Before she graced the covers of Women’s Health, Marie Claire and SELF proudly displaying her healthy natural curls, Gabrielle Union had an “interesting hair journey” that began when she was just a little Black girl from Omaha.
Though the Being Mary Jane actress and best-selling author is the co-collaborator of Flawless by Gabrielle Union with hairstylist and longtime friend Larry Sims, she didn’t always have the confidence, oozing self-love and radiating spirit when it came to her natural hair. “I really played with various hairstyles and some were not perfect,” Union admitted to HelloBeautiful. As a little girl, she had a fascination with the typically girly pigtails with bows and ribbons, but it was Sister Sledge, The Pointer Sisters and the Bo Derek braids with the beads that piqued her interest. “I literally tried to achieve their looks instead,” Union said.
It was when, at eight-years-old, that Union begged her mother to get a relaxer. Though her mother did the best she could, her hair was never to her satisfaction – “never straight enough.”
“Growing up in Omaha, most of my schoolmates [and] neighbors didn’t look like me. Their hair wasn’t like mine. I wanted hair that swished and moved and all of that,” said Union about her experience growing up and reflected on her current position as a parent to both Kaavia and Zaya Wade. “I was chasing respectability and what it meant to be presentable, appropriate, and thought of as pretty. Today, I want to rid the idea that someone needs to have a certain type of hair to fit in. It’s so important that we encourage self-expression and authentic ownership of personal style.”
She continued, “As I raise my children, I want them to embrace their natural tresses, their being and the beauty of it.”
As a mother to her beautiful baby girl, Union wants to instill the key components of self-love, confidence and fearlessness that she overtime has learned to embody. “If Kaavia wants to wear her hair in a puff today or doesn’t want to be bothered with her hair, it’s fine. She doesn’t have to chase this beauty aesthetic,” she said about Kaavia’s freedom to express herself through her hair and make her own choices. “As a parent, I have been working on unlearning traditions I grew up on. No matter your personal hairstyle choice, know you are beautiful and amazing!”
Much like many Black women during the early stages of social-distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Union made some fascinating discoveries about her own tresses and embarked on natural hair journey. She learned the essential practices of patience and understanding. Between the relaunch of her natural hair care collection and healthily growing out her hair, she admitted to me that the biggest test of all was self-love and acceptance of her kinks, coils, curls and everything that came with them.
Union told HelloBeautiful, “I’ve realized as you continue to learn who you are, love yourself more, you’ll begin to love all the things about you that may have been previously perceived as flaws.”
I asked Union what inspired the complete revamp, to which she responded that it has always been a dream of hers to develop her own line with every product she’s ever needed, no matter the style, date or time. Back in 2017 to the original launch of Flawless by Gabrielle Union, the brand was in parallel to her personal journey with hair loss due to her fertility treatment and multiple rounds of IVF. In addition to feeling not-so-flawless and lack of confidence, her investors and ownership group didn’t feel like waiting for Union’s hair to grow back. It was then that the Welcome To The Party author felt a spark to take back ownership and reclaim what was hers.
For this relaunch, she enlisted her best friend and hairstylist Larry Sims to whom she credited for being “in the trenches crying right alongside me as my hair fell out.” Union said of her friend and co-collaborator, “When I had hair struggles he was the first one I called, literally crying with me during the most devastating moments of my hair health journey.”
By rocking with Union since the beginning of her hair journey, Sims has seen and had a hand in it all from braids to weaves to natural styles. Today, the two hold a special professional and personal relationship between them that has produced the incredible rejuvenation of the Flawless brand. “When I decided to re-launch, I asked Larry not only to be the master brand educator but co-owner of the Flawless. Now as business partners, we intend to work effortlessly to deliver premium products at affordable prices to our community,” the Breaking In actress told me about their partnership with Sally Beauty. “It’s just a great opportunity to create and build a brand with a good friend – we’re able to learn from each other and also raise each other up during this process.”
The Sims and Union union worked tirelessly to bring the brand back with new protein-rich ingredient implementation that promote hair and scalp health and moisture including Rice Oil complex, Lilac Leaf extract, Brazilian Bacuri Butter, Himilayan Moringa Oil, Coconut Oil, Biotin, Amazonian Pequi Oil, and African Shea Butter. “Larry and I worked effortlessly with a team of scientists on this line to ensure it worked on all textures from 2a to 4c. Hydration is key to hair and scalp health and we made sure the collection included exotic, hydrating and protein-rich ingredients,” Union said about the mixture for afro-textured hair.
“It was very important to ensure our collection was affordable and readily available for everyone in the community,” Union said as she continued to praise her Sally Beauty partnership. She grew up in her local Sally Beauty supply store and deemed it as her go-to for suitable hair-care needs. “When choosing a partner, Sally Beauty was a no-brainer.”
During quarantine, the Think Like A Man actress has been using her own products to show her hair some love and experiment with various styles. From the Curl Refresher Spray for an extra boost of hydration in her curls to the 3 Minute Restoring Conditioner for hair strengthening, the major key to Union’s routine is cleansing, conditioning and moisturizing. “When I’m in my protective styles, it’s key that I treat my hair before, during and after a style that I may have kept in my hair for weeks at a time,” Union told HelloBeautiful, “so the Restoring Exotic Oil Treatment stays in my purse even if I’m not going anywhere.”
In a 2018 InStyle interview,she disclosed that her moment of awakening to start her brand was through her poor experience in Hollywood with stylists who didn’t know how to tend to her healthy textured hair. “Advancements in the Hollywood and entertainment industry as a whole, is an ongoing process. We can start by hiring Black hairstylists to work on Black actresses and hairstylists need to be educated and well-versed to work on all textures, especially Black hair,” Union told HelloBeautiful about her thoughts on how Hollywood is doing at maintaining hair health of Black actresses on set. “We also need to make the process easier for Black hairstylists to apply and join their local unions. They hold key positions in the entertainment industry.”
Before COVID-19 and in-between projects and during set-life, the self-proclaimed “hair chameleon” was no stranger to protective styles, but also made sure to put the health of her hair first by cleansing, deep conditioning and moisturizing. “If I decide to wear braids, my go-to is the Flawless by Gabrielle Union Scalp Soothing Tonic to help soothe itchy scalp and reduce irritation. If I decide to heat style my hair, I use our Smoothing Blow Dry Cream and Shine Enhancing Protection Spray,” she shamelessly plugged in her own brand. You go, girl, but her hair isn’t the only thing she’s been managing.
Aside from having a full head of healthy hair, she manages her multiple hats as a wife, mother, entrepreneur, actress, author and human being. Though with the help of the entire collection, her curls have been able to roam wild and free, Union has had to tame her own mental health and bring herself back to center.
“The pandemic and everything happening in 2020 has really forced us all to slow down and shift our focus on many things in our lives. I have been keeping my mind, body and soul as one. I have been spending lots of time with my family, at home and virtually with FaceTime and Zoom chats,” Union told me as she listed exercise, working on upcoming projects and shifting her focus on the Flawless Collection as primary ways to keep sane and focused.
The multiple pandemics that are impacting Black America daily are trickling down into businesses that will likely not recover once all is said and done. Fortunately, as a Black woman business owner herself, Union believes in lifting as she climbs, which is obviously translated in her “Lift As We Climb” initiative to support Black owned brands.
Union said about the importance of supporting our own during the Black Lives Matter movement, “It’s our mission to empower other Black business owners by providing them with visibility and with business opportunities as we grow as a brand. We want to keep the Black Dollar in our community to expand success, economic growth and generational wealth.”