Jessica Alba: Honestly green
With Christopher Gavigan, actress mom runs eco-friendly baby goods company.
Wed, May 16, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Photo: Justin Coit
The "Dark Angel" TV star who segued to the big screen in such movies as "Sin City," Fantastic Four," "Into the Blue," "Valentine's Day," "Little Fockers" and the recent "Spy Kids 4D," Jessica Alba is also the mother of two young girls — Honor, 4 years old next month, and Haven, born last August. Her concern for them and the planet has prompted her involvement with The Honest Company, a line of organic, toxin-free products for babies in which she's partnered with Christopher Gavigan, former CEO and executive director of the nonprofit Healthy Child, Healthy World and author of a book of the same name, subtitled "Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home."
Alba read the book during her first pregnancy "and learned about toxic chemicals in everyday products like baby shampoo, diapers, home furnishings and household cleaners. Needless to say, I was shocked and upset. So I spent hours and hours researching products and trying to shop around the problem — even shopping in Europe, Canada and Australia. I'd shell out way more money for the products in beige packaging and pictures of nature, only to get home and find out the natural diapers I just bought still had ingredients in them I was trying to avoid. And the few products that were really safer never seemed to work as well as I needed. Effectiveness and performance are important to moms! It was beyond frustrating so I created Honest.com, because, as a mom, I needed and wanted it, and wanted someone to do it better. Turns out, a lot of other parents did too."
Although becoming a mother heightened her concern and awareness about this issue, Alba, who grew up in drought-plagued southern California, has "always been eco-minded," but her "focus was eco for the environment versus eco for the health of my family. Before, it was about not wasting water and repurposing every container or bottle we'd purchase. For example, we wouldn't buy Tupperware and instead we'd reuse a butter container. Instead of buying glass jars, we'd reuse old tomato sauce jars. Now that I know how bad plastic is I wouldn't buy butter in a plastic tub nor reuse it, but the foundation that I was taught as a child — not to be wasteful — I apply to my family, with the focus on their health as the number one priority."
Despite her busy career — she most recently completed the comedy "A.C.O.D." (standing for Adult Children of Divorce) and recorded a voice for the animated "Escape From Planet Earth," Alba is "very hands-on when it comes to our Honest product development. I'm involved from the start, testing formulations, overseeing the look and feel of the packaging, and obsessing over the smallest product design detail. As a new mom, I put bland-looking diapers on my cute baby because they were supposedly safer. But I learned that those earthy diapers were made with a lot of the same petroleum-based ingredients as conventional ones! I was tired of safe meaning boring, so I set out to make eco-friendly and stylish designs (ours are literally the cutest disposables ever — the skull and crossbones are one of my faves!) that reflected that I'm a modern, fashionable mom. And I wanted everything — not just our diapers — to have a fresh, colorful aesthetic.
"My day-to-day life as a mom also inspires my ideas for product design and functionality," Alba continues. "For example, some people on the team weren't big fans of the idea for transparent bottles, but as a mom I knew life would be easier if one could see how much product was left in the bottle (no more running out unexpectedly midway through bath time). I also didn't want moms to have to furiously shake and spin the bottle to get out the last drop, so I created a bottle that could stand up on both sides. I'm all about convenience and practicality, so I constantly think about how things are really used at home by parents when working on new products. With that in mind, it's very important to me that we have a real conversation with customers, listen to parents, and deliver what they need. We really listen to the feedback we get on Facebook, Twitter, and the phone, and use that information to create products that will make them happy. So we are currently working on quite a few products that we're very excited about rolling out before the year's end, from new diapering designs to personal care and cleaning items to expanded technology capabilities. It's really important to me that Honest is nimble and evolves with the needs of our customers."
Right now, the company offers a core of 20 products, including several styles of diapers, biodegradable baby wipes and a bundle of home cleaning, skin and body care products that includes shampoos, sunscreens, washes and oils, available on a monthly subscription basis for $20 per week. "To compete with the majors you have to compete with quality and price. When you compare our diapers and another non-toxic brand at Target we come out $2.88 less, and it's delivered to your door," points out Gavigan, who first met Alba at a release party for his book. The father of two children ages four and 19 months with his wife, "Grey's Anatomy" star Jessica Capshaw, who's expecting their third next month, he's been on a mission to create the safest nursery possible in his own home and help other parents do the same.
"One study showed that there were over 287 industrial synthetic chemicals found in the cord blood of a newborn. That doesn't get there by happenstance. The world that we live in is more chemically toxic. As a company, we're offering the safest and purest products that are beautifully designed and work tremendously well. Moms don't have time for a diaper that doesn't hold the baby's business. Our diapers are double-digit percentage points more absorbent and totally healthy," says Gavigan, who counts Molly Sims, Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and Neil Patrick Harris among the line's celebrity fans, and notes plans to expand Honest's offerings to layette and apparel and more items in the cleaning and body care categories. Since advocacy and philanthropy is important to both he and Alba, they donate diapers and wipes to Baby to Baby, a Southern California charity that gives clothing to needy children.
