In my nearly decade-long career as a journalist I’ve never had a subject apologise for being late because he ‘had to go pee pee’. Given, however, that we are here to talk about the transatlantic crossing of Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell’s plant-based babycare line, Hello Bello, Sheppard’s opening gambit is actually charmingly on brand.
The pair, whose on-screen credits span everything from Frozen, The Good Place and Gossip Girl (Bell) to Without a Paddle, Employee of the Month and Top Gear America (Shepard), are, of course, true pros. Tucked away in a tiny kitchen/diner above Marylebone’s Mortimer House, they are warm, funny and generous with their time, despite this being their umpteenth interview of the day. Earlier this morning, they appeared on ITV’s Good Morning and had finished recording a podcast moments before we sat down.
For a couple who have been in the limelight for nearly two decades, they are also disarmingly down-to-earth and self-aware – which, they explain, planted the seed for Hello Bello. “When we had kids Kristen was incredibly thorough in researching what they had put on their skin and what kind of nappies they wore,” says Shepard. “We had an unlimited budget for that and lived in Los Angeles where there were great stores that sold really healthy products.
“At some point, we thought, it’s really crazy that someone wouldn’t be able to afford this. That you’d be making a choice between what you would prefer – because I think every person would pick to have organic stuff on their kids – and what is economically feasible. Then we realised that we were in a position where we could go to a huge store like Walmart and start at such a huge volume that we could make it super affordable but also have all the benefits of the things that we used.”
And so, in 2018, Hello Bello was born, offering premium organic, plant-based nappies, vitamins and personal care products at affordable prices. Its hugely popular baby shampoo and wash, made with aloe vera, avocado, cucumber, jojoba and sunflower seed oil, for example, comes in at just £3. A comparable product from baby-focused brands such as Aurelia will set you back around £22.
Why, then, did the couple not choose to go the luxury route and create a brand that would be more aligned with their celebrity status?
“We would have started a sexier business than nappies if we wanted a paycheck,” laughs Shepard. More seriously, however, it seems that the experience of becoming parents was something of a leveller for the pair.
“I wasn’t even sure that I wanted kids, which is shocking for me to say out loud now given how much I’m addicted to them,” admits Bell. “I love them so much, even when I hate them, I love them. Dax was very confident when we left the hospital because he raised his sister but I was shocked that they let us leave with it. I was like, ‘It’s in the car and you’re not coming? We just go home with it and then it’s ours? What do we do with it?’”
“I think Kristen wanted to make sure she did it quote ‘right’,” interjects Shepard. “That was actually part of the genesis of the business. She was getting every single parenting book and was surrounded by people who would say things that felt mildly shame-inducing. Like, ‘you’re not going to have an epidural are you?’ Or ‘you’re not going to have it at a hospital are you?’” (“Heck yeah I’m going to have an epidural,” chimes in Bell.)
“We were aware of the crazy pressure put on women to be perfect in all ways and now it was extending into childcare. The business became a push back to that. Like, no, parenthood is messy as hell. Sometimes it’s miserable. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes you hate your kids, sometimes you love your kids. There’s no shame.”
Bell and Shepard are acutely aware that the context of their parenting experience is far from average. They are quick to point out their privilege in choosing how, when and where they work, explaining that having one of them available to wake their children up in the morning and put them to bed at night is non-negotiable, instantly ruling out many projects. Fame does, of course, come with its own unique set of pressures and the couple is committed to keeping their children out of the spotlight, to the extent that the rare photos they do share of their daughters Lincoln and Delta are often deemed newsworthy.
Like most parents, however, the pair are not immune to adopting gushing tones when discussing the life-changing experience of having children. “The second they came out I felt like all my problems were right-sized,” says Bell. “All of the stupid things I worried about, and most of my insecurities, evaporated because I looked at this little inchworm and I was like, ‘oh yeah, this is why.’ It’s a feeling that’s hard to articulate.”
“For me, personally, it’s helped me get over things that would have normally made me depressed,” says Shepard. “If I’d been working on a movie for two years and it didn’t perform well, I would be miserable for months. But now I think my kids have no idea I’m in a movie, they don’t care. They need to be fed and taken on a walk and have a bath. My primary identity now is ‘dad’, as opposed to ‘writer’ or ‘director’ or whatever. It’s been incredibly liberating.”
When questioned about what being a ‘successful’ parent looks like, there seems little danger of the pair tipping into helicopter territory. “If you really invest time and energy in those little ones, hopefully, they won’t give you shit all the time,” laughs Bell. “It’s important to me to give them an open line of communication, the desire and ability to be vulnerable and to take responsibility for things. So if that’s happening, and they’re fed, I feel like we nailed it.”
In an industry full of mumfluencers and parenting gurus all expounding a (different) ‘right’ way to rear children, Bell and Shepard aren’t offering any pretenses towards perfection. They merely hope that, with their brand, they can go some way towards helping ease the journey.
“I wish that I could whisper in the ear of every first-time mum and say, ‘You know what you’re doing’,” says Bell. “Ignore the shame spiral. It does nothing for you or for your relationship with your child. You know what to do. Trust your instincts. Use your resources. Do not compare yourself to anyone because your journey is different.”