HON­EST BRO­KER

For ac­tress, mother and skin­care mag­nate Jes­sica Alba, lux­ury is about peace of mind— know­ing that the things you buy won’t hurt you or the earth,

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life | Close-up - writes Madeleine Ross

Jes­sica Alba never en­vi­sioned her­self as a busi­ness mogul. She has al­ways been con­scious of the en­vi­ron­ment (“I think it’s a gen­er­a­tional thing, this type of aware­ness,” she says), but she was never par­tic­u­larly en­tre­pre­neur­ial. The Dark An­gel ac­tress, who be­came a fix­ture on Hol­ly­wood sexiest peo­ple lists af­ter lead roles in hit movies such as Honey (2003) and Sin City (2005), was con­tent with her act­ing ca­reer un­til she gave birth to her first child. Honour, born in 2008, changed every­thing.

Hav­ing suf­fered from acute al­ler­gies and asthma as a child, Alba was de­ter­mined to raise her daugh­ter in an en­vi­ron­ment free from the ir­ri­tants and chem­i­cals com­mon in baby, house­hold and per­sonal care prod­ucts. She searched for goods de­rived from nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents but found her op­tions shock­ingly lim­ited. She won­dered: how, when her con­tem­po­raries were so con­cerned about the health of the planet and of them­selves, there were no eth­i­cally pro­duced, safe al­ter­na­tives to the syn­thetic, cheaply for­mu­lated goods on the mar­ket?

Alba founded the Hon­est Com­pany four years later. In the six years since 2012, her startup has be­come a house­hold name, with a staff of over 300 and a re­cent val­u­a­tion of more than US$1 bil­lion. Her brain­child pro­duces baby prod­ucts, per­sonal care prod­ucts, vi­ta­mins and house­hold clean­ing prod­ucts that are ve­gan and or­ganic where pos­si­ble, and free of sub­stances like BPA, sil­i­cones and polyethy­lene gly­col. Hon­est only caters to the US mar­ket at present, but Alba says she “would love to ex­pand into Asia.”

“Ev­ery step of the way it has been a daunt­ing en­deav­our,” says the mother of three on the phone from New York, where she is on a busi­ness trip. The 37-year-old Cal­i­for­nian speaks calmly and de­lib­er­ately. Her man­ner is more se­ri­ous, more pro­fes­sional than her on-screen per­sonas might have one be­lieve (Alba is of­ten cast as a sexy femme fa­tale or a sweet girl next door). She’s the first to ad­mit her jour­ney into con­sumer goods has been chal­leng­ing. “When it comes to starting some­thing you’ve never done be­fore, you kind of have to fake it un­til you make it be­cause you don’t know if it’s go­ing to work and you don’t know if any­one is go­ing to be in­ter­ested in your busi­ness. You have to learn as you go.”

As founder, she guides strat­egy, mar­ket­ing and prod­uct in­no­va­tion, and al­ways per­son­ally tests the prod­ucts be­fore they hit the shelves. “We have skin­care chemists on staff in my of­fice so that when they make prod­ucts, I can go down the hall and poke around and change things. I can say, this is too creamy or not creamy enough, I want the serum to look like this or feel like this or smell like that, so I help de­velop stuff with the chemists right there. That’s what’s re­ally spe­cial about what we do.”

Hon­est is one of many nat­u­ral skin­care brands, such as Drunk Ele­phant, Amala and Su­sanne Kaufmann, that have shot to promi­nence in the past few years. But top­tier main­stream brands—ones you might see in the duty-free sec­tion at in­ter­na­tional air­ports—haven’t yet shifted their fo­cus to the nat­u­ral. How long, I ask, un­til these brands are forced to re­think their for­mu­la­tions and mar­ket­ing strate­gies?

“Things will start to change as peo­ple have more in­for­ma­tion about the po­ten­tial harm that these [chem­i­cals] can do to our bod­ies over time, and the op­tion­al­ity around ‘bet­ter for you.’ I for­mu­late with a re­ally, re­ally strict in­gre­di­ent list and it’s hard to cre­ate sta­ble for­mu­las that are ac­tu­ally ef­fec­tive and are on par with tra­di­tional brands. I think there is a mis­con­cep­tion that [nat­u­ral prod­ucts] won’t re­ally work, but we’ve proven that they re­ally do work.

“When will the tide change? It’s re­ally about con­sumer be­hav­iour. Those big brands will fol­low con­sumers but they won’t lead the charge be­cause it’s cheaper do­ing it the way they’re do­ing it; it’s ex­pen­sive to in­vest in al­ter­na­tive ways of for­mu­lat­ing and if you’re a pub­licly traded com­pany, it’s hard to jus­tify mak­ing less money.”

When she’s not tin­ker­ing with po­tions and lo­tions, act­ing or sup­port­ing one of the many causes she’s pas­sion­ate about, Alba rel­ishes do­ing “nor­mal stuff ” with her chil­dren. “[Since be­com­ing a mother] I feel like my pri­or­i­ties in life have 100 per cent switched to the health and well-be­ing of my kids. That is the num­ber one thing, and work and my ca­reer and every­thing else is a dis­tant sec­ond to them,” she says.

Alba and her hus­band, Cash War­ren, an ac­tor and pro­ducer, love to hike, go to the park and play board games with their brood, al­though son Hayes, born in De­cem­ber last year, is a lit­tle young to get in­volved in games of Mo­nop­oly. Alba is also a sea­soned scuba diver. “That is not that re­lax­ing though,” she laughs. “It’s so fun to do but I don’t live in a scuba dive-friendly place. There’s lots of kelp in the ocean around Cal­i­for­nia. It’s not clear and there’s not like a bunch of coral or any­thing.”

Women’s mag­a­zines of­ten laud Alba for her re­laxed but pol­ished style. Her modus operandi when it comes to fash­ion, she says, is to shop “with in­ten­tion,” a strat­egy that serves to safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment as well as her sar­to­rial rep­u­ta­tion. “You don’t need to be on trend all the time. A more clas­sic aes­thetic is more im­por­tant than just fol­low­ing a trend that may or may not be what’s right for you. There are brands that are more con­scious about how they are re­sourc­ing and it’s great that those types of brands can also be lux­ury and that peo­ple have op­tions.”

Her mis­sion, as she sees it, is to pro­mote a more eth­i­cal con­sumer mind­set, no mat­ter what peo­ple are buy­ing. “I think that in gen­eral, we all should be re­spon­si­ble and take care of our planet. We need to be more mind­ful of the fact that there is only a fi­nite amount of re­sources on our planet. We should be more mind­ful of how we utilise them.”

If the im­pos­si­bly busy Alba—a film star, mother of three and boss of 300—can do it, surely we can too.

WORK­ING MUM Jes­sica with her two daugh­ters, Haven and Honor, at an event for the Hon­est Com­pany in New York

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