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How Jessica Alba Is Shaking Up The Eco-Baby Industry

Written by Recyclebank .
If when you found out you were going to become a mom your excitement was immediately followed by anxiety, you’re not alone.

This story is from our partner LearnVest and was originally published 5/23/2012.

If when you found out you were going to become a mom your excitement was immediately followed by anxiety, you’re not alone.

There is so much information (and so many warnings!) for new mothers, ranging from shots and sugar to breastfeeding and BPAs.

Amidst all of the opinions and all of the noise, as moms, we’re desperately seeking a source we can trust.

That’s where Jessica Alba hopes her new product line, The Honest Company, will come in.

Concerned with the rising incidence of childhood illnesses, and the link between those illnesses and the chemicals often found in bath, cleaning and baby products, Alba conceived of her eco-friendly line—which includes non-toxic essentials like diapers, wipes, shampoo, sunscreen, laundry detergent and more—when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter, Honor, in 2008.

How It Works

A customer can opt to make purchases from The Honest Company by bundling goods through a subscription service (to be delivered monthly), or by ordering à la carte from the site.

For the subscription service, customers fill in some general information (child’s age, weight, what diaper style you like best, etc.), and choose which products to include.

You might think the convenience of a service of this type would cost you an arm and a leg.

Not according to Alba. “I felt like there was a bit of a social injustice that only families that made a certain amount of money could afford to give their children better products,” she recently told The Wall Street Journal. “So it was really important that this company was accessible and affordable, because I feel like every child—no matter what—absolutely deserves the best.”

There’s an entire pricing chart on the site to see how prices at The Honest Company compare to other leading natural and conventional brands. For example, the diapers and wipes only bundle comes out to somewhere between $0.20 and $0.45 per diaper, compared to $0.22 to $0.55 for other natural brands.

How It Started

We spoke to two of Alba’s co-founders for the inside scoop on the company: Christopher Gavigan, an environmental scientist and author of “Healthy Child Healthy World,” who is expecting his third child with wife, actress Jessica Capshaw, and Brian Lee, founder of ShoeDazzle and LegalZoom, and father of two.

How did you get involved with The Honest Company?

Gavigan: In 2008, Jessica came to a book launch party for “Healthy Child Healthy World.” She said, “Hey Christopher, I love your book and I thought it was really powerful. I would love to connect with you on some business ideas.” And so she and I went back and forth for quite some time until she effectively convinced me that [starting this company together] was a good idea.

Lee: I had gotten to know [Alba’s husband] Cash Warren over the years because he’s heavily involved in technology and internet companies. Then, about a year ago, Jessica came to me with this idea. I have a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, and my wife was going through the same difficulties as Jessica in terms of finding the purest, most natural products. So, I understood the problem and I wanted to partner with Jessica to fix it.

What does Jessica uniquely bring to the company?

Lee: Her passion. She’s a firm believer that we can make a difference. She’s sweet, smart and dedicated. She’s all you could ask for in a partner.

Gavigan: Jessica is a mom of two, and she likes to talk about those special elements that she wants in a brand. She’s there every day, and it’s not glitz and glam. She brings a real authenticity. Jessica is a visionary and a tremendous tour de force within our company.

What inspires you personally?

Lee: The mission of the company is what really drew me to it. When I look at my own children, I want the best for them, and it was as simple as that. I held my baby and I thought, I don’t want to put anything bad on you, I don’t want to feed you anything that has chemicals that might have harmful effects—I want a non-toxic world for you.

Gavigan: Many of the great researchers say, you don’t have to do everything overnight. You don’t have to throw everything out, buy all organic, throw away your mattress and repaint your house—that’s drastic black-and-white thinking and it’s not realistic. It’s about small, incremental changes that add up to a great benefit. I would rather invest in my family’s health than, God forbid, worry about dealing with any illnesses down the road. So [The Honest Company’s] approach is really the precautionary principle of “better safe than sorry.”

What need do you see that The Honest Company meets?

Gavigan: I think a lot of parents are looking for high-performing products that offer peace of mind around health and safety. We’re seeing a lot of very credible research linking certain types of chemicals in everyday products to certain diseases and illnesses—everything from asthma, autism, learning disabilities, cancers, behavioral disorders, allergies and beyond. I felt that parents were constantly searching and buying around the problem. They’re hearing about BPA and 1,4-dioxane and all these chemicals, but they’re not toxicologists. They just want something safe, affordable, convenient and beautiful. So we built a brand based on those [tenets].

Lee: We wanted to create a one-stop shop experience. The average age of today’s mom is around 26 or 27 years of age and she’s a very different mom than those even ten years ago. Today’s moms grew up with the internet, they didn’t really have to learn how to text, they don’t even watch DVDs because they’re downloading things right off of iTunes. Our company is really at the sweet spot of what mothers today are looking for, which is convenience, affordability, but most importantly—performance and effectiveness.

Christopher, after years of researching the environment and children’s health, what were some of the most important issues that you wanted these products to address?

Gavigan: The most conventional tearless shampoo on the market for many, many years contained 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen. Our personal care line and our cleaning line are 100% plant-based, and our diapers are more than 85% plant-based. A lot of the work I was doing focused on what’s going in, on and around the child. Your skin is the largest organ in your body and things that go on your skin get absorbed and can be detected in your blood stream within the hour. I felt there were certain things that we really needed to focus on as a company, like trying to move away from synthetic or petrochemical-based ingredients. If [an ingredient is] questionable or there’s risk, we’re going to make every effort not to put it in our product.

What went into the decision to offer the products as part of a subscription service as opposed to in retail stores?

Lee: Right now we’re very focused on ecommerce because we believe that it’s the future. And, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get shelf space for a reasonable price and we spend a lot more money on our ingredients as opposed to larger [consumer-packaged good] companies. So instead of losing a lot of margins on the retail level, we’re actually investing that into our products and trying to deliver them directly to consumers at a reasonable price.

Can you talk a bit about your products’ effectiveness?

Lee: The number one thing we look for is, Does this product work better than anything else we’ve seen on the market? For example, our sunscreen, which is an all-natural, USDA organic product, works better than the most popular sunscreen on the market.

Gavigan: We did a test on our diapers with a third party, independent lab where we tested them against some other brands—both conventional, eco-friendly and all those in between—and we found that ours was up to 35% more absorbent. Parents, especially in that category, have minimal patience for a product that’s not going to perform.

Some other ‘eco’ diapers on the market are pretty plain looking and almost brownish, but yours are quite colorful (see patterns at left). How come?

Gavigan: Jessica is a style icon, and she focuses a lot on design. Everything doesn’t need to be oatmeal and flaxseed and green and scream “healthy.” Getting non-toxic and non-lead-based dyes was not that hard, but it’s innovative to put it so elegantly on a diaper.

How much of a consideration was it for your products to be affordable?

Lee: The Honest Company is really a mission-driven company, and that mission is to save as many children as we possibly can from the harmful effects of toxins. In order to accomplish that mission, the product has to be affordable so that we get it into the hands of mothers. Also, the larger that we get and the more prevalent we become, the more the other CPG companies will pay attention to what we’re doing and reformulate their own products so that they can make a safer, non-toxic product.

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