Jessica Alba spoke to The Edit, where she was interviewed by designer Tory Burch:
Tory Burch: It seems we were just talking about you starting a business, and look at The Honest Company now!
Jessica Alba: I remember coming to your office and telling you my idea, and you giving me all the pointers to make sure that my vision stayed pure and true. Because you knew through experience how complicated it can get, especially when you bring partners on board.
TB: I told you that you needed people you can trust…
JA: …who aren’t going to make you compromise too much for the sake of investors. You said, “Make sure you surround yourself with people who believe in your vision,” because I had the concept, and it fell apart three times with different people.
TB: Did people underestimate you?
JA: Certainly people in Hollywood underestimated me. They absolutely, 100 percent thought I was nuts. In Hollywood they don’t really build businesses, so they don’t really understand what I’m doing. It’s hard for people to take you seriously when you’re known for entertaining, because there are preconceived ideas of what it is to be an entertainer. But you have to have a lot of heart [to be an actor], a lot of drive. You face a lot of rejection, too, and it takes a certain kind of person to withstand that. I don’t think people knew what I was capable of – I didn’t know what I was capable of – until I actually did it.
TB: I see all the work and effort you have put into this business, and I don’t know that that’s always the case with public figures who want to start companies.
JA: People are used to seeing someone in my position associated with a brand through an endorsement deal: you show up, they give you your talking points, you say those things, maybe you’re on a couple of billboards, that’s it. I am not that person. I think a bunch of actresses feel like, ‘Oh, I have this platform and all these people are making money off of me, I should be able to get a piece of that,’ and that’s where their intentions are. That wasn’t why I started The Honest Company. I had a very pure mission – there was such a social injustice, that for people to access healthier products, to live a healthy life, they had to be in a certain tax bracket. I think that’s why we have been successful – it comes from a genuine place.
TB: My parents told me to think about negativity as a noise. That was something that really helped me in the beginning when there were a lot of raised eyebrows; when a lot of people were saying it was just a vanity project. That made me more determined.
JA: Finding the right partner opened the doors for me. I walked into meetings with a business partner who had created two successful e-commerce businesses. A lot of investors wanted to invest in anything that he was going to start, so I was fortunate.
TB: How are you at dealing with criticism that comes your way?
JA: It pissed me off! But as a woman, as an actress, I’ve dealt with that before. I’ve dealt with people undermining me; I’ve dealt with people thinking that I would do anything to get ahead and be successful. I was never that girl. I never dated people to be successful, I never compromised myself, or my beliefs, or my values to get ahead. And you know, in a weird way, I liked it when they didn’t believe in me. It fueled me.
TB: I was introduced once – I’ll never forget it – as “a woman CEO”. I’ve never heard of a man being introduced as “a man CEO”!
JA: Oh yeah, I’ve been in those rooms. You feel like a lone wolf surrounded by men who have done it all before. That’s why I came to you in the beginning; I knew how valuable it was to have a woman’s perspective on business.
TB: I think women have a challenge that men don’t. They often have to look at themselves, when they are mothers, and say: Can I have a career? Can I be both? But then, not all women want to work, so it really just depends. I think there needs to be more women in the workforce – if they want to be there.
JA: We have mostly women in the company, but a lot of the executives are men. And it is hard for me – how do I say this without sounding messed up? – because when I say, ‘I want the website to look and feel like this, we need the packaging to be like this, and we need the product to feel and smell like this,’ a guy might say, ‘Well, that base formula hits all of our criteria.’ They look at the numbers, and they look at the formulas, and they don’t necessarily think about the emotional connection. It’s the nuance, the narrative. I like it when brands tell me a story. I love that when I walk into your [Tory Sport] store, I feel like I’m in your beach house. But would a guy think to make the door pink? I don’t know. Maybe they would just say, well, every other door is white, so why don’t we just keep it white, because it’ll cost another $10,000 to resurface that?
TB: Yes, women definitely think differently; we’re much more collaborative. But being the mother of three sons, I think that boys need to be part of the conversation about women’s empowerment, too. My boys hear about that all the time. They like that I work. After I get home from the office, I do turn off my phone and they know that they are my first priority, but it is also important for them to see a woman at the helm of a company, to see someone supporting women’s issues. There should not be a difference in the way women and men are treated in the workforce. There should not be a difference in the way that women and men are paid.
JA: My girls ask why I work, but I think it’s more of a rhetorical question at this point; they just want to spend time with me. Kids don’t want to be understanding. And they shouldn’t be at this age! When they are 18 they will have perspective, but at four and seven they are just living in their own little world, and it’s all immediate gratification. Sometimes I do a better job at turning off, but right now I have just launched Honest Beauty, with 87 products, and I’m not doing a great job at managing my time. I’m traveling too much, I’m staying at the office too late, and I don’t know how to shut off completely when I go home. But it’s challenging to be a working parent, whether you are a woman or a man.
TB: What about words attributed to women in business, or women generally? You’ll never hear a man be described as bossy, or hysterical, or pushy.
JA: I’ve actually felt this more in the entertainment industry. People never say a male actor is difficult, they call him smart, but if a woman did the same thing, she would be considered a bitch.
TB: Like the word ambition. It’s very appropriate for men to be ambitious, and very inappropriate for women.
JA: I find it funny when I get called ambitious! I’ve even had my agents do intros and say, ‘She’s a very ambitious young lady.’ And I’m lways like, ‘What the fuck does that mean?!’
TB: You can’t tune out every comment; you have to be open to criticism. But there is a balance of what’s criticism and what’s just negativity.
JA: Or what’s constructive. You have to discern what is real, and what isn’t.
TB: At the end of the day, if my family is good, we can deal with any issue. I try to be optimistic. Humor helps that, and bringing humor to my team. I think I’m pretty good at that, even in the toughest times.
JA: Optimism and humor are so important. Like when we launched Honest – it took us six weeks to realize we weren’t charging credit cards. At the time we were just like, the site hasn’t crashed yet, thank God! We didn’t even notice people hadn’t paid!
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