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Jessica Alba on Fueling Your Inner Fire, and Femininity as a Workplace Strength

Motherhood — a stage of life that has long been weaponized against working women — is the very thing that propelled Jessica Alba to launch The Honest Company in 2012, and she has sought to continuously defy expectations ever since.

Actress-turned-entrepreneur Jessica Alba founded her clean lifestyle and beauty brand, The Honest Company, in 2012. In 2021, the company went public, making it one of only seven female-led IPOs on the U.S. stock market that year. 

Since founding Honest, Alba has gleaned much about navigating the business world, and even more about herself — both as an entrepreneur, and a human being, Alba told Jenny B. Fine, WWD’s executive editor, beauty, at the Women in Power conference hosted by WWD, Beauty Inc and Footwear News in September.

“I’m always evolving, changing and learning,” Alba said. “[Honest] is only 10 or 11 years old; if you have kids, think of a 10-year-old kid — they don’t know anything. So, if you think of that in a business sense, that’s where I give myself grace for not having it all buttoned up, and not having all the answers.”

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Alba’s willingness to learn along the way, even if it has meant persisting through discomfort at times, is one of the key factors that has guided her to success. 

Like many women and members of marginalized communities, Alba has wrangled with imposter syndrome and self doubt in both her personal and professional life. 

“I was wildly insecure when I started my company. I was wildly insecure as an actress, and I was wildly insecure as a teenager,” she said, noting that the opportunity to step into somebody else’s shoes, even temporarily, was one of the aspects of acting that first drew her toward the career. 

Today, however, Alba stands tall in her own identity, armed with an embrace of her strengths — even those she formerly thought of as disadvantages. 

“Early on, I leaned into my masculine [energy]. That was how I was taught, and how I learned to survive,” the founder said. “That served me well for a long time, but at the end, it just felt exhausting — I was tired. It’s so hard to try and be the biggest dude in the room, in a room of dudes, every single time.” 

She continued: “I felt like at 30, I stopped giving f–ks, but at 41, it was really like, ‘OK, enough, now I’m going to embrace my feminine power,” and instead of it being something that I feel like I need to be ashamed of, or hide or dim, [I realized] it’s actually the thing that makes us, us.”  

It is this return to authenticity that has allowed Alba to flourish, and empowered her to encourage women to do the same. 

“In a weird way, when people don’t believe in me, or don’t feel like I’m going to become anything or they want to put me in a box, it almost is fuel to my fire,” Alba said. “You have to have that innate sense of self — regardless of your upbringing, regardless of your life circumstances. And the more you lean into your intuition, and the more you lean into the quiet spaces of your heart, the more you can find that fire.” 

At Honest, more than 60 percent of leadership roles, director and above, are occupied by women, a rate far above the industry average. 

Considering motherhood was the impetus that led Alba to found Honest, one prevailing misconception the founder seeks to dismantle is the idea that once women become mothers, they are consequently less interested and invested in their careers.  

“The first guys that I started the company with kept saying there are no women who want to work when they have kids,” Alba said. “There’s something about having kids that made me want to work even harder, and with more purpose. Moms are the most efficient workers; they can multitask, and the work is just so buttoned up and clean.” 

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Alba believes it’s high time women demand more than just a seat at the table.

 “Can we just make more space for women? Why does it need to be one? If there are 10 seats at the table, can’t it be five? We make up 50 percent — let’s allow for five women to be there,” she said.