The (Not So?) Honest Company
London Entertainment/ Splash New
It’s Friday, and while the rest of us are winding down, Jessica Alba is probably going to be working this weekend.
A reader called Jamie emailed me a link to a Wall Street Journal story about The Honest Company’s laundry detergent. An investigation and independent testing was done and a chemical called SLS was found – why is that important?
It’s not that SLS is so horrific in and of itself – it’s in brand name toothpaste and many household products – but The Honest Company specifically has it on its banned list of ingredients (see the full list here). So what happened? According to the breakdown in this LA Times article, The Honest Company says SLS is a toxin, so it subbed it out for another ingredient (SCS) which, according to scientists contacted by the WSJ and confirmed by additional testing, contains a fair amount of SLS.
So is this just a case of semantics? The Honest Company quickly changed the language on its website from “free of” to “made without.” So does that mean if it is there, it’s not there on purpose? If so, what does that mean for The Honest Company’s ingredient knowledge? Do they not know what chemical compounds are made of? Or how that affects the final formula? Is there science here, or just cute packaging?
It could also be a misunderstanding: The detergent is supposed to be tested by the manufacturer’s chemical supplier, but the chemical supplier said it wasn’t manufactured with SLS so no testing was done. Maybe it was a chain-of-command misunderstanding or operation gaffe, and not a deceitful move by The Honest Company.
Whatever the case, it’s not a good look. Obviously we know Alba isn’t the one in the lab with the ingredients, but her name is all over the story. She has partners in The Honest Company, but do you ever see them posing with diapers?
This is the yin/yang of getting SO MUCH good free press. Of having splashy parties with the LA mommy mafia. Of getting the occasional magazine cover and talk show slot even though she’s nowhere near an actress anymore. When it comes time for Honest to eat some sh-t, it’s spoonfed to Jessica Alba.
Not that she eats it with a smile. Team Honest came out swinging for sunscreen and they are not taking this lightly either, calling the WSJ reporting “reckless” and saying, in an email to the press, that it stands behind its products. (Sure… but does it stand behind its copywriting? If so, why was the wording changed?)
That statement is a throwdown. The Wall Street Journal infers that there’re elements of Honest’s marketing and labeling tactics that are misleading (willful or not), and The Honest Company responded by calling a reputable business paper “reckless.” What’s so reckless about saying the detergent has SLS? Is it untrue? Incorrect? Is it fair to call a reporter reckless for writing something you don’t like?
If the WSJ got the science wrong, or is purposefully misrepresenting the laundry detergent, show me the receipts. If not, it’s actually on The Honest Company to prove that they acted in good faith in regards to the wording of the banned list. If I want a product without SLS, and you tell me this product has none (or is not made with any), I would appreciate the WSJ giving me the heads-up if that is not the case. Because really how the f-ck is the everyday consumer supposed to differentiate between “free of” to “made without”? Can we not be safe to assume that if it’s made without a chemical, it doesn’t contain that chemical? This is exactly the kind of confusing messaging that The Honest Company said it would eliminate. Consumer education is hard, particularly for such a complex subject, but if you are going to hold yourself up as the literal honest standard, then you better be un-f-ckin-impeachable.
As someone who has grown cynical about natural/non-toxic/eco-friendly labels, I have to say that the WSJ article seemed logical to me. It wasn’t a hit piece. I’ll take a few scientists’ opinions over Jessica Alba’s “I would never lie, I’m a mommy” brand. I want more science in these eco designations (preferably with easy-to-understand, straightforward labels for dum dums like me). It’s not The Honest Company’s job to save the world, or the environment, or to even make our homes safe, but as Forbes once wrote, she sells peace of mind. Peace of mind wrapped in a really cute package.
And it’s the package that was supposed to get the headlines this week. Honest threw a party for a new Paris-themed line, and of course she hosted, the happy head of a billion dollar eco-chic company, talking with a straight face about bringing chicness to diaper changes. But I’m not here to knock the new Eiffel Tower or macaron prints (that sounds like a joke, but I assure you it is not) because Honest donated 1 million diapers to the White House’s #diapergap drive. (Diapers are a huge issue for low-income families – they are expensive as hell and are not in any way subsidized.)
Donating 1 million diapers, that is a fantastic headline. But what do you think will win out – the laundry detergent or the donation? And who will pay if it’s the former? I’d hate to be the office scapegoat today – we know Jessica can make them cry on a good day.
I'm excited to announce that @Honest is supporting the @WhiteHouse #DiaperGap initiative by donating 1 MILLION diapers to organizations like @Baby2Baby who support low-income families, because 1 in 3 families struggle to afford diapers for their babies. Head to @Honest Instagram now to join our largest donation campaign to date!
Attached - Jessica Alba leaving her hotel and arriving at JFK yesterday in New York.