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    Jessica Alba: The honest truth

    Mogul, Mother, Movie Star Is There Anything Jessica Alba Can’t Do?

    When Jessica Alba’s Zoom video camera turns on for our cover story interview, she’s still holding a script in her hand that she’s going over for an upcoming film. “I was just marking the pages where I will need to be doing sign language,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s an off-hand remark, but one that says so much about her as a person. This is a woman who clearly loves a challenge, isn’t afraid to take risks, and is comfortable enough with who she is to share that she hasn’t got it all figured out – and that’s totally fine. 

    Alba graces the first cover of MADAME Arabia. Alba, who recently celebrated her 15-year wedding anniversary and has three children with her husband Cash Warren, has always made her family a top priority.She wears a dress by Bottega Veneta, price on request. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; ring, Quatre Radiant Edition; necklace, Quatre Radiant Edition, all by Boucheron

    The film, Flash Before the Bang, is based on the true story of an all-deaf high-school track team in Oregon in the 1980s. Most of the cast, as well as the writer, director and some of the producers, are deaf. Alba will start shooting the film this month and, notably, it will also be one of the first features to carry the banner of her newly minted production company. 

    “The entertainment business is aligned with where I’m at, and where my passions around storytelling lay,” says the actor about why she decided it was time to start this next creative chapter in her life. “Hollywood is more open now than in any other time in my career to elevating diversity and female-driven stories, and I feel that there is a lot more room for culturally specific content.”

    Alba wants her nascent production company to be a safe haven for authentic storytellers. She admits that, for years, she had a vision of how she would want to tell underrepresented stories, but never felt in a position to do so – until now. 

    Ready for her close-up
    Alba is returning to movies for the first time after five years with her upcoming feature Trigger Warning, on Netflix. Alba wears a dress by Tony Ward, price on request. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; ring, Quatre Radiant Edition; necklace, Quatre Radiant Edition, all by Boucheron.

    “I want to support directors, writers, actors, producers and crew who don’t normally get shots. I want to collaborate with and support people who aren’t just the stereotypical folks that you see in those positions of power. When people in charge can create and bring their lived experience to the stories they tell, you get a much deeper level of authenticity that I believe the audience can feel and see,” Alba explains. 

    Considering that Alba has been a working actor for thirty years, with over 25 feature films under her belt – including Honey, Fantastic Four and Sin City – she knows better than most how hard it can be to get original ideas off the ground. It was, in part, because of her frustration around some of the more stereotypical roles she was being offered that she found her creativity and focus shifting away from acting and towards an entirely new and unexpected arena of interest. But even there, Alba’s innovative mindset wasn’t met with open arms. 

    After meeting her husband Cash Warren on the set of Fantastic Four in 2004, the pair married in 2008 and, four years later, were the proud parents of their first daughter Honor. It was while she was pregnant that Alba began to worry about the products she would be using on her newborn baby. It was a concern born out of her own health battles – including numerous surgeries, and multiple hospital stays due to chronic asthma and allergies throughout her childhood. 

    “One hundred per cent my lived experience inspired me to create this business, because I didn’t want my daughter to be as sick as I was as a kid,” Alba says about the reason why, in 2012, she launched The Honest Company, a consumer products brand dedicated to creating clean and sustainably designed products in the fields of baby care, personal care, beauty, wellness and household goods. 

    Sign of the times
    Always up for a challenge, Alba is learning sign language for an upcoming film called Flash Before the Bang. It is based on the true story of an all-deaf high-school track team in Oregon in the 1980s. Alba wears an ensemble by Harithand, price on request. Necklaces; Quatre Double White Edition, Quatre Double Black Edition, both Boucheron

    “I couldn’t imagine her having to deal with some of the more harrowing kinds of realities that I dealt with. I mean really scary moments like when my throat closed up. Not being able to breathe is literally the scariest thing ever. And that happened to me at such a young age, and several times. So, I was thinking about my infant daughter and I was saying to myself, ‘What if she can’t communicate if she is in pain? How am I supposed to know how to help her?’ I just didn’t even want to let it get to that point. I wanted to safeguard her and others so that they didn’t have to deal with this horrible reality that I faced as a kid.”

