When you think of Hollywood heavy-hitters, Gabrielle Union-Wade is definitely a name that comes to mind. She has paved the way for women in entertainment and everyday Black women outside of the star-studded circles throughout her career. In particular, she has ignited numerous conversations surrounding the "ideal beauty standards" and their effects on society. As a leading lady both on-screen and off-screen, the Being Mary Jane actress continually utilizes her platform to showcase the multi-faceted layers of Black women. While, at the same time, shedding light on our shared experiences, one of which is our hair.
There is no denying that haircare is a form of self-care and the joys and woes of establishing a healthy relationship with our crowns are complex. But we can all agree that the way we choose to rock our hair, from natural curls to cornrows and everything in between, makes each of us unique and reflects our personal style and is used as a tool for self-expression.
Together with her star power and the expertise of long-time friend and hairstylist Larry Simms, they developed a haircare brand that believes in "celebrating you and your style versatility." Flawless by Gabrielle Union specifically caters to textured hair types and is quickly making waves in the beauty industry.
"I'm proud of this collection because we were intentional about crafting a line that is versatile enough to provide solutions for all style choices. From curls, waves, and coils, to heat styles, braids, wigs, and weaves, there is a Flawless product to support your hair's needs for brilliance, health, and beauty," said co-founder Larry Sims.
In celebration of the company's one-year anniversary, 21Ninety caught up with the twosome to discuss learning lessons while navigating a business during a pandemic, the politics of hair, and the importance of instilling a sense of self-love, pride, and healthy hair relationships with our children.
Dontaira Terrell: Thinking back from the initial concept to the final execution, what were the most significant challenges or learning lessons in launching Flawless by Gabrielle Union?
Gabrielle Union-Wade: I think the biggest challenge for us and what we discovered rather quickly across all industries was the supply chain during COVID and the supply chain interruptions due to COVID. It's been a huge hurdle for us and almost every company in some way, shape, or form. But we're just incredibly thankful for our brand partners and the patience of our customers and the loyalty of our customers who, if something was unfortunately out of stock, they [the customers] waited. They stuck with us, which was also very huge.
DT: Between the two of you, what is your collaboration process?
Larry Sims: We keep our ear to the ground, and we are really interactive with our consumers; we listen to what they want. We really pay attention to what our consumer uses in terms of styling products, and we bring it to the team. We are really happy about knowing what our consumers want, and it's been amazing in that process.
GUW: It's funny; Larry and I met while I was shooting Bring It On over 20 years ago. Before Larry was a celebrity hairstylist, he was a dancer, and I had a performance on the film with the singing group Blaque. Twenty years later, we've just been rocking together in sync, and I think it shows.
DT: I love to hear it! I didn't realize that you guys have been together since your Bring It On days, but that's a testament in itself. How would you describe your relationship with your hair over the years? And how did you learn to build a healthy relationship with your hair?
GUW: Oh, great question! I would say over the years, my relationship has been dysfunctional. My relationship with my hair has been no different from my relationship with myself and others at different points in my life. Dysfunctional because it really starts with how I feel about myself. When you don't feel like you are worthwhile, when you don't feel good enough, when you don't feel seen or understood, you're not going to have a good relationship with any other human being, much less what's happening to your body or what's growing from your body.
I always associated hair with worthiness, especially as a Black woman, with the kink of my hair and the texture of my hair. I was very young and using relaxers, wanting to leave it on as long as possible because the idea was you're going to have straighter hair. But straighter for what? When I got to the root of a lot of my insecurities, my sense of self-worth, or my sense of worthlessness, a lot of it stemmed from an intense need to assimilate.
It was to move as close to the white beauty ideals and white supremacy as possible, and all of it is dysfunctional. As I learned through therapy, through healthier relationships, and through many honest conversations with friends and family, to love myself and to really embrace a healing journey. I learned to love not only my skin, my body but also my hair.
DT: In what ways are you instilling the same with your daughters to love and embrace their natural hair?
GUW: For Kaavia and Zaya, we don't put a huge emphasis on how they style. It's more of getting them into their routines for healthy, nourished, moisturized hair and healthy scalps, which I didn't exactly have. When I was growing up, it was hair day on Saturday, which either meant I would have some part of my head, like the top of my ears, or some part of my head was going to be burned by my mom, who is not a trained stylist—or losing a whole day sitting in my cousin's salon.
Although I liked the end result, it was something I dreaded. It wasn't something I looked forward to in that kind of 'Ooh, yeah, hair health!' But Kaav knows her steps, she's two and a half, and she knows the difference between the curl cream and the restoring conditioner. She enjoys getting her hair plaited every night; she likes the routine. We're not super pressed about her hair being perfect if it is, awesome! But also, what does that even mean?
We want her hair to be healthy. Whether it's curls all over her head, letting them do what they do, braids, or an afro puff, that's awesome. As long as it is detangled, moisturized, and nourished. It's the same with Zaya. I love that Zaya is not pressed about texture or having her hair laid; she just loves the freedom of hair as expression. So whether it's pink hair, blue hair, green hair, snow cone, rainbow hair, she just loves that. It's an extension of her. It's a form of expression for her, and all of it is celebrated.
DT: I can appreciate that so much. You gave me some good tips. I'm not a mom, but I'm an auntie, and I have young nieces, so we are going through this healthy hair journey together.
GUW: Make sure to keep it fun!
DT: With one year down and looking ahead, what's on the horizon for the brand?
LS: We have an extension of the products we've already established coming out in the fourth quarter. We are completely committed to creating products that are super affordable and accessible. When Gab [Union] and I started this, we talked about the price going in, and obviously, we could have had higher-priced items because of Gab's celebrity and my knowledge in the industry. But Gab will always say, 'we don't have to line our pockets to be successful. We want to provide a solution.'
What's been interesting about being able to launch during a pandemic, when the world was uncertain, people's money was kind of weird, and we didn't know where we were going to be financially, we were able to thrive, with having products marked at $10.00 or less. So we're really committed to providing quality products at affordable prices, and we have a lot of great goodies and exciting stuff in store for our consumers.
GUW: Our five butter miracle mask is also making its debut at Sally Beauty [Supply] this month. We have our collab with Nicole Ari Parker and her Gymwrap [brand]. We have the Flawless Gymwrap to help you preserve your hair while you are working out. We are still doing the Lift As We Climb initiative, where we feature over 40 different Black-owned brands, specifically Black women-owned brands. We're moving into more stores, and we're just going to get bigger and better and continue to lift as we climb. And we're very excited about it all.