Jessica Alba has built an empire that’s become a business phenomenon.
Mel Evans meets the powerhouse babe behind the brand, and learns there’s a very honest side to the dynamo
Ibet there aren’t many people you’d pick up the phone for at 3.40am. But on this particular morning, I’m making an exception – because when Jessica Alba calls, you pick up. It’s morning in California, too, when I catch the actressentrepreneur just out of a meeting – a meeting she ducked into after dropping her daughters, Honor, 9, and Haven, 6, off at school. When we get off the phone, she’ll dart into more meetings as the founder of The Honest Company. ‘Just a typical day,’ she tells me. It still might be difficult for you to imagine the Jessica Alba our generation knows best – the kick-ass femme in Dark Angel, Sin City and Fantastic Four – fronting a company that sells safe and effective baby, personal care, home and beauty products, let alone commanding a room of middle-aged men in suits. But if her CV has taught us anything, it’s that she’s no wilting flower – on screen or at the office. And she learnt to play this game early.
‘Because I was known as someone in entertainment, it was harder for the average Joe to see me as anything but that,’ she says of the early days of The Honest Company. ‘But with people in business, the best thing you can do is show respect; the proof is in the pudding. If anyone sat down with me for 10 minutes, they’d know I get my hands dirty.’
Since launching The Honest Company in 2012, Jessica, 36, has turned the ‘unicorn’ start-up – a Silicon Valley term for the Holy Grail of start-ups valued at more than US$1-billion – into a seriously kick-ass business. That’s alongside an acting career that’s still very much thriving, and a young family with her husband Cash Warren. Still, in a time of leaning in and #GirlBosses and what-have-you, Jessica’s take on the whole thing is refreshing and real. Far from spouting New Age haikus of spirituality, she’s a straight shooter who tells me she simply tries to live in the moment, without focusing too much on what’s piled on her plate. Oh, and that her gut is always right. We could learn a thing or two from this woman…
The Honest Company is in its fifth year. Now you’ve launched Honest Beauty too. Do you laugh at those who doubted you in the beginning?
I feel like I’ve had naysayers my whole life. Initially, they told me there was no way I would be successful in entertainment. Then, ‘Sure you can get a moment, but can you really have a lasting career?’ Then it was, ‘Okay, so you can have a lasting career – but can you be a meaningful person who puts people in cinema seats?’ or ‘Women of colour aren’t leading ladies.’ And then, ‘Women don’t star in action franchises.’ I overcame all those hurdles. I try not to focus on negativity, just on what I want and what success means to me. That’s where I’m more productive.
You employ hundreds of people. What kind of boss do you think they would describe you as?
I’m pretty straightforward and to the point. I expect preparation, and I like it
when people don’t beat around the bush but are straight up with me, too. I’m open and collaborative – but I’m very direct.
Should women be more comfortable talking about money?
People in general should be talking about money and financial security, and putting themselves in a situation where they can plan for their future. It’s important that women are as immersed in their own future as possible – and that involves finances.
You started making your own money at a young age. How did you learn to look after your finances?
Initially, I didn’t have control over my money – my parents did. Once I gained control, I got the only credit card I would allow myself – an American Express I had to pay off every month. Until recently, I only had a debit card and that American Express! I’d heard many horror stories of people who got a credit card and, all of sudden, they were in so much debt… That was such a nightmare for me, to live beyond my means. I always live under my means. I also invested in real estate, a little money in the stock market, and in start-ups. I prefer to invest in things that are tangible – things I can wrap my head around – rather than the stock market. To me, it doesn’t feel as accessible for some reason.
Seems fair to say you worked damn hard for your money.
Yeah, I did! I worked pretty much full time from the age of 21 until I was 26. The average day for an actor – and, knock on wood, thank God I was always employed – is 16 to 18 hours, so it’s not easy at all. It’s pretty brutal. But I loved it, and I was happy – and just so grateful to be employed. You never knew when your next gig was.
You’re an adviser on a new show, the techShark Tank- like Planet Of The Apps. Do you see yourself as a role model?
You know it’s hard to talk about yourself in that way, right? If I said to you, ‘Do you think you’re a role model for up-and-coming journalists?’, what would you say?
Ha. It is a weird thing to think about…
It’s so weird because I don’t think about myself that way – but I do know I’ve learnt a lot through making mistakes and having successes. If I can extend what I know and offer it to someone and have it be helpful to them to fulfil their dream, then I love that. Before I did the show, I advised several entrepreneurs who were starting businesses; I even talked a few out of starting one! If you can be talked out of it, you shouldn’t be in it. If you can see yourself doing other things, then you should do them – because it’s not easy. Every time you hit a milestone, you are slammed backwards with a challenge; you have to have such perseverance and resilience. If you simply cannot go another day without starting a company, then you just have to do it.
Have you always had a thick skin?
I’m actually very sensitive, so I think I’ve developed a pretty hard exterior. Just … in life, I needed to build that armour.
How do you approach acting these days?
There’s no real strategy behind it other than I enjoy it. I would love to produce more because I do like to control more of my destiny and what I’m putting my energy into. There is no real rhyme or reason – it’s just my gut.
Have you learnt to trust your gut more as you get older?
For sure. As I moved from my 20s to my 30s and my mid-30s, I realised how important it is.
You have many plates spinning in the air. Can women truly ‘have it all’?
I don’t even know what that means. I feel like the biggest thing that’s happened over the past few years is men acknowledging (and women embracing) the fact that true gender inequality exists. It’s been proven in business, it’s been proven in government, and it’s been proven with salaries – women are paid less, there are fewer women holding government positions and they have less representation in business. To have the best outcome for the future, we need to have more diversity. It’s a fact. When you do, you have more to pull from for a better outcome, no matter what you’re talking about. It’s going to help society move forward.
Do you actively look to add more ‘hats’ to your repertoire?
I do what drives me and makes me happy. I’m not looking at what’s stacked on my plate. I’m doing what I love, and I’m passionate about what I do every day. But I’m most passionate about being a great daughter, wife, and mom to my kids.
What’s the best lesson your mother taught you?
That nothing is out of my reach. If I work hard and I really want something, I can achieve it.
With the current political climate, what sort of impact do you hope your daughters will have on the world around them?
Your kids are going to be the people they’re going to be, regardless. It’s how you nurture them and communicate, and how they see you interact with other people, that makes a difference – seeing their mom trying to do her part to make the future better, and give people access to education and products to live a healthy, happy life. There’s nothing more powerful than showing them the type of person you should be. ■
‘I like it when people are straight up with me’