    It’s worth noting that, while buying clean or sustainable products today is commonplace, when Alba took a leap of faith with Honest, no one saw the potential of the market. And even fewer believed an A-list Hollywood actor would be the right person to spearhead a paradigm shift in the consumer goods space. But Alba took the same laser focus and inquisitive spirit she had used to build her successful acting career and turned it towards understanding every aspect of how to not only launch a business but also create authentically clean products. 

    What’s more, she had no intention of starting a white-label brand where she would simply add her name and face to already existing products and then just watch the money roll in. So, Alba took the learning process very seriously. An autodidact, she educated herself on the dynamics of a P&L and the challenges of supply chains, operations and manufacturing. 

    Eyes wide Open
    An autodidact, Alba educated herself on every aspect of how to start and grow a successful business. Now, The Honest Company is sold in over 51,000 retail locations around the world. Alba wears an Abadia top, Dhs2,071; a Balenciaga skirt, price on request. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; ring, Quatre Classique Edition, both by Boucheron

    She studied the different properties of the ingredients used in each product and how to make those products at scale. This is a woman who can now talk at length about the importance of viscosity, the critical role of polymers, and the significance of texture in the success of a product. 

    “It’s about asking a lot of questions of people who are in the industry and have done it before. And then also not being shy about pushing back once in a while on the answers they give. In order to challenge the status quo, you have to find new inroads,” she says. 

    “I would sometimes question experts, and I think some folks would find it annoying, because I would say, ‘Oh, well, have you thought about doing it this way? And why do we distribute it that way, are there different approaches?’” 

    “When I speak with someone talking in circles and using a bunch of ‘industry acronyms’, I say, ‘Explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old’,” she adds with a laugh. “My husband taught me that one. I’ve found that most of the smartest people I have met can distil complex information into tangible, easy-to-digest answers.”

    With Honest, Alba was determined to build a new business methodology from the ground up. She studied different business models and recognised early-on the untapped power of a direct-to-consumer approach, dovetailed with the ever-growing reach of social media, which was still in its infancy at the time. A global online venue where she could leverage her fame to get the word out about Honest directly to her international fan base, which today clocks in at over 20 million followers on Instagram alone. 

    Alba believes Honest resonated so quickly with so many women because they could relate directly to what she was going through – the “mother bear instinct” that kicks into high gear when raising young children and wanting to protect them in any way possible. “With the company, it just extended beyond my kids. It became about all kids, and then it was all mothers – and then it progressed to protecting all people. I just wanted to safeguard people from unnecessary exposure to chemicals that could be harmful to their health and wellbeing, in the short and long term,” explains Alba about her business philosophy.

    Lady in Red
    A vision in rogue, Alba wears a red leather top and skirt by Bottega Veneta.Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition by Boucheron

    Soon, the businesswoman discovered that Honest’s meteoric “hockey-stick growth”, over the first three years, brought its own challenges and new areas of learning for her. “You become a very, very different company. Every six months, you’re a different company. And so, you just need different skills, different types of people, a different structure,” reflects Alba about those heady early years.

    She learned through the growth of her business, frequently giving people the benefit of the doubt – perhaps a bit more often than she should have. She recalls that, sometimes, people who were hired would tell her what she wanted to hear ‘in the room’, but in reality, their vision might not have always been aligned with hers. She learned that she needed to believe people right away when they showed her who they truly were. “It is when you see their actions that you really know for sure if they match up,” she admits.

    But one thing Alba was determined to do while she built Honest was that her children Honor, Haven and Hayes should be part of that journey. Often, as she travelled for business when the kids were young, she would bring them with her. She reveals that she wanted them to see first-hand the level of hard work, commitment and drive it takes to get a business off the ground. When she could, she would even have them accompany her in business meetings – teachable moments by osmosis. This, of course, was interspersed with sightseeing, trips to museums and exploring new cities – invaluable core memory trips that Alba is grateful she had the means to be able to do. 

