Jessica Alba says she was told to become ‘the face of a perfume’ instead of launching The Honest Company

Jessica Alba onstage at the 2022 MAKERS Conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jessica Alba is opening up about how she forged her own career path — even as other people told her to head in another direction.

The Honest Company founder, 41, appeared at the 2022 MAKERS conference with Yahoo’s CEO Jim Lanzone, where she spoke about her passion for creating baby products without potentially harmful ingredients. Alba, who reaction from severe childhood asthma and allergies became initially interested in making these products when she was new and the laundry detergent she used caused her to have a skin. (Alba is a member of Yahoo’s board of directors.)

“I had flashbacks of my childhood with the breathing machines and being in hospitals and being isolated and lonely and also just the fear of my throat closing and suffocating,” Alba recalled of that scary moment. “When I had this allergic reaction to this detergent that is marketed to people that have babies, I was like, ‘What if my little baby has this allergic reaction?’”

Despite this passion, however, Alba — who was primarily known as an actress at the time, thanks to shows like Dark Angel and movies like Honey — was told she should think smaller.

“I went to people in Hollywood, which were the only people I knew in business, frankly, and they were like, ‘How about do a perfume?’ I was like, ‘What?’ And they’re like, you know, ‘You should be the face of a perfume if you want to do something else,’” she shared. “I was like, ‘No, no, no. Like people are getting sick. There’s like a hockey stick kind of parallel, like illness, like cancer and learning disabilities and obesity and all of these hormonal issues — all of my friends are doing IVF and they’re in their 20s. Something’s wrong and we need to tackle that.’”

She also faced lots of rejection — and sexism — from Silicon Valley while pitching Honest and she described interactions with male venture capitalists who would say, “We’re gonna go and check with our wives to see if this is a good idea. And I was like, ‘Cool, I’m gonna be right.'”

Alba’s dedication paid off, with the company going public just after Alba’s 40th birthday in 2021. Ultimately, she said, building her own company allowed her to avoid some of the pitfalls that come with getting older in Hollywood.

“For every yes that anyone saw, you know, in a role, a movie or TV show, I had thousands of nos,” she shared. “It’s hard to deal with that level of rejection when you’re a kid and then an adult. Hollywood’s interesting because there’s no amount of success that grants you really anything in Hollywood. If anything, the older you get, the more they like to tell you, ‘You’re lucky to be here and your time is running out,’ where in any other career seniority matters. So it’s this really interesting thing — the more you invest in it, the more comfortable you get with it, the more it gets taken from you. It really kind of messes with your brain and your soul.”

Looking back now, Alba said it was her early “midlife crisis” at age 26 — when she started reevaluating her place in the entertainment industry — that changed the course of her future.

“I accidentally got pregnant, and that was the way that midlife crisis happened,” Alba said of finding out she was pregnant with her first child, daughter Honor. “I got this incredible human being and her beautiful soul that really put everything in perspective and really forced me to look at the world differently and forced me not to prioritize anything else, frankly, other than her wellbeing. And that opened up the next chapter of my life.”

Today, as Alba balances multiple careers and her personal life, she credits her support system — but is makes it clear that she doesn’t do it all and she doesn’t do it all well. “I am really candid with my faults and it makes me feel vulnerable and sad and it’s hard to express those emotions with my kids. But I think it’s really important for them to see. … And I think it’s important for them to see that it’s OK to make mistakes and not have it all together.”

This message extends to social media with Alba lifting the veil for her daughters. “I’m really, really candid with my daughters about social media being fake. It’s not real. And they’re like, ‘Well mom, why do you do it then? And I’m like, ‘Because it’s good for business next.’ Like, let’s just use it. Let’s just call it what it is. We don’t need to pretend that is someone’s real actual life.”

Editor’s note: Jessica Alba is a member of Yahoo’s board of directors.

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