Gabrielle Union Says the Entire Family "Borrows" Her Flawless Hair Products
"I'd go into my shower and my stuff is missing."
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, actress Gabrielle Union and her good friend, longtime hairstylist, and business partner Larry Sims relaunched their haircare brand Flawless. But while starting anew in the midst of a global shutdown wasn't exactly part of the plan, the co-owners now think it actually worked in their favor.
With quarantines mandated across the globe, people needed high quality, at-home haircare options for a fraction of the cost, that could also be ordered online and shipped to their door (thanks Amazon!). And this is exactly what Union and Sims delivered.
"We didn't drop the price because of the pandemic," Sims tells InStyle. "We actually have a solution, and our products actually are amazing. So let's make it affordable and accessible no matter what your social and economic status is."
After initially launching in 2017, Union wasn't feeling her best — suffering from hair loss and bald spots due to the IVF treatment she was receiving at the time — so she took a step back and put the company on hold. In the meantime, she re-strategized how to create a Black-led and Black-owned company that offered accessible and efficacious products, which is why she brought her hair confidant of 20-plus years on board.
"The man that is responsible for all these fly looks should be able to have ownership of the same company," Union tells us. "Not just [for] our friendship, but he should have ownership of the company that he's feeding into, creating, and nourishing."
The duo developed products from quality ingredients, like rice oil complex, lilac leaf extract, and Brazilian bacuri butter, that are 100% sulfate, paraben, and silicone-free — all priced at $10 or under and available at Amazon and Sally Beauty.
To celebrate the Flawless's first birthday, we chatted with Union and Sims over the phone, to reflect on the last year, and discuss the re-launch, their friendship, and of course, their favorite products.
What voids in the beauty industry does Flawless fill?
Gabrielle Union: The celebrity, female Black-owned, company was first and foremost. I mean of course there are, Black-women owned brands in the States. But we need more. Not Black-fronted but Black-owned and people committed to not just Black ownership but Black marketing, having more Black-owned companies in the supply chain. A company that is rooted in the community, a company that is rooted in the mandate of being more accessible, more affordable and more effective for under $10. So not to say that all of that was missing but having it all in one package in one company, perhaps there's a little bit more need. And we're hoping that people follow our lead, and share their platforms, their resources and their opportunities and create their own.
Why was it important to make the line so affordable?
Larry Sims: We obviously relaunched during the pandemic, but prior to the pandemic, Gab and I were talking about price point. I think one of the missteps from the original launch was the price point — it wasn't as accessible as we would've liked it to have been for people who look like us. We actually have a solution, and our products actually are amazing, so let's make it affordable and accessible no matter what your social and economic status is. So that was established prior to the pandemic, and it just worked in our favor when the pandemic happened. But we didn't drop the price because of the pandemic.
What does your year anniversary mean to you?
LS: It's just been an incredible journey for me. In terms of my experience with Gab and our history, we've [worked] together for over 20 years, and I've never seen a collaboration where it's stylist and celebrity in the texture space. But it goes beyond just two people putting their names on something — we've been in the trenches together. There have been some amazing highs, and there have been some lows in there. But we have been able to end on our feet, and to be able to share our journey and provide that to consumers has been a huge milestone in our friendship and in our professional relationship. So many things were so uncertain, and we launched during the pandemic. So the fact that it's affordable and accessible and was well received, we're celebrating with so much more to look forward to. It's really been amazing.
How did you guys get involved in the project together?
GU: When the opportunity presented itself for me to wrestle back control and relaunch Flawless, as a Black-owned company, I didn't want to do it by myself — ain't no fun if you can't have none. And the man that is responsible for all these fly looks should be able to have ownership of the same company. Not just [for] our friendship, but he should have ownership of the company that he's feeding into, creating, and nourishing. To do it any other way, not only am I a bad business person, I'm a bad friend — and I don't liken myself either. So when I got ownership, he gets ownership. And that's just how it works for us. It's just the right thing to do.
LS: Not all friends are that good! I'm very fortunate to have someone who has those sorts of values.
When did you guys start initially working together?
LS: Long story short, I was a dancer for many years before I started as a professional hairstylist. I danced with the girl group Blaque, who were Gab's costars in Bring it On. We were doing a performance and Gab shows up to the performance, and she's like "I want a cocktail." And I make a stiff one! [laughs] And we've been friends ever since, and in my transition from dancing to hairstyling, she was one of the first people who said "yes," and she became my number one. And we have just been laughing ever since. It's been amazing.
GU: He's being very kind — I was not number one. I think that goes to Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham. Victoria and David Beckham were first in the pool, and I got involved after them.
LS: [laughing] That's true. I still love Victoria, though, too.
Gabrielle, what's your haircare regimen like these days, especially during COVID?
GU: Well I had more time to experiment [during COVID], and luckily because there's a gang of us at the house of all different hair textures, we were able to kind of have built-in test subjects, myself included. So we were able to test a lot of things and offer feedback quicker than previously. It's hard to experiment when you're working because your character more or likely is not experimenting with their hair. So we just had a lot of time to put in the work diligently and quickly, and move probably more quickly than we would have without the quarantine. During COVID it was really about improving my scalp health and moisture and nurturing my hair. Three times a week during the pandemic, I'm washing with our Hydrating Detangling Shampoo and our Hydrating Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner, and then the Detangling Leave-in Conditioner. Then once a week, I would do the Repairing Deep Conditioner Masque, and then when we started experimenting with the 5 Butter Masque, which is on shelves now. It debuted at Sally's this month.
Does your family use Flawless? How about Dwayne?
GU: We're a Flawless family. And what we have in my house are Flawless fiends. I told my family here's the thing: "Sally's is right down the street. This is my stuff." I'd go into my shower and my stuff is missing. And I'd go in my little sister's, D's shower, or Zaya's shower and there's my stash. [laughs] Everyone borrows, (because it's returned). But, we're like regular consumers as well, and if something is on the verge of selling out, they go missing! People are hoarding that 5 Butter Masque, and Zaire's home for the summer and his girlfriend, so I'm like, "OK, I just lost four more butter masques." Somebody's doing something.
What inspired you to go for your big summer chop?
We were wrapping up The Perfect Find in New York, and we were on back-to-back movies. And when thinking about my next style, all the styles I wanted to try, Larry said, "Your hair is too long for that. You'd have to cut your hair." and I was like, "Go ahead." So it wasn't some big [sing-songy] "AHHHH" [moment].
I just wanted to try a different style, and I have healed and unlearned enough to have divested from white beauty ideals. That freed me to love myself no matter how I present [myself] to the world. I used to put a lot of stock in hair length and texture, and [think] that you had to have a certain texture and length in order to be considered or feel beautiful. And the more I healed and the more I unlearned, the more joyous I became. So cutting my hair was just like "Do it!" And all I felt was freedom and joy.
What advice do you have for other women considering a major hair change?
A lot of our feelings about our hair stems from our feelings about ourselves. And so much about how we feel about ourselves has nothing to do with us. It's our indoctrination into Euro-century beauty ideals that force us to hate ourselves. And when you start to unlearn that, and become aware of that, the sky is the limit. Loving yourself as yourself no matter how you show up, no matter what you experiment with, no matter what style you rock, is on the table. And to me, it's just pure joy. And that's what people respond to. The more happy we are with ourselves, it's easy to be exactly who you want to be, however you want to be.