Inspired Mom of the Month: Jessica Alba

The LA mom is fighting for (and creating) safer baby products

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--Photo courtesy of The Honest Life/Justin Coit

For our third installment of Inspired Moms, brought to you by ViaCord, we are tipping our hats to Jessica Alba. Recently, the mother of two has become nearly as famous for her line of non-toxic diapers and family essentials as she is for her Hollywood roles. We caught up with Jessica about the work she's doing to affect change in the way chemical ingredients are handled in the US—plus her own scary parenting moments, what's next for The Honest Company (deodorant!), and her favorite back-to-school items.

StrollerTraffic: We’re so impressed with how quickly you and Christopher Gavigan have begun to influence the parenting sphere—in a very real way. Tell us about your company, The Honest Company, and how you got started.
Jessica Alba: Believe it or not, it all started with one load of laundry. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I washed her clothes in the popular “baby-safe” laundry detergent that my mom recommended and I broke out in a terrible rash. If I had such a bad allergic reaction, I knew it couldn’t be good for a new baby. So, I set out to educate myself, scoured the Internet, and read the book, Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan (whom I soon thereafter met) and learned about untested toxic chemicals in conventional products like baby shampoo, diapers, home furnishings, and household cleaners.

ST: What was the first thing you did after the eye-opening?
JA: I spent more money on the products in the beige packaging with pictures of nature, only to get home and find out the supposedly natural alternatives I just bought still had ingredients in them I was trying to avoid. It turned out that many of the leading “eco” brands were focused on sustainable packaging and the health of the planet, rather than the health of people. I had such trouble finding reliable healthy products here in the United States. So, I ended up shopping online, buying non-toxic products from Australia and Europe, or from different health stores just to clean my house and bathe my child. It was too time consuming and so expensive.

ST: Yeah. Not exactly practical.
JA: I was frustrated that the average family couldn’t easily find or purchase safe everyday products at a reasonable price. So, I created The Honest Company with Christopher Gavigan, Brian Lee, and Sean Kane. As concerned parents, we felt it was our mission to make healthy, non-toxic products accessible for children and families everywhere.

ST: Everyone raves about the Honest diapers—especially their super-absorbent quality. Were leaky diapers a problem you had dealt with as a mom?
JA: Leaky diapers weren’t the only problem I experienced as a new mom; I used diapers that literally exploded! When Honor was 6 months old, I went to get her from sleeping only to find her “eating” a diaper. Her face, skin, and crib sheets were covered with absorbent gel beads after her overly full conventional diaper exploded. Worried about toxic chemicals, I ran to find the diaper package and couldn’t believe it didn’t even list ingredients. I called the product hotline, my mom, and the pediatrician—I was that worried!

ST: That is a uniquely horrifying story. (Shudder.) The other Honest Company products seem to be getting an amazing response from parents as well: the hand soap, lotion, detergent, balm . . . . How did you so successfully pinpoint what other moms needed? 
JA: I’m all about convenience and practicality. My day-to-day life as a mom truly inspires my ideas for product design and functionality. For example, some people on the team weren't big fans of the idea for transparent bottles, but I knew life would be easier if parents could see how much product was left in the bottle. I also didn’t want moms to have to furiously shake and spin the bottle to get out the last drop of shampoo, so I created a bottle that could stand up on both sides.

ST: Great instincts. We love the Honest packaging—for both of those reasons.
JA: What also makes Honest unique is that we make everything in small, quality batches in response to what our customers say they want and need. We think all companies should have a real dialogue and connection with the people they serve and be able to iterate on their product based on the feedback they receive.

ST: We also understand a big part of your message is transparency in baby products. Can you talk a little about that—what it means to your brand?
JA: Everything we do—from the people we partner with to the manufacturing processes we seek out—has to meet this standard of honesty and openness. For our company, it means being authentic and willing to humbly admit when we can do better (for example, we reformulated our wipes within six months of launching Honest because they fell short of customers’ expectations—and ours).

