Jessica Alba has her hands full. Not only does she continue to act on screens big and small, she’s the founder of The Honest Company, an organic baby product concern currently valued at almost $2 billion, and a mother of three. That said, the former Sin City siren and early aughts sex symbol thinks that neither her success nor the demands on her time make her exceptional. In fact, she contends that all parents essentially struggle with the same stuff. We all fasten the kid’s diapers one velcro tab at a time.
Still, as a Mexican American entrepreneur and outspoken feminist, Alba has a unique perspective on raising kids in today’s America. She took time out of her busy schedule promoting the Honest Company’s new line of diapers to speak with Fatherly about how her baby helped inform the new diaper design, and how tough it is to talk to her kids about modern immigration policy in the United States.
How old are your children?
I have 10-year old Honor, 7-year old Haven, and 6-month-old Hayes.
Oh, six months! So you are right in it.
As the founder of Honest Company, you have lots of gear. Do you use Honest diapers at home?
Yeah, I’ve been using them ever since Hayes was born because, obviously, I have access to the product prior to its release. So I’ve had them really since day one and I’ve been able to use them on him and we’ve loved ’em.
How much of your personal use goes back to engineers and product designers? Is that part of the process at all?
Oh yeah, a lot of it comes from my personal experience. When I was pregnant 10 years ago with my first child, I had an allergic reaction to a laundry detergent that my mother recommended. It was for babies. And after I had this allergic reaction, I learned about the different ingredients that can cause reactions and certain chemicals that, over time, can have adverse health implications. So that’s really where the concept came from. I wanted to create a company that’s honest and transparent about the ingredients and trying to eliminate as much of those synthetic and petroleum-based ingredients that you see in most products. We really do as much as we can to keep that out of our product.
So, ten years ago, you’re a very successful actress who just finished the Fantastic Four sequel. It seems really ambitious to start building a company for baby products. How do you decide to do that?
You know it really started off like, a social injustice. I looked around for alternative products and they were so prohibitively expensive or they were were geared towards such a specific type of person. It just didn’t feel like it was for everyone. And I was like, gosh, you don’t need to be like, a hippie who lives off the grid in order to want to have safer products for your family. It should just be something that everybody has access to and you should be able to read an entire ingredient list. Companies should have that right there on the package. And no one should have to run out of stuff in the middle of the night, so being able to have a subscription and having it delivered to your door was also important.
So here’s the dumb question all working mothers have to be asked by reporters. Sorry. But I am curious: how do you balance it all?
How do you balance it all?
How do I balance it all?
I’m lucky that I get to work from home, that helps. My boys are always here. But I don’t feel like I’m “Jessica Alba” level busy. You know what I’m saying?
Well, you know, you have to, like, feed your kids. And you have to get them dressed. You have to get them off to school. You have to pick them up and get them to bed and start it all over again. You’re probably sitting there 10:30 at night just starting on a post and you’re dog tired.
It’s like you’re spying on me. Can you call my boss and tell him all this? But, seriously, I wouldn’t expect you’d understand the normal parent thing, for some reason.
I often just feel like I’m just trying to tackle the day as it comes the best I can. There are certain fundamental things: the kids need to eat, and they need to get to school, and they need to sleep, and we have to figure out how to do that. In between those moments, we try to give them good advice and encourage them and help them in their challenges. We’re just trying to build people who are going to be awesome and sweet and kind, you know?
Totally! That’s my priority for my boys. Finding that balance between raising good kids and providing for my family can get really tricky sometimes, right?
Yeah! And sometimes you feel like a taskmaster all day and you’re just, like, drilling them. Then you feel like, ‘gosh, all I really did was talk at them and I didn’t really engage.’ So you try to be conscious of that. And you try to be more in the moment and ten days go by and you slip up again. The kids have to know that you’re human, and at least you’re trying. I mean, try to tackle each day as it comes and I try to the best I can. I try not to let the mundane daily task sort of overrun the engaging moments, where I can try to get to know them and nurture them.
How do you do that nurturing? Tell me about those teaching moments with your children that have been particularly profound.
I’m Mexican American, and my husband is African American and White. We come from these families and so we need to explain to our kids about civil rights and segregation and immigration. There are these topics that I didn’t really have to deal with but have to talk to our kids about. They live in a different reality. On the one hand, everything is possible for them. On the other, we have a person in a position of power challenging those possibilities.
Even for a famous entrepreneur that has to be tough, right?
Well, at the same time, they get to see their mom who came from absolutely zero and built herself up to create something and have dreams. I got to be successful in two careers at a fairly young age and that isn’t possible in most of the world. My kids being able to enjoy the fruits of my labor while also living in a somewhat harsh reality is bizarre.
So how do you broach those tough subjects? As a white guy I kind of get a pass because my kids aren’t exposed to that harsh reality. It sounds like that decision has been taken away from you. It’s more pressing.
When things happen and people are protesting you can kind of talk to them about it. I mean for me, I always try and communicate on their level. I don’t try to give them too much. Just enough, you know? You have to know what’s age-appropriate and what they can absorb. But you better believe they’re getting information from kids at school. [laughs] And the parents of the kids at school may not be as careful about how they’re communicating things to their kids.
Speaking of giving them just what they can handle. You’ve been a reluctant sex symbol, a very passionate feminist and a great role model. How does the reality of your career influenced the way you raise girls?
You know, I stopped acting a little bit to have my business when I became a mom. Now I’m at a place where I can really think about getting back into acting and diving in head first. It’s a bit different now because I really look at acting as a creative outlet and less as a thing that defines me as a person. I get to explore and play people that aren’t me, and that’s actually what makes it fun. So it serves a different purpose than it did.
Do you let your kids watch your movies? What about Sin City and Machete?
You know, I tell them, if they are curious about certain things, that this movie isn’t appropriate for you and you’re not allowed to watch that until you’re an adult. I’m fine with setting those boundaries. Acting is a totally different thing for me now. I don’t have the same attachment about only playing a certain type of roles. I am much more open to just having a good experience and being creatively fulfilled.