At home, Gavigan is "very picky about what we clean with. We use vinegar and water and baking soda, time tested and benign products. We're a family that takes our shoes off at the door. You can prevent a lot of lead dust, pesticides and oil residues coming into your home just by taking your shoes off," he points out. "I'm constantly opening doors and windows or fresh air. Minimal plastic is used in our home, especially for packaging, and no plastic is used for food storage. We don't have a microwave. And I'm constantly turning off lights. It drives my wife crazy," he confides, quick to add that Capshaw is "incredibly supportive. She went on 'Access Hollywood' and spent 60 percent of the time she was supposed to be talking about 'Grey's' talking about the Honest Company. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."
Alba's similarly green home features a non-toxic synthetic turf lawn, a filter on the tap (to fill BPA-free reusable bottles), and multiple recycling bins. Her family also removes shoes before entering, and she teaches Honor eco-friendly habits. "I seek out mostly organic and fresh foods and definitely steer my children towards smart choices. We as a family try to have a balanced diet that focuses on vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. I make sure to read the ingredients carefully and try to give Haven homemade food as much as possible. I give Honor flavored sparkling water instead of sugary drinks and she thinks it's soda! And, when we shop for it, we use reusable bags.
"I also enjoy decorating my home with second-hand furniture that I can spruce up but also has stories behind it," Alba continues. "Honor and I have painted picture frames we found at thrift stores to create a gallery of her artwork in her bedroom. We enjoy a lot of crafts and DIY, like using cardboard boxes to make airplanes and dollhouses. And you can always find our family at the local park, taking walks, riding bikes and swimming. We love spending time outdoors, which I think is important if you want your children to appreciate nature and live a green life. [My husband] Cash and I have refinished vintage furniture for Haven's nursery. And I've spent countless hours on Craigslist searching for couches, lamps and other décor to refurbish for our home. The first piece of furniture I purchased for the Honest offices, an orange desk, was vintage too!"
If it's not already abundantly clear, Alba confirms that she loves everything about being a mom. "I didn't even know it was possible to have this much love, joy, and happiness in my life. It's overflowing, unconditional, and selfless. I never experienced that type of thing before the girls were born," she confides. "I also feel like I've become the person I always should have been, or that I always wanted to be, now that I'm a mom. Before I had Honor and Haven, I was defined by my career. Now, I feel more grounded, free and comfortable in my own skin than I ever have. The paradigm has shifted completely to my family. That's probably the thing that's surprised me the most about motherhood — just how secondary everything else is. Nothing else really matters to me aside from my children and their wellbeing."
That's not to say she's given up on acting, and is particularly eager to take Honor and her friends to see "Escape From Planet Earth" when it comes out in February 2013. "It's really a sweet story," she says, describing the plot "about an astronaut caught in a trap when he responds to an SOS from a dangerous alien planet. It was very great to play the nemesis since I don't often get to play that role. The style of acting for an animated film is much more over-the-top, whether you're trying to be dramatic or funny. When I heard my voice coming from the character it was bizarre. Is that what I sound like to people? I wonder."
"A.C.O.D.," due out later this year, is about a guy who was once the subject of an academic study on kids of divorced parents, "and now the researches want to follow up with him as an adult and see how his childhood experience affects his relationships. I play one of the kids who was part of the study," says Alba, who finds balancing career and motherhood "a work in progress. But it's made easier because I have a great support system at home in Cash, I make creative and efficient use of my time (I prepare all of Haven's baby food for the week on Saturday or Sunday), and I can bring the girls to work. We have a kids' corner at the Honest offices, where employees' children can play and be entertained while their parents work. What a bonus to sneak in a little one-on-one time with Honor and Haven during my breaks.
"I try to live my life the best I can and I sometimes have to compromise on one thing or another," Alba says. "I often wish there were at least two of me and 48 hours in the day! My children's happiness is my priority, so as long as they're good, everything else just sort of works out. I have lots of lists, schedules and labels to keep some sanity and organization. And I have a really quick but effective make-up routine: great concealer, cream blush and mascara. It takes 10 minutes, and I look like I've had a good night's sleep."
Looking back, Alba, now 31, is proudest that "through the values my parents instilled in me — having a good work ethic, giving everything 200 percent, never giving up, and always believing in myself — I was able to turn my childhood dream of becoming an actress into a reality. I am very grateful for that. It's also very gratifying to create a company with like-minded partners that not only serves parents with great quality eco-friendly products, but also inspires and hopefully changes the way the world and other businesses do things when it comes to making it a greener, healthier place. And, of course, I am most proud of being a mom to Honor and Haven." Looking ahead, her goals are to "stay thoughtful and curious and always be proactive and positive in everything I do in life whether it is as a mom, daughter, friend, entrepreneur, actor or amateur chef." But one thing tops her to-do list. "My number one goal," she says, "is to raise thoughtful, respectful, grounded and happy kids."
Alba photos: Justin Coit