ST: You certainly have our respect for that. How are you crusading for this transparency, beyond creating and marketing your own baby products? Do you contact companies? Do you campaign? Do you blog about it to raise awareness, speak at events?
JA: We write blog posts discussing our product formulations to keep an open dialogue about our development process with our customers, so they can weigh in. And because we want to see transparency become the standard, we’ve also worked with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families to advocate for regulatory reform since 2011. Currently, the chemical industry in the United States is essentially unregulated and there are many untested ingredients in everyday household items—the last major law passed was the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976. Since then, more than 80,000 chemicals have been produced and used in the United States. Over the last the 37 years, the EPA has only required testing on 200 of the 62,000 chemicals that were “grandfathered” in under the TSCA. Only five of those chemicals have been restricted. For example, asbestos isn’t banned in the United States and we all know how toxic that is!
So, I’ve lobbied for the passage of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act to put common sense limits on the use of chemicals in consumer goods. I’ve made Public Service Announcements to raise awareness about the importance of overhauling the TSCA.

ST: As moms ourselves, we're grateful for (and inspired by) your efforts, Jessica. Tell us about your new book, The Honest Life. What can new moms learn from reading your book?
JA: I wrote The Honest Life because I wish I had a guide like this when I was a new mom. I wanted to share everything I learned from trial-and-error as a parent, launching The Honest Company, and the experts I consulted along the way with all busy women looking for easy-to-understand information on how to live naturally. In the book, I include tips that cover everything from my favorite eco-friendly beauty products; easy DIY baby food recipes; how to put together a safe, fun, and functional nursery; how to clean and decorate your home with healthy, non-toxic materials; and lots more.

ST: We noticed that Honest Company works closely with Baby2Baby in LA. Tell us about that relationship, and why you chose Baby2Baby as your initial partner.
JA: When building this dream into a company, it was important to me to that The Honest Company have a cause component as part of its DNA. As part of our overall social goodness program, Honest donates products, money, and time to our charitable partner Baby2Baby.org. This worthy non-profit supplies local families in need with essential baby gear and clothing for children up to age 12, reaching over 50,000 kids per year. I’m proud to say we’ve donated 106,537 total units of product to date. Each family gets about five products, so we’ve helped over 21,000 families in need during the last year and a half!

ST: Bravo! So, what’s next for The Honest Company?
JA: I’m excited to announce—and you’re hearing it first—we’re expanding our personal care line with a suite of maternity and post-partum products. Be on the look out for nipple and belly balm! Also, we’re going to have many more seasonal diaper prints to choose from in the next few months. I can’t wait. And because our customers asked, we’re happy to answer by launching deodorant in the near future. What other products would you love to see us make? We’d love to hear from StrollerTraffic readers!

ST: Fantastic news! We'll definitely ask our Facebook fans to weigh in. In the meantime, are you and the girls gearing up for Back to School?
JA: Haven isn’t heading to nursery school quite yet…thankfully! I am trying to delay it as long as humanly possible because I saw how fast Honor grew (it feels like she’s on her way to adolescence already). I know Haven will eventually be potty trained and speak in full sentences, but I’m happy to relish the baby stage right now.

ST: We hear you. It all goes so painfully fast. But before we let you go, we've gotta ask: do you have your eye on any cute gear or first-day-of-school outfits for Honor yet?
JA: When looking for back-to-school outfits for Honor, I gravitate towards clothes that are functional and fun. I like to pair skirts with leggings or shorts underneath. I pick out durable sneakers in funky colors. We’re big fans of Skip Hop’s backpacks and So Young lunchboxes (I even steal Honor’s to take my food to work!). And, of course, The Honest Company hand sanitizer and travel wipes are a must for tucking into her bags to make cleaning hands easy before eating or after a messy art project.

ST: Thank you, Jessica. We wish you continued success with The Honest Company!