Jessica Alba went from starring in “Honey” to rolling in money and she did so silently. Alba is the co-founder of “The Honest Company,” a company that specializes in safe, non-toxic household and consumer goods. Everything from sunscreen, diapers and even tampons. Goes to show that just because you are quiet, it doesn’t mean you aren’t working. Read below to find out how Jessica Alba built a billion dollar company and a $200 million dollar fortune of her own.
Safety sells. The Honest Company has experienced an absurd level of growth. In 2012, its first year selling products, it hit $10 million in revenue. By last year it was $150 million, and industry insiders are predicting over $250 million this year. The company is focused on growth over profits, boasting a current valuation to match: $1 billion.
That figure means Alba, who owns between 15% and 20% of the company, according to a source with knowledge of her investment, is sitting on a fortune of $200 million. She’s on her way to earning a spot on FORBES’ new ranking ofAmerica’s Richest Self-Made Women, just $50 million shy of Beyoncé and Judge Judy, who are tied at number 49. The only other two celebrities to make the inaugural list are Oprah and Madonna. The difference is that foursome made their money in their core field, media and music. Alba, at a young age, has done it in a completely unrelated industry. But ask Alba and she’ll tell you she and Honest are just getting started. “If we really want to make a difference in the world and people’s health, it’s billions and billions of dollars, not just one,” she says, surveying the open-plan company floor from a conference room above its wooden rafters.
Like most great ideas, The Honest Company was inspired by a need that wasn’t being filled. In 2008 Alba was newly engaged to Internet entrepreneur Cash Warren and pregnant with their first child. At a baby shower thrown by family and friends, she remembers her mother advising her to use baby detergent to prewash the piles of onesies she’d received as gifts. She used a mainstream brand and immediately broke out into ugly red welts, harkening back to a childhood spent in and out of emergency rooms and doctors’ offices.
“She was the most sensitive child,” remembers her mother, Cathy Alba, who wasn’t referring to her daughter’s emotional well-being. Raised on Air Force bases in such places as Biloxi, Miss. and Del Rio, Tex., Jessica’s bad allergies and chronic asthma made her predisposed to pneumonia, which she contracted about twice a year, often leading to two-week hospital stints.
Now covered in hives again — and wary of having her baby relive her own experience — Alba spent late nights on Google and Wikipedia researching the contents not just of the offending detergent but also of everything in her bathroom cabinet and under her kitchen sink. “I was like, ‘How can this be safe for babies if I’m having this type of reaction?’” she says. What she found terrified her: petrochemicals, formaldehydes and flame retardants in everyday household products from floor cleaners to mattresses. Some were listed on the ingredients label plain as day, with others disguised under the catchall of “fragrance,” which is entirely legal.
Armed with Internet printouts and fear for the health of her unborn child, Alba first tried to shop around the problem but grew irritated trying to find natural and eco-friendly products that weren’t either extortionate or seemingly designed for yurt-dwelling vegan yogis. Or both. “I felt like my needs weren’t being met as a modern person,” she says. “I want beautiful design like everybody else. But it shouldn’t be premium-priced, and it should, of course, be safe.”
She tried making her own cleaning products out of baking soda, vinegar and essential oils but wound up with something closer to salad dressing. So when she came across Christopher Gavigan, who for seven years led a nonprofit called Healthy Child Healthy World, she, like most new mothers, asked him what to buy.
“They don’t want to be that investigatory weekend toxicologist,” says Gavigan. “They just want someone to hold their hand.” He explained that several companies with “green” credentials like Vermont-based Seventh Generation were doing good work across some product categories, but there was no one umbrella brand positioning itself as the go-to for all things eco-friendly, safe and nontoxic.
A lightbulb went off for both of them. Pretty soon Alba and Gavigan were polishing off wine on nights and weekends, cooking up a business plan and buying up Web domain names with the word “honest” in them. Through her husband, she met Web entrepreneur Brian Lee, a trained attorney who had hit it big with LegalZoom.com, an online legal-documentation service he cofounded with Robert Shapiro of O.J. Simpson infamy.
“I made some introductions for her and said good luck,” says Lee, who looked at Alba’s 50-page PowerPoint in 2009 but didn’t bite. He says now he was simply tied up launching subscription shoe site ShoeDazzle.com with then partner Kim Kardashian.