Better known for her role as the Invisible Woman in The Fantastic Four, and being voted “Sexiest Woman in the World” by FHM in 2007, actress Jessica Alba has an entrepreneurial side that aims to redefine the idea of the family brand.
In 2008 Alba became the mother of a little girl, Honor, and three years later gave birth to her second daughter, Haven. Call it maternal instinct or a new insight on life; Alba felt her priorities in life shift immediately. “I felt this intense responsibility to create the safest, loving and healthiest environment for my children,” says Alba.
Her inability to find baby products that didn’t have toxic chemicals in them, or even diapers that weren’t tainted with dyes and nasty substances that caused allergic reactions alarmed her as a parent.
Alba experience this first-hand one day when she did a load of washing, using “baby safe’ laundry detergent, and broke out in a rash. Knowing that this couldn’t be good for her baby she began educating herself about untested chemicals found in baby products and household cleaners. She found alternative, “safer” options, but they still contained other chemicals that were unsatisfactory.
She calls this a “social injustice” and was determined to create a range of products that made it easier for her, and others, to find safe and attractive products that worked. She met Christopher Gavigan, author of Healthy Child Healthy World, who also ran a non-profit aimed at children’s health, and they teamed up to source and sell the very products they saw lacking on supermarket shelves.
The company raised $27 million in venture funding in March this year, giving the company a healthy start, and bring total funding to date to $52 million.
To ensure sales and availability where made as easy as possible, they brought on board Brian Lee, a veteran of ecommerce, as their CEO, who also has kid’s the same age as Alba’s. As a business-minded entrepreneur Lee was aware that alternative products needed to be priced affordably, for consumers to buy into them. With many health and eco products charging a premium, he wanted to ensure that The Honest Company could challenge mass consumer goods at a similar price point. A customer service team now listens to customer requests and they have already launched 13 new products based on this direct feedback.
Alba’s celebrity status, and having over 6.8 million followers on Twitter, has also helped in creating a meaningful dialogue with customers.
Gavignan was aware of a growing trend among the Hollywood A-list that saw celebrities aligning themselves with tech startups and was at pains to avoid it. With household names lending their money and fame to products and commercial ventures outside of their entertainment image, Alba and Gavignan were aware of positioning The Honest Company differently. They didn’t want Alba’s fame to distract from the real differences they were trying to make.
Coming from a non-profit world, Gavignan wanted to found a business that had goals that went beyond profit, that didn’t have non-financial goals tagged on as an afterthought. He wanted it integrated into the DNA of the company. The star studded line-up of other celebrities who’d ventured beyond the entertainment spotlight include Magic Johnson, who has invested in Stylecaster and Sociocast through his Detroit Venture Partners, Leonardo DiCaprio who has invested in photo sharing service Mobli, Edward Norton backing fundraising site Crowdrise, Bono, who bought a 1.5 percent stake in Facebook, netting him a cool $1.5 billion profit and Justin Timberlake who is an investor and brand ambassador for social music sharing site Myspace.
While many of these ventures fit into traditional investment models, Alba and Gavignan wanted a company that would help transform the quality of life for millions, through education and choice. “Before you have children, there’s a classic selfishness about life with many people,” says Gavignan. “After you have children, you develop a new attitude that is prepared to do anything for this new, little being. Todays parents are facing new, and increasing, realities of autism, allergies and childhood cancer, without really understanding how to protect their children from these chronic diseases.”
“There’s an assumption that everything on a store shelf is safe,” says Gavignan. “This is not always the case. There are many toxic chemicals, found in everyday products that are linked to chronic diseases”
“There is so much information around about what you should be doing, that many parents are so confused, they can’t figure out the right choice anymore,” says Alba. “We started The Honest Company to make it easier for parents to buy safe products for their families.” And not happy to simply focus on her own business, Alba travelled to Washington D.C. in 2011to participate in a two-day lobbying effort in support of the Safe Chemicals Act, a revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
From inception, The Honest Company has placed corporate responsibility as a core part of the company’s DNA. They are constantly working towards innovative solutions to reduce their collective impact, causing no unnecessary environmental harm, and making products that are as safe as possible. Alba and Gavignan continually invest in eliminating supply chain waste by delivering directly to customers, using plant-based ingredients in their products to eliminate toxins, and using 100% renewable or recycled materials in all their packaging.
Their ultimate goal to positively change the way people, companies,and even governments make impactful decisions related to health and safety, social goodness, environmental protection, and sustainable business practices. “We are committed to operating with integrity and transparency, and with humble honesty, as we strive to always create better, do better, and be better,” says Alba. Far from crafting feel-good, marketing slogans, the partners have initiated real change in every part of their business. Some of these proactive measures have included donating a percentage of proceeds towards addressing critical health and social issues affecting children and families.
The Honest Company range is made from natural, organic, sustainably harvested, renewable, pure raw materials and they track the production journey of all materials so they can report on what’s known as cradle-to-grave impact. Electricity used in making their products is even from renewable energy sources. Customers are encouraged to choose ground shipping fortheir orders whenever possible, as expedited air freight generally uses six times more energy than ground shipping.
To highlight their sustainability point, Alba and Gavignan have registered The Honest Company as a B-Corp, a business accreditation in the U.S. that shows you’re serious about looking after the triple-bottom-line. And not content to be the only one’s doing the right thing, they have introduced a code of conduct for their suppliers too, making sure they comply with human rights, environmental and non-harmful practices.
A major reason for Gavignan wanting to start the company was a belief that what he wanted to accomplish couldn’t be achieved by a not-for-profit. His goal was to create an avenue through which parents could safely purchase products for their babies, and in so doing, change their behavior – to start using non-toxic chemicals and eating organically. An unseen benefit of this approach has now emerged, as they eye expansion abroad. Stricter chemical regulations in Australia and the U.K. mean they are now able to meet these legal requirements.
In the U.S. around nine chemicals are banned from baby products. In the U.K. this number is 1,000 and The Honest Company’s products avoid them all.
The Honest Company have an active focus on minimizing the presence of petroleum in their products and packaging, and are striving to one day be 100% plant-based. The online shop makes a point of listing all ingredients, where you’ll even find dishwasher pods made from minerals and plant extracts.
Even their floor cleaner, usually just below paint stripper in harshness, has shown an effectiveness that you would not expect from natural ingredients, showing that natural products can actually be highly effective. Generations of parents using harsh chemicals has created ignorance among consumers of what is possible. Alba and Gavignan hope to change all that… for the sake of the children.