While most stars make headlines because of the clothes they’re wearing or who they’re datings, others use their platform to shift into entrepreneurial pursuits. Jessica Alba is one such celebrity turned businesswoman. The box office movie star launched her business, The Honest Company in 2011 with a range of non-toxic beauty and baby products.
While the company’s sales soared early on, it also took major public hits and had to defend its clean brand image. At a recent Wall Street Journal event, Alba discussed the struggles of startup life, the setbacks her company has undergone and how she sees the success behind it all.
Although the company started with humble beginnings and only 17 products, it has skyrocketed into a notable business making millions of dollars every year and adding a wide range of items. The star explained that she was inspired by the birth of her first child, Honor, to start the company since she had had negative experiences with harmful chemicals in products.
Alba shared, “I think I just felt like it just needed to exist. I was a frustrated consumer nine years ago when I became a new mom, almost ten years ago. I just felt like there was a huge white space and a lack of options for people that want clean ingredients but want products that really work.” Alba continued, “It really came from a place of I wanted to ensure that my children were healthy and I couldn’t be sure that what I was buying on the shelf was going to not give them some kind of reaction.”
Alba went on to explain how her personal experiences influenced the way she molded the company and the products. For example, she created a diaper subscription service to make customer’s lives easier after having gone through her own diaper mishaps as a new mom. She also explained how the company embraced the online community early on, because that was where she personally shopped and felt most comfortable as a consumer.
As a result of her team’s hard work, the company excelled. Alba was soon in magazines, not for her popular movies, but for her business success and even landed the cover of Forbes in 2015.
Still, with rapid company growth often comes setbacks and the Honest Company had plenty of hurdles to overcome. The company was under fire in 2015 when their Honest Sunscreen SPF 30 was defective, and many customers suffered serious burns when they used it.
After that came the very public accusation regarding the company’s laundry detergent. A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the product included Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), an ingredient the company had previously stated that they do not use. Alba’s company was forced to pay an eye-watering $1.55 million due to the class action lawsuit.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the company’s problems. The Honest Company was in hot water again when controversial ingredients were found in their Conditioning Detangler and Shampoo & Body Wash which claimed to have “no harsh chemicals.” Next, they were sued by the Organic Consumers Association which asserted that the company misused the label “organic” on their non-organic product. Finally, the company had to pull their baby wipes and baby powder off the shelves in a recall.
As many entrepreneurs have in the past, Alba stepped up and spoke to these previous issues which she has to address on behalf of her company. She explained, “The thing is we’re always trying to do better and anything that is negative its a lesson to do things better, communicate better and have things buttoned up in a different way.”
Alba learned that hiring the proper experts to keep a close eye on the supply chain is essential when running a non-toxic product company, stating, “We brought in a real incredible CEO named Nick Vlahos to run the business about a year ago, and he has brought in a team and built out our R&D lab in-house, so we actually have two labs in our office. And we have toxicologists, we have chemists that are there and a pretty robust R&D team in-house.
We do our own formulas in-house, and then we work with manufacturing partners to make it at scale. That's very differentiating compared to others in the marketplace where they normally relying on a third party manufacturer to help co-create create the formulas.”
Despite her company’s ups and downs, The Honest Company was at one point valued at $1.7 billion and has expanded to include a wide range of products including skincare, makeup, cleaning supplies, and much more. Alba shared that while the business is still growing, she hopes to hone in on what they do well in the baby and beauty marketplace. She also promises to do have some big launches by the end of next year.
While the actress continues to explore the future of her company, she shared her vision of success for the company, saying, “I just feel like if there is a strategic out there that can partner with us, its really just to empower people to live healthy happy lives.” She adds, “I just want to do what’s best for the business and the consumer.”