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Gabrielle Union on Reclaiming Her Beauty Brand and the Importance of Black Business Ownership
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Gabrielle Union.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Fox/Getty Images for FOX

Gabrielle Union was never going to be content with lending her name to just any celebrity beauty brand. The actor/activist/producer/author's hair-care company, Flawless by Gabrielle Union, is a deeply personal one. But it didn't start out that way. 

When it first launched back in 2017, something felt off to Union, who was at the time struggling with hair loss as the result of undergoing IVF. But it wasn't just her own relationship with her hair that left her uncertain: Despite lending her name and her face to the company, it was ultimately the investors who had backed it that got the final say when it came to the products, the marketing, the price point. They had their own vision and goals for what it could be, and Union felt her own voice was left out of that equation. So she decided to reclaim it.

Last month, in partnership with her longtime hairstylist Larry Sims, Union re-launched the brand, this time maintaining majority ownership, an accessible price point, a "for-us-by-us" philosophy and products she and Sims had personally helped to develop, experimenting with many of the ingredients and formulas in an extensive trial-and-error process as she worked to regrow her own hair. The new Flawless by Gabrielle Union is one that is one that far better represents Gabrielle Union, the human being. 

Beyond being mission-driven in its goal of delivering quality hair-care products Union, her hairstylist and her family actually use themselves, Flawless by Gabrielle Union is also setting out to support and elevate other Black-owned businesses from the outset. To that end, Union and Sims introduced the "Lift as We Climb" initiative in September, through which the brand highlights other Black-owned brands and organizations across its social media channels to "elevate visibility and opportunities" for them, as a press release puts it. The inaugural group of beneficiaries of this program include makeup brand Mented Cosmetics, baby and children's care line Darlyng & Co, feminine care company The Honey Pot, specialty tea and coffee brand BLK and Bold and the Black Women's Health Imperative, the only national non-profit whose sole focus is the health and wellness of Black women and girls.

Not long after the official re-launch of Flawless, Union took the time for a quick chat with Fashionista, discussing her own relationship with her hair, the importance of Black ownership in beauty and her thoughts on how the beauty industry can work to become anti-racist. Read on for the highlights.

Tell me a bit about how the brand re-launch came about, the products themselves and the shift in ownership.

When I originally launched the brand in 2017, I was experiencing a stage of hair loss, due to IVF therapy, an unfortunate side effect of the treatment that many women endure. At that time, I felt anything but 'flawless.' My original investors' core values and direction for the brand differed from mine, which led to the decision to take back my company and reclaim Flawless by Gabrielle Union. 

For this second go-around, I wanted to have ownership, set my own deadlines, and most importantly, launch a product that I 100% support. I've partnered with my long-time friend and master hairstylist Larry Sims, who restored my hair back to health, to develop the line. He was the only person I trusted with my hair during that process, so it was only right we re-launched the line together. We worked together experimenting on so many different ingredients — we came to realize the harmful ones that were in products that I've used previously. In this new and improved collection, we incorporated ingredients such as Brazilian bacuri butter, Himilayan moringa oil and African shea butter that are healthy for hair and scalp heath. 

What gap do these products fill in the market, and why was it important to you to fill it?

Unlike the first launch, we wanted to make sure these products were for us by us, which means that we want our community to be able to afford and try the full collection. We partnered with retailers Amazon and Sally Beauty, making it readily available across the U.S., in every neighborhood. All of our products are between $4 to $10, so customers can easily mix and match to buy products from the collection that they need. In addition, formulating products that truly help in cultivating healthy strands. No matter what style your hair is in, our collection is here to help you manage and maintain the health of your hair. 

Can you tell a bit about your own hair journey? I know you've been honest about horrible (and clearly racist) experiences with hairstylists who weren't equipped to style your hair on set early in your career. How did that inform the product line, if at all? 

I've always been interested in my hair and understood how hairstyles have shown my personality and represent me to the world. I recall people always having an opinion on what my hair should and shouldn't look like, from family to work environments. I've gone through all the stages of hair that most Black women go through, including braids, relaxers, wigs and weaves. Sometimes these styles put a strain on your actual strands so it's important to care for your hair through any and all styles you might have. 

I fully encourage self-expression and authentic ownership of personal style. Wanting to try different or trendy hairstyles shouldn't mean compromising the health of your hair, nor breaking the bank with expensive products. We were dedicated to developing the perfect blend of high quality, affordable products for all types of textured hair to promote flawless beauty through choice and diversity. 

You mentioned your struggle with with hair loss due to hormonal changes and re-growing your hair. What do you want other people who may be experiencing the same frustrations to know?

Through the process of growing my hair, I've gained a major learning of patience. Along with hair loss, a big hair struggle was just accepting my hair for what it was. Growing up, hair-envy is so real — especially when you're working on a movie set and your hair doesn't look like everyone else's. It doesn't lay as flat, isn't as long or the hired stylists don't understand it. Through patience, 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.

Why was it important for you to work with Larry Sims to create this line, and what insights did he bring to the product development process?

Larry has been with me since the beginning. When I had hair struggles he was the first one I called. [He] literally cried with me during the most devastating moments of my hair health journey. It was together that we researched and tried various ingredients and products on my hair. He is a master educator and has been my stylist for years, so we are always experimenting — he knows what my hair likes and doesn't like. And as a hairstylist who has been in the industry for years, he's educated on the science behind hair.

There's a big conversation right now about transparency with ownership, particularly when it comes to Black-targeting beauty brands that front as Black-owned, but are not actually set up in a way that financially benefits Black people. What does the Flawless corporate structure look like, in terms of Black representation, and how consciously did you build your team with representation in mind?

Myself and Larry Sims are majority owners. In addition, it was important that the people supporting the brand are Black. We are Black-led and Black-marketed and we want to communicate the best messages to our core consumer, our community. 

How can the beauty industry become anti-racist?

This is an ongoing process. We can start by hiring Black people in front and behind the scenes. Everyone should be 'in.' We live in a diverse world and it should be mandatory to have people at the table that reflect our core consumers and the world at large.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Click through the gallery below to see the full Flawless by Gabrielle Union product lineup.

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