Business 17 May 2018
Whether it started with Kris Jenner and her family of reality TV stars turned millionaires businesswomen, or whether it began with the cringey home workout VCRs of the 80s, the era of the celebrity turned entrepreneur started many moons ago, but has significantly evolved over the last few years.
With the advent of social media, more influencers, be it actors, models, reality TV stars, singers and so on, have side hustles. If their public profile is big enough and their social media thriving, you can guarantee an eagle-eyed business partner has approached them, or they themselves approached a venture, with their social profile as their big backing.
What has emerged from this trend is indeed an interesting cast of both entrepreneurs and activists who have decided to capitalise majorly on their public profile and put it to use, either monetarily or for social change. This month, The Wall Street Journal launched their first "Future of Everything Festival," and amongst a plethora of significant speaker themes was that of the uber-celebrity, utilizing their fame for things other than club entry and free merch.
Jessica Alba at The Future of Everything Festival. Photo: Zimbio
Amidst an impressive lineup of entrepreneurs, activists, celebrities and CEOs, the festival kicked off with a very provocative female lineup in the beauty and wellness category. Among those we heard from were Tata Harper, Natalie Mackey, Bobbi Brown and Jessica Alba.
It was Alba's talk that perhaps stuck out the most. Here she was, an incredibly beautiful mother of three, who has seen her fair share of Hollywood, and had garnered a name for herself, when she discovered that acting simply wasn't going to cut it, because of well, diapers.
“Outside press, people were just like what the heck? An actress creating something substantive? That was surprising,'' said the entrepreneur, who founded The Honest Company in 2011. She, like so many others, had discovered a problem, and decided to solve it, which resulted in the creation of her business, when she created a subscription service for diapers after her and husband Cash Warren ran out late one night.
Alba who on top of branching out of her acting career, has also begun championing women in the workplace. While relaying her investment story, she pointed out the irony of middle-aged men informing her about her targeted female demographic, and how she decided there was an actionable way to change such a conversation. Two years ago, she found herself as one of only three female executives at the company out of nine, and has since created a programme with her head of HR, called WELL, Women Excelling in Leadership and Living, which prioritizes women's mental health and home life, while aiding them to get to where they want in their careers. "The living part is something that I think is cool," said the founder. "You have to hang onto your wellness and your mental health. That matters, your home life matters. Being a whole person is the person that we want to come to work everyday."
Amber Tamblyn at The Future of Everything Festival. Photo: Zimbio
Tamblyn, a familiar face for all Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants lovers, is a vocal feminist and founding member of Time’s Up. Since her early days of acting, she has branched out into poetry and is preparing to release her first book, Any Man, which revolves around a female rapist, next month.
Tamblyn's chat focused predominantly on the need for discussion and debate on the current state of feminism and women's standing in this country. “It’s important that we maintain dialogues, and not monologues about the conversation,” said Tamblyn who was championing the need for both liberal and conservative feminism that is so often neglected when discussing the likes of #metoo and Time’s Up.
"Nothing is going to go back, we can only go forward. It doesn't mean that it's not going to be extremely difficult, but it does mean that it's on its way. The wheels are now in motion,"
-Amber Tamblyn"I think for instance when we look at the elephant in the room, which is [that] over 50 percent of white women voted for Donal Trump in this last election, [sic] how is that possible?" she asked. "How is it that there's such a state of [sic] Stockholm Syndrome that these women don't even understand that they're ultimately voting against their own self-interest?"
Sarah Jessica Alba at The Future of Everything Festival. Photo: Wall Street Journal
An animated Tamblyn continued to remonstrate about the ramifications of such an important appointment, and how, in order to avoid a repeat dismal chain of events the election set off, we need to start having difficulty conversations with these women who are Trump supporters now.
Funnelling this spent energy into her writing and books -one of which took nearly six years to write- her new novel spins the "typical" rhetoric and behavior of serial male rapists and focuses instead on a female rapist, which Tamblyn posits, will give us cause to talk about the ramifications of the flip side, something which recent series and characters have done a great job depicting, read; Villanelle in Killing Eve, or Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Parker, who began her entrepreneurial journey with fragrance "Lovely" back in 2005, and more recently released a collection of shoes, is another active member of Time's Up and proponent of women working. On the subject of her (many) businesses, noted that she's exceedingly happy when she looks around and finds herself surrounded by women. While her partner in business may be a man, a large portion of her employees are women. "I was mentored by women, that I admired, who allowed me second and third careers outside of being an actor," she said, and is evidently using this mentorship mentality to pay the success forward.
The former Sex in the City star is no stranger to activism either. It was in March of this year that Parker and 15 of her Hollywood cohorts formed a female power group to approach Andrew Cuomo about women receiving sub-par wages in the service industry. In an effort to highlight the plight of female servers -who make up 70 percent of the sector- Parker has been and will continue to be very vocal in her quest to gain equal pay for these workers who are by and large underrepresented in media coverage and beyond. She's now working with ROC to shed more light on this matter. "It's my responsibility, and... it's a privilege. I think, because I was always surrounded by women that did that naturally as well," she noted.
"There's so much about being a low-wage worker in this country that's unacceptable, that keeps people marginalized,"
-Sarah Jessica Parker
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."