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.
Motherhood: it’s a doozy, isn’t it? Your world gets turned completely upside down. Everything you thought you knew about what was important is no longer. And all the things you once took for granted — like sleep, and sitting down to eat an actual meal — become the greatest luxuries. Little people change you. To love and need someone that much and have them love and need you just as much…it’s the best and hardest and most heartbreaking thing there is. I still can’t believe it, but my oldest baby is almost 10 years old. And you know what? She doesn’t need me in the same ways she once did. There goes that heartbreak again…but it’s true. The time we have with our little ones when they’re actually little is so fleeting. And it’s a reminder for me to be present and cherish every messy moment. Every tantrum, every tired cry, every bit of these days that sometimes feel like they’ll never end. Because the truth is, they will. As a first-time mother, I was still learning about this person I had become. And I felt like everything had to be just perfect. But these days, I’m ok if my baby cries a little bit…because I know he’ll be ok. And so what if the dishes pile up in the sink…and if my living room looks nothing like the Instagram post five seconds after I take the picture. It’s all ok. This Mother’s Day (and really, every day), I want to thank you for trusting us to be a part of your journey. And I want to let you know that even if it doesn’t always feel like it, you’ve got this. It’s not gonna be perfect. But you’re an amazing mama. And that’s everything. xo, @JessicaAlba
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.”
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