By Alyson Stamos
If you have picked up a fashion magazine in the last year or are one of Jessica Alba’s 4 million Twitter followers, you probably know that the actress has started a family products brand called The Honest Company.
What you may not know is that the highly photographed mother of two, appears just as comfortable walking the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards as she is curled up on the couch talking about distribution centers and toxic chemicals. Perhaps the most obvious question, though, is what makes Jessica Alba, often called one of the “Sexiest Women in the World”, qualified to run a company? She says, “I’ve never claimed to be an expert in formulations. I’ve never claimed to be an expert in business, and I’ve always said I surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me and experts in their fields. If it was just me on my own, it’s just an idea.”
The idea was to create a brand that offered an affordable, trusted, one-stop shop for families to get household basics like diapers and laundry detergent. She partnered with a man who is a star, of sorts, in his own right. Christopher Gavigan is the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World (HCHW), one of the leading non-profits in environmental and children’s health. He thrives on being a visionary and his track record at HCHW proves he can set a unique course towards success. He is also the author of the best selling book, Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer World. It is the book that brought Jessica to him.
It was the perfect combination. An established leader in environmental health and a celebrity mother known for her style. Unlike most companies that start with a product and build out, Christopher and Jessica started from 30-thousand feet up with just a “kindred vision”. Christopher says they agreed, “We want to save kids’ lives and we want to impact the world and educate parents.” Jessica also wanted to make sure they paid as much attention to aesthetics like packaging as the products themselves.
It took a lot longer to drill down the details of their business plan. They eventually decided on a direct-to-consumers, customizable, monthly subscription service to deliver diapers, wipes, skin and household cleaning products. They wanted to deliver a convenient, affordable, high performance, eco-friendly and attractive brand. Christopher says, “We’ve had people say you shouldn’t do it all and you can’t be everything to everyone…given the tools that are at our fingertips in technology and relationships, we can do that. And why should we be limited by people telling us we can’t?”
When they first launched half of their products were original formulations and the rest were tweaks to formulations already in the marketplace. Christopher, the Chief Products Officer, says for the latter products, it was about asking companies to remove preservatives and synthetic fragrances from otherwise good products. This is a man so passionate about healthy living, he calls a newly developed dryer sheet “transformative.”
It took several years to flesh out their business plan and recruit investors. Along the way, there were many questions from people accustomed to competing with established brands like Proctor and Gamble or Unilever. Few understood why they weren’t trying to move into the big box stores. Another person said, if their products were healthy “you have to yell ‘eco’” so people know it’s good for them. Jessica says, “Our carbon footprint is way less, our margins are way better, our control of the experience is way, way better.”
They haven’t ruled out selling in retail outlets, but for now, they are focused on delivering products direct to their customers. Christopher and Jessica sit in an open plan office just steps away from the customer call center and have gotten on the phone with customers to answer questions. Both families get their monthly boxes delivered to their homes. They want to share the same experience as their customers so they can make necessary adjustments as they go.
Even with all of their knowledge and their mission, Christopher and Jessica recognize it’s not always easy for families to make a change. “I feel like a lot of times in a household, there might be one parent that has very strong opinions and ideas about something like this and then the other one is like, ‘I’m fine, i grew up on that. Why are you trying to change it?’” said Jessica. When she read Christopher’s book and started walking around her house, throwing products away, her husband, Cash Warren, was bewildered. She admits she still lets him keep one soap that he just won’t get rid of, but she won’t stop trying to give him the alternative.
Christopher knows a lot of researchers and doctors. So he, too, would come home and start throwing things away that he thought were bad for him. His wife, actress Jessica Capshaw, didn’t like it. Eventually he started sending her links to experts and let her process the information on her own before he brought it up. “Everyone is different on how they change their behavior and receive information and it’s really knowing your partner and what’s going to help them.”
From the beginning, they were amazed at the response. They’ve had a few bumps along the way, but that hasn’t stopped them from rapidly developing new products and refining their product offering. Jessica says, “We still have a lot of growth. We make mistakes and try to change and innovate and do the best we can.” If you have feedback about how they can do better, go ahead and tell them. They just want you to be honest.