Jessica Alba Talks Motherhood and Hollywood
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When Jessica Alba was pregnant with her first daughter, Honor Marie, in 2008, her mother told her about all the products she’d need to buy. “It was, ‘You have to start using this, you have to start using that,’” recalls Alba. “Of course I wanted the safest, healthiest environment for my baby.” But when Alba started checking out the labels of baby items and everyday household products, she was taken aback at the sheer volume of chemical ingredients they contained. “I thought, This is nuts—it’s insane. How is this even legal?” Now, in addition to daughters Honor and Haven Garner (born last August), Alba is parenting a new addition: She’s the cofounder of the subscription e-commerce enterprise The Honest Company, which offers consumers a monthly delivery of bundles of nontoxic, plantbased, beautifully designed baby and family essentials, including diapers, bath and skincare products, and home cleaning supplies.
Listening to Alba talk about the company, one quickly realizes she’s at least as passionate—likely more—about this project as she is about anything she’s done on the big or small screen.
“It stems from being a mom,” she says. “When I [was pregnant the first time] and started shopping in stores and online, it was just horrific seeing all these toxic chemicals [in baby products], which can contribute to everything from cancer to autism. I have the time and the means to shop around and find the best products, but most people don’t. I wanted to come up with one brand people could trust. You can have baby items that are cute and eco-friendly, with delivery right to your door.”
Alba partnered with ShoeDazzle and LegalZoom founder Brian Lee, pricegrabber.com executive Sean Kane, and environmentalist (and husband to actress Jessica Capshaw) Christopher Gavigan—she’s a huge fan of Gavigan’s book, Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home. “You see packages in stores, and maybe the box is oatmealcolored or there’s a green leaf on it, and you think it’s eco-friendly,” says Alba. “We just assume it’s better for us, but the packaging doesn’t mean anything.”
From the moment she first envisioned the company, the actress knew she wanted to do much more than just have her name on products. “Three years ago I conceptualized it, and I was all on my own,” she says. “Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to do a consumer-products company. They were like, Why don’t you do a perfume? Or, Why don’t you do a fashion line? Then when I said I wanted to do one that was geared toward children, everyone thought I was even more crazy,” she says with a laugh.
“[And] when I said I wanted to make safer, nontoxic products, people were like, ‘What does that mean? And why and how will it be different from anything else out there?’ They thought I was nuts for wanting to launch with more than 20 products, but I know what it takes to put together a household, and I know how many products you actually go through as a parent. When we surveyed other parents, they had the same thoughts I did, so I wasn’t totally crazy—thank God.”
Before she would put her name on a product or ask other families to try it, Alba wanted to be sure she believed in it. “Once we got the formulations of every product, I tried them all out and made sure they worked, because it is one thing to have a safe nontoxic product, but it’s another to have it actually work,” she says. “I know that as a mom something needs to perform well. Our diapers were tested [by an independent lab] against conventional diapers and ‘eco’-diapers, and across the board, [ours] came out 25 percent more absorbent than the other ones, which is outstanding. You’re not only getting a better quality product when it comes to the ingredients that are touching your baby, [you’re getting one that] outperforms the one filled with all those toxins. We’re trying to make it easier for families to have safe homes. I have such passion for this company—it’s an exciting time.”
If you asked me to name the three movies in which Jessica Alba has done her most impressive work, I wouldn’t hesitate: Sin City, Machete, and The Killer Inside Me. In those films, Alba plays an exotic dancer, a badass customs agent, and a prostitute, respectively. Based on that résumé alone, one not familiar with Alba’s body of work would surmise she’s made a career out of challenging, controversial roles in hard-R films with indie cred. Well, yes—and no.
Alba is just as likely to be seen in an escapist romantic comedy such as Valentine’s Day, flat-out goofy films like The Love Guru and Good Luck Chuck, family-friendly fare such as Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, or the upcoming animated film Escape from Planet Earth. You look at a résumé that stretches back to an ABC Afterschool Special, the reboot of the Flipper series in the mid-to-late-1990s, and Dark Angel, and you realize just how versatile (and sometimes underappreciated) Alba can be.
And unlike far too many actresses who began acting before they were of high-school age, Alba has navigated the tricky waters of stardom and the relentless glare of the paparazzi without constantly stumbling out of limousines, engaging in ill-fated romances, or winding up with an electronic monitor on her ankle. She is a wife (to husband Cash Warren), mother, and family-oriented activist—and she is even more committed to those roles than she is to any film or TV part.
In some ways Alba feels more pressure with the debut of honest.com than she would with any movie. And as is the case with nearly every film project, the path from original concept to final product was anything but smooth. “Launching this company has been a real roller coaster,” she says. “There were times I thought it was going to fall apart. It was a really difficult process, and it’s [hard] to not get discouraged and take another focus. But I stayed on this path from the beginning, and it took a long time and perseverance. It helps that my husband was behind me the whole way. He is the one who actually introduced me to Brian Lee, the e-commerce guru (and my business partner) who actually turned [this concept] into a proper business. I’m so grateful it’s happening.”
As for juggling family, multiple careers, catching up with longtime friends, and carving out a little time for herself—not to mention handling the swarm of paparazzi who trip over themselves trying to get a shot every time she goes shopping or emerges from the gym—Alba says nobody has it all figured out.
“It’s not perfect,” she says. “I’m constantly feeling I should be spending more time at home. I installed a kids’ corner in the office, and the baby is really easy right now. But every day is evolving and changing. If I’m not going to be home all day, I know I’ll be home at night.”
The impact becoming a mother has had on the actress is clear. “I love everything about [being a parent]. I didn’t even know it was possible to have this much love and joy and happiness in my life. It’s overflowing, unconditional, and selfless. I never experienced that type of thing before I had kids.”
And how would she say it has changed her, specifically? “It’s been the most profound experience I’ve had as a person and as a woman,” says Alba. “I feel like I’ve finally come into my own and become the person I always should have been, or that I always [wanted to be]. I feel more grounded, free, and comfortable in my own skin than I ever have. The paradigm just shifted completely to my family.”
Alba’s next film project is Escape from Planet Earth, an animated, 3-D scifi adventure also starring the voices of Sarah Jessica Parker, James Gandolfini, and Brendan Fraser.
“It’s pretty cute,” she says. “The style of acting for an animated film is much more over-the-top, whether you’re trying to be dramatic or funny. And when you hear your voice [coming from an animated character], it’s bizarre. [You think,] That’s what I sound like to people?”
Obviously an actor doesn’t have to worry about wardrobe when making an animated movie, but Alba knows any time she steps outside or onto a red carpet, photographers (and paparazzi) will be waiting to see what she has on. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12, going to fittings and all that. So I know what works on my silhouette,” says Alba. “Fashion is part of the job. There’s a fantasy element. It’s fun to go out and see what everybody’s wearing. Some things really work, and some don’t. And then there are some people, like Kate Moss, who can wear anything.”
photography by brian bowen smith