Jessica Alba: From Action Star to Founder of The Honest Company

Jessica Alba has played everything from a genetically-enhanced soldier in the TV series Dark Angel to a superhero who can turn invisible in the Fantastic Four movies. However, Alba doesn’t need superhuman skills to impress us. While she rose to fame as an actress, she has maintained relevance with her entrepreneurial spirit and business savvy mind. By founding a billion dollar household and personal care product business Alba has proved that she is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the screen.

Alba started acting when she was a child, and gained fame in her young adult life for her roles in rom coms and superhero films. For most people, the fame and fortune of being a movie star are sufficient indicators of success, but not for Alba. She not only wanted to make it big but also make a difference.

When she was pregnant with her first daughter, she bought baby laundry detergent to wash some onesies she’d received as a gift–to her surprise, the detergent made her break out in hives. She started researching the detergent’s ingredients and was dismayed with what she found. “I was horrified by the realities around the use of chemicals, and also the link that these chemicals have to a lot of illnesses, from obesity to lung disease to cancer, allergies, eczema—all of it,” she told Self magazine in its September issue.

The health scares associated with these products hit home for Alba. As a child, she struggled with chronic asthma, which caused her to have recurring bouts of pneumonia. This kept her in the hospital for extended periods of time making it difficult for her to make friends. She wanted to avoid a similar fate for her daughter and vowed to do anything in her power to keep her as healthy as possible. So she started searching for safer household products. She didn’t find many options. But instead of getting frustrated, she saw an opportunity to make a change and build a business.

As a result, Alba reached out to Christopher Gavigan, of the environmental nonprofit organization Healthy Child, Healthy World and started learning as much as she could about natural products. She found that there’s very little legislation to regulate household products (In the United States, only 11 chemicals are banned from consumer goods, while Europe bans over 1300.)

Alba’s concern about the potential danger in everyday household products spurred her to action, and she and Gavigan decided to team up and start their own company. Despite their best efforts, it took a few years to get the startup off the ground. “People just saw me as this girl in a bikini in movies kicking butt– maybe not the brightest bulb,” Alba recently told Forbes“It took three and a half years of condescending nods and pats on the back of ‘good luck’, or ‘go back to endorsing things or go do a perfume.’”

In 2012, Alba and Gavigan launched The Honest Company, a line of non-toxic, earth-friendly household and personal care products. While, it started as an ecommerce site, The Honest Company’s products – which include everything from laundry detergent to diapers–are now sold at major retailers, including Target, Costco, Nordstrom, and Whole Foods. In September 2015, the company expanded even further to offer a line of makeup and skincare products, called Honest Beauty.

From the start, the Honest Company has made a commitment to sell products that are both safe and effective. To prove their commitment to corporate social responsibility the Honest Company is registered as a B-corporation, also known as a benefit corporation, which means they’re not just trying to make money–they’re trying to make the world a better place. A B-corporation pledges to meet certain sustainability and environmental standards, and that’s what The Honest Company is all about. In addition to making products free from things like lead, chlorine and pesticides, the company has donated hundreds of thousands of products, over a thousand employee hours, and a percentage of sales to charities that help families in need.

The honest truth about the company’s philosophy: It’s working. The Honest Company made $10 million in revenues in 2012–a figure that ballooned to $150 million in 2014. The company now sells over a hundred different products, and is planning to expand to more countries, including China. The Honest Company is now worth $1.7 billion.

That girl kicking butt in the movies? She means business.