Gabrielle Union | Sunday Observer

Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union is iconic in every lane she occupies. Beyond acting in memorable roles (from Bring It On to Being Mary Jane), Union has been writing books, dominating fashion week front rows—often alongside her equally chic husband, Dwayne Wade—and most recently overseeing the re launch of her hair care brand, Flawless. The brand’s new iteration is all about offering salon-quality products at an affordable price point. “What’s the point of creating great products [when] the people they’re meant for can’t afford them?” Union tells Vogue over the phone. Union also wanted to shift the messaging behind the brand. Rather than it being about achieving a flawless look, she hopes to help consumers prioritise hair health. It’s about having a “flawless soul,” she says. “I just want to be a part of people’s hair-health journeys and a part of that evolution.”

Lifelong

Union’s own hair evolution has been, as she puts it, “lifelong.” When she was eight, her family moved from Omaha to Pleasanton, California, which felt “99.9 per cent white,” she recalls. “I thought I could achieve the right kind of attention if I just looked like the other girls and had straight hair.” At the time, she looked to relaxer as a magic potion that “wasn’t just going to give me straight hair but also somehow change my features,” she remembers. “I always felt like my scalp was betraying me when it would start to itch and burn or get lesions. That’s where it all began, this really dysfunctional relationship with beauty and self-esteem and value and worth and wanting to be chosen.” When Union went from playing teenagers to more adult roles in her 20s (think: Moesha to Deliver Us From Eva), hair played a big role in that transition. In a quest for the perfect weave, she surveyed various hair shops and realised how directly fame was tied to what she could access. “I started hearing that they would have the best hair in a vault in the back, and you had to reach a certain amount of Hollywood fame or whatever to even get access to that good hair,” she remembers. “So, it was like, I just got to get a few more jobs, then maybe they’ll let me have access to the good hair.”

She found the system maddening, with ever-shifting goalposts of “respectability politics—all these things...that you need to do in order to be accepted and exalted.” Eventually, she decided to make her own rules.

Hairstyle

In 2015, when Union was in her early 40s, she requested to wear braids on the set of Almost Christmas. Despite being the executive producer, she was met with pushback. Some colleagues argued that her character was meant to be a businesswoman, implying that braids wouldn’t fit with that persona. “I realised how we sort of internalised that respectability politics and what hairstyles mean and represent,” Union says. She succeeded in defining what her character could be—showing that a hairstyle doesn’t dictate what qualities a person possesses.

The professional experience had an impact on Union’s personal life too. “My 40s were all about loving myself, however I show up, and being okay with that,” Union says.

“We tend to think of heat protection just in terms of blow-drying. But you need heat protection if you are sitting outside in the sun, just to protect your hair too,” she says. “We don’t really think about it like a sunscreen, when we actually should.”

With her Flawless relaunch complete, Union is planning an eventual brick-and-mortar location, as well as a second wave of products focused on restoring damaged strands. Otherwise, she’s focused on bringing awareness to a good cause: Earlier this year, Union published a children’s book, Welcome to the Party.

Now, a partnership with the organic-snack company Bitsy’s means that with every purchase of the book, Bitsy’s provides a case of their snack to Win NYC, an organisation that works to provide safe housing and programs for homeless women and children. And, of course, she’s still onscreen: Catch her on the second season of L.A.’s Finest this September.

No matter how much Union has going on, she lives by the words she wishes she could tell her younger self. “Go full steam ahead,” she says. “Don’t compromise. Don’t listen to anyone who wants to poke holes in your balloon. I try to silence the voice that says you’re not good enough.” This practice has allowed her the space to breathe. Now, whatever she feels like doing on a given day is exactly what she does, whether it be her hair, makeup, or none of the above. “Sometimes I put on a headwrap and some Fenty bronzer and call it a day in some sweatpants. Like, it’s all good. And my soul is intact.”

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