She may be an actress, but Gabrielle Union knows a lot about hair, Black hair specifically. The star is the founder of the successful Flawless by Gabrielle Union haircare line, which is sold at Sally Beauty and on Amazon. She’s raising Black daughters and teaching them a thing or two about loving on their natural hair. And it wasn’t that long ago that it was revealed that she had to fight with her former employers to be able to embrace her own hair on television. So when we had the opportunity to discuss all things hair with Union, it’s no surprise that she had many gems to share, from calling out the prevalence of our community holding on to damaged, unhealthy tresses for fear of losing length, to not prioritizing pristine styles on the ‘gram over letting kids be kids. The busy businesswoman and mother is working with Sally Beauty to host a DIY University course on their social media platforms where she and longtime stylist and collaborator Larry Sims teach us how to have an impeccable twist-out. Union talked to us about that and gave us the trick to her poppin’ curls, among many other insightful things. Check out what she had to say.
MadameNoire: I know you have your partnership with Sally’s and the course with your stylist and collaborator Larry Sims to help celebrate Black hair during Black History Month. The topic will be how to have a good twist-out. So for you, what’s the key to a successful, flourishing twist-out?
Gabrielle Union: To be patient. Not rush it. To not use more product than necessary. I’m one of those people, if it says a dime size I’m like, “Let’s go a quarter.” For a twist-out though, you don’t want too much curl cream, for me. That’s just my own thing of like, more is more, not less is more. Follow the directions, Gab! [laughs] So those are my big things. Either I’ll be trying to rush through it and it doesn’t turn out the way I want. I won’t let it dry completely, which is annoying. We’re always rushing and it’s like, I need it now! It’s like, well, it’s not done, and it’s going to look crazy if you don’t let it dry completely. And using too much product will leave it goopy, which is not the desired look. You want it to feel fresh. You want it to look moisturized without it looking weighed down or crunchy, which, ugh, I hate a crunchy-looking twist-out. That’s it. And just take your time! Where are we going? Carve out a block of time where you can really allow your hair to air-dry, dry naturally, dry over a couple of days depending on your hair. If you want to sit under the dryer, make sure you use low heat. We don’t need to nuke our hair. But yeah, just luxuriate in the process, in the ritual of it all. Light a candle. Put on some music. Do your twist-out. Love on yourself. Love on those twists, don’t rush through it [laughs]. You’ll regret it later!
That’s true! And I know you’ve been in the business some time as an actress. How have you managed to maintain healthy hair and what has your experience been like when other people try to do your hair on the set of projects?
I mean the way I’ve been able to maintain my hair is working with the same stylists. I either work with Larry Sims or Wankaya Hinkon out of Atlanta. Those are my go-tos on set. They know my hair, they know what it takes to keep it healthy. They know what can cause damage quickly. So we create rituals in the hair and makeup trailer. Before work we treat my hair. After work we treat my hair. We do different steams every few days just to make sure it’s healthy and I survive a project. But I was able to do that the longer I’ve been in the union and the business by putting my stylists in my contract. So there can be no funny business. Now if you don’t have that luxury, you kind of get what you get and you have to hope that the production cares about their Black talent and the production cares about our hair health and our confidence, about our time, about our money. A lot of productions don’t give a sh-t and will be like, “I want you to look like this,” showing a picture of you from your Instagram or a red carpet. And you’re like, “Yeah, Black people did that. And you don’t have any of those in your hair and makeup trailer. So…” [laughs] You know the meme of Puff and the guy looking at each other? You want me to look a certain way but you don’t want to hire anyone who has the ability to make me look like this. So your option as talent is to get your hair done before work, which means your money, your time, time you could be preparing, sleeping, spending time with your family — whatever. You have to do all of these things that your co-stars don’t have to do because they actually prioritize and value them and value their confidence and preparedness. To this day, you can go online and see a thread of actresses and models just talking about straight-up nightmares on sets. You can look no further than some shows where they’re like, “Fine, we’ll just give you a wig,” but don’t want to give anybody a wig budget. Don’t want to hire anyone who knows how to lay a wig, or prepare a wig, and it shows! But if you get to the gatekeepers, those people who want to keep Black folks and Black folks who know how to do textured hair out of the union who keep moving the goal post if you will — the union blames producers and productions. Productions blame the unions. So, whoever it is, get out of the way. And even with the Black stylists that are in the union, they’re not always called for the jobs where they’re needed the most. They would rather hire whoever who claims they have the skillset to do anything, and they don’t. And cut to, you look nuts.
How do you help instill confidence in your children in regards to their Black hair? We’re in a time now where natural hair and self-expression with it is embraced. Growing up it was very different. So how do you celebrate that in your children and help them embrace their hair?