    Out of the dark
    After dealing with multiple health issues as a child, in 2012 Alba co-founded The Honest Company, a consumer products brand dedicated to creating clean and sustainably designed products. Alba wears a Loewe dress, Dhs 21,350. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; rings(left hand), Quatre Radiant Edition, Quatre White Edition Large, (right hand) Quatre Black Edition; bracelet, Quatre Black Edition, all by Boucheron

    “I always felt like it was important for them to see why I have to go on business trips. To show them what work looks like and what it means to create and run your own business. Also, I think it’s cool for them to see a woman in those spaces, because you just don’t see it on TV, you don’t see it in movies, you don’t see it in pop culture,” reflects Alba.

    In 2021, when the mogul turned 40, she became the youngest Latina to list a company on the NASDAQ. The initial public offering for The Honest Company raised $412.8 million and generated $319 million in sales that same year. Now, Alba, who sits on the company’s board and serves as its chief creative officer, is feeling very confident about the positioning of the business. In particular, she points to the arrival in January 2023 of the company’s CEO Carla Vernón, who previously held executive positions at Amazon and General Mills, as a great indicator of the company’s continued potential for growth. “Her capabilities match up with where the company is, so I feel like I have time now to move back into entertainment, which has always been my passion, but I just couldn’t focus on it while I was building this business,” she shares.

    During the early years of her career, Alba admits that she kept her head down and didn’t take time to enjoy the moment. “I had such impostor syndrome. And I lived in such a state of unworthiness that my mentality was so warrior-like and tough. I didn’t stop and smell the roses; I didn’t enjoy it. The fame side of it was also so tough for me to wrap my head around, because it wasn’t why I did what I did. And fame felt like a burden. I kept thinking that at any moment, the rug was going to get pulled out from underneath me. I didn’t trust that I was worthy of being in those spaces. I was so insecure, I was so in my head,” she confides. 

    Time to Fly
    After years in front of the camera, Alba has recently launched a production company that will focus on backing female-driven stories and diverse narratives. Alba wears a dress by Balenciaga, Dhs21,850. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; necklace, Quatre Radiant Edition, both by Boucheron.

    Thankfully, Alba no longer finds herself dealing with impostor syndrome today, although she admits to still having occasional moments of doubt. But looking back, she thinks that once she passed the age of 35, her sense of self truly started to shift. “I got a lot clearer about how I wanted to operate in the world. Who I wanted to surround myself with, and what I was not going to do anymore. I think the power of ‘no’ is so strong – for me, it’s considerably stronger than ‘yes’,” she shares.

    Another key benefit of creating Honest was the connections Alba made with other women and mothers. Over the years, many of those initial interactions transformed into an impressive network of equally talented girlfriends, all of them ready to celebrate successes and support each other in moments of growth. A quick look at Alba’s Instagram feed shows shout-outs to celebrities like Sofia Vergara, Salma Hayek, SZA and America Ferrera, along with featuring women-owned small businesses that she thinks more people should know about and recommendations for books to read by female authors. 

    “I think building community as women is really important. I believe society for too long has brainwashed us into thinking that we should be competitive, or that we are only worthwhile when we’re at a certain point in our lives. But I think the more we can put our arms around each other at every stage of life and celebrate one another, the better,” says Alba.

    Strike a pose
    During the early years of her career, Alba kept her head down and didn’t take time to enjoy the moment. Today, she says she has never felt better than she does right now. Alba wears an Alaïa dress, Dhs11,070

    Considering that she is objectively a strikingly beautiful woman, Alba reveals that she has never felt better than she does right now. She finds it a shame that society has defined a woman’s peak as sometime in her twenties because that has not been her reality or the reality of the women around her. “There’s this confidence, a sort of swagger that happens when you are in your late 30s and into your 40s and 50s, it’s just undeniable. You can really feel the energy,” she says. “And it’s so cool because it’s very much the opposite of what we have been taught as women. Much like how we have been conditioned to think that when you become a mother you are no longer desirable. But the truth is, my friends actually discovered their best selves after they became mothers,” she adds.

    When she looks at her own daughters and son, Alba is buoyed by how empowered and self-confident they already are. She is proud of the safety net she and her husband have created for them so they don’t have to face the same sort of struggles she dealt with growing up, with her parents existing in more of a paycheck-to-paycheck survival mode. That her children will have opportunities she didn’t have as a child is something she takes enormous pride in.

