
Jessica Alba (JA): I’ve always tackled Hollywood from a business perspective—I just broke it down that way. I probably should have been more artistic, but it really was about the business for me. That's the way my mind works. It's nice that I can take my learning of the last 20 years in Hollywood, and apply it to something that is completely different like Honest Company. It was definitely not what I was planning on, but it’s pretty awesome that it happened.
Shape: Who or what inspired you to start the company?
JA: My daughter Honor was definitely my inspiration. That’s where the name Honest comes from. I started a company that began with the idea that everybody wants to live an honest life and have non-toxic products in their homes that are also beautiful to look at. This embodied all the things that I aspired to have in my life. I wanted a healthy, effective, well-designed, but affordable and accessible life. I also wanted a company that was transparent and gives back to the community.
Shape: The products are readily available both in retails stores like Whole Foods and Costco, as well as online?
JA: Yes, we’re a mix of retail and online because I just didn’t feel it was fair that you could only have access to quality products if you lived next to a certain kind of grocery store or retail outlet. Anyone can order online at honest.com and get our products shipped to their houses no matter where they are in the country.
Shape: You started out with organic products for babies and homes but are now expanding into other areas.
JA: Our customers asked and we listened, and they really wanted us to include personal care in our offerings, so we’ve launched shaving oil, deodorant, home fragrance, as well as more cleaning products. We have a very special relationship with our consumers. We have the ability to make the products they want us to make.
Shape: And this summer you’re introducing a feminine care line?
JA: Our customers really wanted organic cotton tampons. Most products out in the marketplace are made from plastic. They're rayon, not even cotton. But the other companies think if they put a picture of nature on the box, you’ll think it's natural. That’s very savvy marketing. We don't have pictures of nature, because we don't need to. Our packaging looks cool. It looks like an expensive box of artisanal chocolate. It’s refreshingly cool and modern.
Shape: Anything else new about the line?
JA: Well, currently the only organic cotton tampon you can find on the market is with a cardboard applicator that isn't comfortable. It slips and it pinches. So we’ve created a bioplastic applicator—something that's totally innovative and different in the marketplace. Then, all of our pad and panty liner products are plant-based and non-toxic. Everything that's going in and around your lady bits is going to be the highest quality with no toxic chemicals near where you’re most vulnerable.
Shape: We’re so impressed with your business sense.
JA: I mean, I have an unfair advantage over my partners, because I am the customer, so I'm basically building and creating something that I would want, and that all of my friends and family would want. I feel like that's why it's done so well, because at the end of the day, I’m the customer.
Shape: But you’re also the boss. What do you think are some of your best qualities as the person in charge?
JA: I’m always hustling. And whenever I’m confronted by a challenge or a problem, I don't see limitations or boundaries or anything that would deter me from the goal. Instead of saying something can’t be done or that it’s impossible, I think creatively on how to tackle the problem. Nothing's impossible, you just have to figure out how to do it in a smart, simple, effective and efficient way.
Shape: Would you say you have “women’s intuition?”
JA: I think I have a lot of common sense. That quality is really underrated. I trust my gut, which is really important for an entrepreneur. Actually, those two things are probably my most valuable tools: common sense and trusting my gut.
For more from Alba, go behind the scenes at her cover shoot!