Having grown up a tomboy and a Christian (Alba joined a born-again church while in middle school and remained a member through most of high school), she was not at all comfortable with her status as a lad-mag lust object. "My sexuality made me very uncomfortable. I remember my first Maxim shoot, they were telling me to pose a certain way, and I was like, 'Agh! I'm 19. I'm a virgin. I don't even know how to do that.' It was so awkward."
At home, Alba says, she was able to be more herself: "I was into wearing Triple Five Soul baggy cargo pants. I would get Hanes tank tops and dye them with Rit dye and wear Nike sports bras and sweatshirts. It was the opposite of sexy. The first time I wore a dress and heels, I had to go to the Golden Globes—I was nominated for Dark Angel. I took my brother. I was so worried about not looking like a lady. I remember thinking, 'I hope I don’t trip.'"
At 25, Alba says, "I sort of went through a life crisis. I was like, 'This isn't what I set out to be. I'm so much more than this, but I don't know how not to be a sex symbol.'"
By this time, Alba had become involved with Cash Warren, the son of Michael Warren, an actor on the popular 1980s TV cop series Hill Street Blues. When she became pregnant, everything seemed to fall into place. "It was not planned, but I was like, 'OK, this is where my life is going. I always wanted to be a mom.'"
And then one day, in preparation for the new arrival, Alba was washing some onesies she'd received at a baby shower and broke out in a horrible rash. That's when it occurred to her: "I did not want my kid to be in the hospital all the time like I was."
It took four years to launch the company. Alba oversaw every phase. She started with diapers, then added shampoos, soaps, cleaning solutions, and, most recently, makeup and beauty. With its commitment to provide safe, nontoxic products at a reasonable price, The Honest Company has created a loyal base of customers who, like Alba, are wary of the ingredients used in mass-market products. When she was young and constantly sick, Alba says, "I made a deal with the universe: If I was able to manifest my dreams, then I would try to do good in some way."
For more from Alba, including her take on being a #girlboss, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Friday June 10.