I live it. I show them. It’s one thing to say, “Oh your hair is beautiful as it is” while you’re getting a relaxer every six weeks. What you say and what you’re doing don’t match. So, I haven’t had a relaxer in…oh God, I kept saying 15 years, but I think I shot past that a while ago. It’s probably been since my early ’30s. Just growing it out, loving my own texture, loving my own curls, letting them see my natural hair texture, letting them see my natural curls, letting them see the whole process: how I wash my hair, how I deep condition, when I do a steam, letting them see me get my hair trimmed! I don’t know why that feels radical but, we like to hang on to some dead ends because we value length but it’s unhealthy. Having your kids see you get regular hair cuts and trims, you don’t even think about how freeing that can be. And I try not to obsess over Zaya and Kaav’s hair. Kaav swims every day, so even when her hair is done in the morning, she swims. So it’s not going to be picture perfect or whatever people feel that means. I’m human. I see comments where they’re like, “That child’s hair is never done.” And it is done, I just don’t chase her around making sure that we document her looking super, super done every single day. You’ll see her like that on occasion. But regular, Kaav is going to run around here during a pandemic after swim class and it’s going to be what it is. You’ll see her natural curls. You’ll also see that they’re going to be moisturized. That’s more of what I care about, hair health, not the style. Zaya, she’s a teenager so she has her own way of wanting to do things. She loves to color her hair. I’m just really trying to teach her the importance of taking care of your hair. You want to dye it? Cool. But you got to take care of it. You’ve got to moisturize it. You’ve got to comb through it all. Every day! You’ve got to wrap it up. All of these things. It’s a challenge with the kids, but it’s also giving them the freedom to just exist without having to think about their hair all the time.
I was always thinking about my hair. How am I looking? Do I look presentable? Acceptable? Do I look like my parents care about me? [laughs] All of that, you know? My dad really bought into, you have to assimilate. And the more presentable and respectable we look and appear, the better we’re going to be received by people who don’t want to receive us! So I’m releasing myself from that, and I’m certainly releasing my kids from that. I want them to be the best versions of themselves without centering Eurocentric beauty ideals and the white gaze, and white validation. Who could you be without that? If you center your own thoughts and needs and wants and desires and fantasies, who could you be? And I will be left to wonder who I could have been had I embraced this my whole life. But I want my kids to have that freedom.
I know you initially put the brakes on Flawless, your hair line, to make some changes to it and make sure you have full ownership of the brand before relaunching last year. I wanted to check in with you and see how you’re feeling about the collection after the relaunch, the reception to it, and the accomplishment of it being Black-owned and led by you and Larry Sims.
Yeah. I think what we see a lot is companies understanding the value of the Black hair consumer, understanding how much we will spend and then people trying to exploit it by creating different lines that we might give it a Black face, it might be Black-fronted, but those Black people don’t have any ownership. They don’t believe in sharing the wealth and lifting as they climb. It’s like, let me just use a Black person to exploit other Black people. I’m going to create these products and price them so high and have people scrambling to afford things that shouldn’t be thought of as luxury items. These are necessary items. Wrestling that control of the company and making it Black-owned, like truly, truly Black-owned, Black-led, Black marketed, Black PR — like blick, black, bliggity! For us by us. The tremendous success out the gate has been mindblowing. We were all kind of prepared for a slower build. It was in the middle of a pandemic. We were supposed to launch last March before the pandemic and then we had to pump the brakes a while. Then Sally Beauty and Amazon were like, yo, the demand is high. Release it. So it was important not to just put out another line but to make sure the products actually worked. The difference is we took out all the silicones, the parabens, all the unhealthy crap that we’ve been told that we need in our products to have that slip and to create those silky textures and what not that we don’t actually need. And then we made it affordable. Our whole thing was, nothing should be over $10. If these things work, if these products work, which they do, and they’re effective, why would we price out the very people who need them most? To me that seems a– backward. So nothing over $10. And finding a partner who believed in that as well, and Sally Beauty was on board from the beginning. And then also, making sure that it was accessible. So if I’m looking at, what stores have been in the Black community? They’re not new to this, they’ve been true to this, who has that been? Where you can screw off a top and you can smell and feel the products. You can ask questions without leaving your community. That’s been Sally Beauty, so that’s where we went first and we’ve been welcomed with open arms. It’s been a tremendous relationship led by JC Johnson, who is one of our best and brightest rising executives, period. For one of these big companies to have somebody like that, have JC be on your side and on your team and leading, that made a huge difference. It’s something I really want to make sure companies understand. You see the value of the Black community and the Black dollar, and you want to exploit that, but you don’t want your company to reflect the community that you want to buy your products or come in your establishment. Sally Beauty team, they’re approaching everything differently and very transparent, which I appreciate. It just led to a lot of success and growth. We just dropped the edge control and we can’t keep it in stock, not on Amazon and not in Sally’s. It’s just been surprising but also maybe not. Because once you have products that work, and they’re affordable and you can go around the corner to a Sally Beauty to go get it without leaving your community and you feel welcome in the store? That’s huge.
Tune in for Gabrielle Union, Larry Sims x Sally Beauty DIY University Class on how to achieve a flawless two-strand twist on Wednesday, February 24: 5-5:30pm CT