    It is also clear that Alba and Warren have a true partnership of equals and a marriage that they continue to make a priority. She attributes the success of her 15-year-long marriage to making sure that there is constant communication between the pair and that, when something feels off, they are quick to call it out before it gets a chance to fester. In particular, Alba credits Warren’s natural baseline of abundant positivity as something that has always helped them during the more tumultuous times of their marriage.

    In Her Hands
    An added bonus to the success of The Honest Company was the connections Alba made with other women. Over the years, many of those initial interactions transformed into an impressive network of friends. Alba wears a Bottega Veneta dress, price on request. Rings (left hand), Quatre Radiant Edition; Quatre Radiant Edition wedding band (right hand), Quatre Classique Large, all by Boucheron

    “We both try to wake up and choose kindness and joy as much as humanly possible,” she says. “It’s just more fun doing it that way. I think we can always find something to be upset about. But for the most part, if you can take in blessings and have gratitude, it’s just much easier to go through life that way.”

    But even now, looking back over her impressive career, Alba seems to have some difficulty taking in all that she has accomplished. Not just through the business that she created, the films she starred in that have sparked imaginations, and the extensive charity work she has done – like being an ambassador for Baby2Baby for over a decade, which supports children living in poverty with critical basic necessities. It has more to do with how she has become a role model for future generations of entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. She would much prefer to name-check those women who came before her – Oprah, Martha Stewart, Jane Fonda, Cindy Crawford, Kathy Ireland – than acknowledge her own profound impact on the world. “I am deeply appreciative of the people who went before me and worked so hard to be the first. I just hope that what I have done will help make it easier for the next generation of women,” demurs Alba.

    Matinée idol
    With over 30 years in Hollywood, Alba counts more than 25 movie credits to her name – including memorable turns in the films Honey, Fantastic Four and Sin City. Here she wears a dress by Tony Ward, price on request. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; ring, Quatre Classique Large; necklace, Quatre Radiant Edition, all by Boucheron

    It’s this mindset that is also manifesting itself across all of Alba’s projects, including the just-completed second season of her home renovation series Honest Renovations, which she produces and co-host alongside her friend Lizzy Mathis on The Roku Channel. Also, notably, she refers to her first major film project in five years. Later this summer, Trigger Warning – which Alba is producing – will debut on Netflix. 

    It’s an action film that has the actor playing a Special Forces commando who is skilled at Indonesian knife-fighting, a new skill Alba picked up for the role. In fact, this film marks a lot of firsts. It will be director Mouly Surya’s first English-language film, as well as her first major motion picture. It’s also the first time Alba is working on a film directed by a woman. She particularly liked the idea of doing an action film with a female director to give the familiar genre a new gaze. The movie is just one more example of how Alba is drawn to, and putting her energy behind, projects that have a deeper significance than what they might appear to have on paper. 

    Be it through her business, her movie career or her philanthropic endeavours, Alba’s life’s work seems to be about finding ways to help others. A natural extension of this calling has resulted in decades of her leading by example. 

    “I am not someone who likes grandstanding; that’s not my personality,” she confesses. “But I push myself to show up time and time again in spaces where you wouldn’t usually see someone like me. It is so important for women to see the possibilities with their own eyes. We need more diversity. We just do. Because how things have been run up until now isn’t going to serve us for where we need to go in the future. We need to switch it up.”

    Curtain raiser
    Trigger Warning, Alba’s first major film project in five years, will debut on Netflix this summer. It also marks the first time she has worked with a female movie director. Alba wears a dress by Balenciaga, Dhs21,850. Earrings, Quatre Radiant Edition; necklace, Quatre Radiant Edition, both by Boucheron


    Editor in Chief: Jessica Michault

    Executive Producer: Rhea Rachevsky 

    Executive Producer: Jennifer Rover 

    Producer: Bo Don

    Casting: Jorge Agut Rosell

    Make-up: Maria Vargas

    Hair: Brittney Ryan

    Manicurist: Queenie Nguyen 

    Stylist Assistant: Katie Peare 

    First Camera Assistant: Jonny Tergo 

    Second Camera Assistant: Anthony Avellano 

    Digi Tech: Colin Hoefle

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